Experts, Stakeholders Discuss Added Value of Global Pact for the Environment
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A conference to exchange views on a Global Pact for the Environment convened on the sidelines of the 73rd UNGA's high-level General Debate.

‘The Global Pact for the Environment: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives on the Future of International Environmental Governance’ was organized by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment in partnership with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Le Club des Juristes, with support from Iberdrola.

An ad hoc open-ended working group established under the auspices of the UNGA will consider a UN Secretary-General report related to a Global Pact at a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in January 2019.

26 September 2018: On the sidelines of the 73rd UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) high-level debate, experts, UN officials, UN Member States and other stakeholders exchanged views on a possible Global Pact for the Environment, including its added value and potential elements of content, during a conference at Columbia University.

A Draft Global Pact for the Environment was initially developed through an international network of experts called the Group of Experts for the Pact (GEP), chaired by Laurent Fabius, former prime minister of France and president of the French Constitutional Council. The Draft Pact, as proposed by the GEP, sought to strengthen the coherence of global environmental governance, and gather principles of environmental law in a concise text. In September 2017, on the sidelines of the 72nd UNGA, Emmanuel Macron, President of France, introduced the Draft Pact at a summit to launch consultations to elaborate the proposed instrument.

In May 2018, the UNGA adopted resolution 72/277 titled, ‘Towards a Global Pact for the Environment,’ by which Member States request the UN Secretary-General to submit a technical and evidence-based report that identifies and assesses possible gaps in international environmental law and environment-related instruments. This report is expected to be issued at the end of November 2018.

Also by resolution 72/277, the UNGA decided to establish an ad hoc open-ended working group to consider the Secretary-General’s report and discuss options to address possible gaps in international environmental law and environment-related instruments, with a view to making recommendations. Francisco António Duarte Lopes, Permanent Representative of Portugal, and Amal Mudallali, Permanent Representative of Lebanon, serve as co-chairs of the working group, which convened for an organizational session from 5-7 September 2018, in New York, US. Having set dates for three substantive sessions and agreed on the agenda for the first session, the Group will meet again in Nairobi, Kenya, from 14-18 January 2019, followed by meetings in March and May 2019 of 3-5 days each, unless otherwise decided.

The conference titled, ‘The Global Pact for the Environment: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives on the Future of International Environmental Governance,’ was organized by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) in partnership with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and Le Club des Juristes, with support from Iberdrola. It took place on 26 September 2018, at Columbia University, New York.

Setting the stage for the meeting, Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia, told participants that comments made during the conference will be conveyed to the UN Secretary-General’s team in charge of elaborating the report called for by UNGA resolution 72/277. François De Rugy, France’s Minister for an Ecological and Inclusive Transition, said that while one year ago, the Global Pact for the Environment was only an idea, it has become a real diplomatic endeavor. He remarked that the Draft Global Pact as proposed by the GEP is a short, transversal and general document that seeks to be universal, set the limits and outline principles for environmental protection. He noted that the Pact can serve as an overarching act encompassing fundamental principles, and can complement existing international environmental law, which is fragmented with hundreds of existing international environmental agreements.

Inger Andersen, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Director General, remarked that the Draft Global Pact reads like a Constitution, and that it conveys in simplicity the essence of principles needed to take care of the environment. She said it is “hard to find your way” in hundreds of international environmental agreements, and the Draft Global Pact brings value by assembling “old” principles (such as polluter-pays and precautionary principles) and new principles (such as intergenerational equity) into one document.

Yann Aguila, Club des Juristes, clarified that the question that will be debated by the open-ended working group in 2019 is whether a Global Pact is needed, not yet what should be the content of it. Talking about the draft Global Pact, he said it was not an initiative of the French government but of the GEP, which has an international composition. Like a State that has specific laws but no Constitution, Aguila said many sectoral treaties and agreements exist, but a global environmental treaty does not; the Global Pact would be the “missing piece in the puzzle.” He stressed that the Pact must include principles that are complementary to sectoral agreements and could help fill the gaps outlined in international law. He also noted that the word “Pact” is important, as it implies alliances and requires inclusivity and a multi-disciplinary approach.

Miroslav Lajčák, former UNGA president and Slovakia’s Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, stressed the need to act urgently since we are “on the verge of an entire ecosystem collapse.” He said the ad hoc open-ended working group established through UNGA resolution 72/277 could recommend to convene an international conference to adopt the Pact, but getting there will be an exercise of international cooperation and will require dialogue and diplomacy.

Jamil Ahmad, UN Environment Programme (UNEP or UN Environment), said the Global Pact for the Environment is “in the hand of UN Member States” with the establishment of the open-ended working group. He reported that UNEP will provide support to the working group, including by preparing background documents in collaboration with other UN agencies. Ahmad also recalled that despite the existence of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), planetary boundaries have been pushed to new and unpredictable limits, and suggested that implementation of new global agreements account for lessons from older agreements.

John Denton, Secretary General, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), expressed hope that the private sector will be engaged in the process leading to the Global Pact. He indicated that he could support an instrument that would “simplify life” and bring consistency and efficiency. Carlos Sallé, Iberdrola, said Iberdrola has introduced the SDGs and climate change “as the main drivers of the company.” He raised the question of whether the Global Pact will constitute an instrument for suing those who do not follow climate change obligations. He also called for coherence within the Pact, and said defending the environment is not only a moral obligation but an opportunity to change consumption and production models. Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, highlighted the importance of the Global Pact for the Environment for addressing justice.

CCSI released a compilation of perspectives on the Pact from independent leaders and legal scholars from around the world. The compilation, titled ‘Global Perspectives on a Global Pact for the Environment,’ was edited by members of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, SDSN and the CCSI. [Conference announcement] [Programme of the conference] [UNGA resolution 72/277] [Compilation: Global Perspectives on a Global Pact for the Environment] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on working group’s organizational session] [Draft Global Pact for the Environment, proposed by the GEP] [Draft Global Pact website] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on 2017 CCIC Conference on Global Pact] [SDG Knowledge Hub sources] [Event webpage] [Event summary]


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