Interview with Fernando Rei, Professor in the PhD Program in International Environmental Law at the Catholic University of Santos. Professor of Environmental Law in Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation. nrg4SD Co-Chair South and Vice-Chair for Americas, through the government of São Paulo (2003-2004; 2006-2011).
nrg4SD: On September 3, 2002, regional government representatives met in Johannesburg during the World Summit on Sustainable Development to create the nrg4SD – Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development. Could you tell us a bit about how the idea of nrg4SD creation came about, the context of the time, who was involved, and what motivations they had behind this step?
FR: Since the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, it was recognized that achieving sustainable development would require the active participation of all sectors of society and all types of people. The context in which the creation of nrg4SD was made is fundamental for the understanding of the process. We were living a very peculiar decade with an increase in the participation of new international actors on the sustainability agenda, like the subnational governments, at a time where the main world policy leaders did not demonstrate the same interest with this agenda, as seen in Rio-92. The principles of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and Agenda 21 pressed the multilevel governments for the challenges of this century. Some subnational governments decided to have a political meeting to debate on its involvement to the international agenda for sustainability. The state of São Paulo, for example, had been leading during six months before the Rio+10 with other subnational governments of Latin-American and Caribbean area a strategic project in the area of renewable energies, BEI – Brazilian Energy Initiative.
nrg4SD: On September 3, 2017 the nrg4SD completes 15 years of history. In those years, many challenges were overcome and important steps were taken. We’ve participated in many events, developed projects, established partnerships and made commitments. If we had to build a timeline with the key milestones in the network’s history, which ones would you highlight and why?
FR: 2003- San Sebastian Conference – the nrg4sd structure is borne and its legal personalization. Basque Country leadership.
2004-2006 – Adhesion task forces and Bilateral Projects of Cooperation.
2008 – Saint Malo Conference – Attended by 650 delegates representing 99 regions and a further 30 decentralized governments was a strategic forum for the exchange of regional experiences in the fight against climate change and undertakings for the future.
2009 – Wales assumed the General Secretariat. Active participation of the nrg4sd at the Second Conference of Governors in Los Angeles. Copenhagen’s COP – visibility of the network. Actions integrated with R20 and The Climate Group.
2010 – Dies Sabin Intxaurraga . The co-chairs lead nrg4sd to participation in Bonn- first formal meeting of sub national governments with the UNFCCCS working group and centered on formal recognition of the critical role of sub national governments play in delivering global action on climate change. COP16 recognized for the first time the need to engage local and sub national governments as key governmental stakeholders in the climate process.
2012- Engagement of sub national governments in the UN Rio +20.
2013– COP addressed the important engagement of sub national authorities in sharing and implementing climate actions (Decision 1/ CP19 par. 5b)
2015 – The Paris Agreement affirmed the importance of cooperation with cities and sub national governments.
2016 – COP 13, nrg4SD will launch the Regions for Biodiversity Learning Platform, a long-term project to support the implementation of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) at the sub national level, especially the Strategic Plan Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011- 2020 and the Aichi Targets.
nrg4SD: Our network seeks the greater representation and recognition of regional governments in the global sustainable development agenda. In your opinion, what is the difference between the challenges faced by regional governments 15 years ago and the challenges they face today?
FR: The power of central government to develop and implement sustainable policies in a top-down manner has decreased in the last 20 years, leading to increasingly diffuse policymaking structures and processes stratiﬁed across subnational (and supranational) levels of government.
During this period, the networks of cities and regional governments responding sustainable problems have multiplied. Fifteen years ago the political purpose was to be recognized as a relevant actor and perhaps as a new subject of international law. Today, sub national governments have the challenge of executing public policies in many sustainable issues for the administration of their territories. But, while sustainable regions have been promoted as a desirable actor within a variety of policy contexts, questions concerning the extent to which subnational governments can address the challenges of sustainability remain unanswered.
nrg4SD: How do you evaluate the work that nrg4SD develops with the international community (UN) and what kind of advances do you recognize in these 15 years of history?
