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Implementation Transformation


SAB member Maria Ivanova, Associate Professor of Global Governance and Director, Center for Governance and Sustainability, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA, opening her talk about Global Environmental Conventions. 


Maria Ivanova presented the results of her research initiative who analyze the perfomance and manner of reporting of countries participating in certain Global Environmental Conventions.


Jakob Rhyner, Vice-Rector in Europe, UN University, commented on Maria Ivanova's presentation and studies. 


During the lively discussion, both speakers answered questions raised by the audience. 


[Global Solutions] Learning from Global Environmental Conventions when Launching the Sustainable Development Goals. The Bulgarian member of UN-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Scientific Advisory Board, Maria Ivanova, came to the Bonner Universitätsforum on June 27th. Her lecture about the Global Environmental Conventions in relation to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals was joined by a comment from Jakob Rhyner, Vice-Rector in Europe of the UN University.

With her team of researchers and associates, Maria Ivanova analyses the stages of implementation of the different Global Environmental Conventions within the participating countries. At the University of Massachusetts Boston, where her research initiative is based, they developed a practical, evolving tool for identifying unifying approaches and efficiencies. Comparing the goals that have been set in the past, for instance in the Global Environmental Conventions, and their individual progress of implementation within the participating countries, they are able to draw conclusions for future implementations of universal goals – just like the Sustainable Development Goals.

“We need unifying approaches to solve common problems and we need to find efficiencies, we need to enhance efficiencies to solve common and individual problems.”

In her presentation, Mrs Ivanova explained the development of the research initiative and described the methodology she and her team use to analyze the conventions. She highlights that the stage of implementation is often very difficult to evaluate, as only few data is available. Therefore, further research on these past goals and conventions is crucial: “If we cannot measure whether our goals have been implemented, whether we have put in place the kinds of institutional, governance, organizational, educational, even, measures that let us move from goals to their implementation and then to resolving the problems, it is very difficult to know why a problem has been resolved or not and how we could do it differently next time. Because ultimately we always return back to identifying problems, they never end.”

Following this approach and attempt to understand the process of implementation within the countries, Mrs Ivanova presented some of the results and put them into a larger context. Through her studies, she was able to show that the general assumption that developed countries are performing better in implementing the conventions and also in reporting on them on a regular basis is not always true. Also, the degree of reporting does not correlate with the performance – countries that perform better do not necessarily report better and vice versa. Another general assumption is that if the conventions and the goals are legally binding, countries will perform and report better. However, all examined conventions were legally binding, but all countries perform and report differently. Thus all these assumptions that are often made in a scientific and academic context need to be reconsidered. It also seems that the role of the respective Secretariat in the implementation of the goals is often underestimated. The more the Secretariat of the Convention engages in the countries, and the more they help the countries to develop strategies and solutions, the better the countries finally perform. 

“As academics, we do have a role to play and the closer the interaction, the collaboration with the policy makers, the better chance we have to make some progress on sustainable development, on climate, and on these environmental goals that we have since the 1970s.”

Maria Ivanova closes her talk by highlighting the change in performance of developing and developed countries – showing that the longer the counties are part of the convention the better they perform. Especially developing countries are slowly closing the implementation gap. She adds that “we have to think a little bit deeper, we have to question ourselves a bit more, and we have to recognize the successes where these things have been achieved, and so our mission really is to point out to the countries that they are doing much better than they thought they were and tell those stories so that others can learn from them.”

In his comment, Jakob Rhyner congratulates Maria Ivanova to her evaluations and studies. He states that the Global Environmental Conventions might be, to some extent, universal, and points out that there are many similar conventions on education, health or conflict solution just to name a few. The Sustainable Development Goals, however, do take all these different layers together. According to Mr Rhyner, this is where also a new layer of analysis has to be added to the examinations that include aspects that not only refer to a specific field of implementation but also consider the broader picture.

In the concluding discussions, our audience had the chance to engage with Mrs Ivanova and Mr Rhyner. One question addressed the role large groups of interest play within a country and government that might prevent the government to make proper reports about the stages of implementation and development so that the data is concealed. Maria Ivanova answered that the current state of research just started to focus on the question why countries behave and perform the way they do. However, even then it is very difficult to find a satisfactory reply since there is not enough capacity or funding available yet. So she hopes that the initiative can become much bigger when the results are finally published, other people have access to them and are able to follow up on further questions and studies.  

The lecture series is coorganised by the German Commission for UNESCO, the Forum Internationale Wissenschaft (fiw) and the Liaison Office International Academic Sciences of the UN City of Bonn. 

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