FR: The role of sub-national players, such as regional governments, in international agenda has been expanding. This is clearly evidenced in the widening range of areas subnational governments are actively working, in particular in the international sustainable agenda. And the United Nations knows that and promotes this participation. Fifteen years ago, the scenario was the role of punctual action of some subnational governments on specific regimes. Along these fifteen years nrg4SD demonstrates a strategic level of engagement with intergovernmental processes at the UN, which has been led by UNDESA/Division for Sustainable Development (DSD). The phenomenon of environmental paradiplomacy in the 21st century is directly involved with the nrg4SD’s strategic action with the international community, and particularly to articulations with the UN Programs and Platforms. Nowadays, as a good example, the participation of nrg4SD in The High-level Political Forum, United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.
nrg4SD: Just to make our conversation a little informal, is there any curious story related to the creation of the network that you would like to share with us?
FR: In September, 2007, by the invitation of The Northern Forum, we went to its 8th General Assembly held in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. The purpose was enhanced cooperation between regional members of the Northern Forum through periodic Summits of Ministers and encouraged strengthening partnerships with organizations which promote Sustainable Development, Environmental Conservation and Economic Development – such as the Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development (nrg4SD), the Forum of Global Associations of Regions (FOGAR) and the UN Development Program (UNDP). That was a meeting with representatives of the highest level.
The case: I arrived in Moscow from a flight from Paris and my luggage did not. The transfer from the international airport to the domestic airport in Moscow was very complicated (delayed three hours) and it was unbearably hot: 40 degrees Celsius. So, the question: “no clean clothing for the inaugural session tomorrow!” The problem: the alternative was to buy a Spartak Moscow tee-shirt at the domestic airport, to have something clean to wear in the next morning. The scene: at the opening ceremony, formal and conventional, with the presence of the District Governor, I would say that my tee-shirt with a Lenin figure did not go unnoticed. And the Governor was a little irritated … but later in the cocktail after many shots of vodka with him everything would be fine. The suitcase took three days to arrive in Khanty-Mansiysk.
nrg4SD: Looking now into the future, what achievements would you like to celebrate 10 years from now, in the 25 years of nrg4SD? What message would you give to the current members of nrg4SD to get there?
FR: The engagement and participation of nrg4SD in intergovernmental processes related to sustainable development varies depending on the particular sustainable development topic under discussion. In 10 years, the nrg4SD could have a large portfolio of topics, projects and achievements that demonstrate the relevance and indispensability of subnational governments in fulfilling several global agendas of sustainability. “The Future We Want” highlights the role that paradiplomacy can play in pursuing sustainable societies for future generations. The Paris Agreement recognizes the importance of the engagements of all levels of government in addressing climate change.
In 25 years, it´s not easy … My message: it is possible that in 25 years the States as we recognize today could be even more in crisis. Global action, in legitimate and strategic networks, is the real alternative of global governance. In this sense, I believe that nrg4SD is determined to mobilize the means required to implement a Partnership for Sustainable Development in the Regions, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused also on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable regions and with the participation of all essential subnational governments.
nrg4SD: Recently the University of Santos became an associate member of nrg4SD, inaugurating a new type of collaboration with the network: the academic scope. What kind of contributions can the involvement of the academy, especially the University of Santos, generate for a network like ours?
FR: A network that acts in international environmental regimes needs an alternative scientific support. So, we understand as indispensable the insertion of the Academy in its actions.
The Catholic University of Santos offers scientific education, learning and knowledge exchange to those working to advance sustainable development approaches. Combining academic rigor with real experiences, it provides a forum for participants to engage in discussions on issues of relevance for the Global Environmental Governance. In this sense, its Faculty of Law works in its Doctorate in International Environmental Law with specific projects of environmental paradiplomacy. In addition, among its researchers we can find professionals with a real experience in the construction and history of nrg4SD.