UNGA Looks to Next Steps to Bolster International Environmental Law
© FAO/Bruno Portier, 2019
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In a briefing on the outcome of the ad hoc open-ended working group on a Global Pact for the Environment, the UNGA President reminded UN Member States that two-thirds of the SDG targets maturing in 2020 depend on environmental action, as does the entire 2030 Agenda.

The EU announced that a group of countries plans to table a short, procedural resolution to enable the UNGA's adoption of the recommendations, with the intention of reaching agreement by the end of July 2019.

France said the outcome represents the first steps towards an agreement to be negotiated in 2021 and adopted during “Stockholm+50”.

9 July 2019: The co-chairs of the ad hoc open-ended working group on a Global Pact for the Environment briefed the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on its recommendations, following three negotiation sessions in early 2019. The group has called for its outcomes to be considered by the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).

The working group was established by the UNGA in resolution 72/277 (‘Towards a Global Pact for the Environment’). It held a series of substantive meetings to consider possible gaps in international environmental law and environment-related instruments with a view to strengthening their implementation, in January, March and May 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya. The co-chairs of the group were Francisco Duarte Lopes, Permanent Representative of Portugal, and Amal Mudallali, Permanent Representative of Lebanon.

The group’s recommendations (A/AC.289/6/Rev.1.) were agreed by Member States on 23 May 2019. Rather than calling for creation of a new instrument to address gaps in international environmental law (IEL), the Working Group recommends that the UNGA:

  • Encourage UN Member States and all members of the specialized agencies to strengthen, “where needed,” environmental laws, policies and regulatory frameworks at the national level, as well as capacities across all sectors for effective IEL implementation, including in the administrative and justice sectors, in accordance with national legal systems;
  • Encourage UN Member States and all members of the specialized agencies to mainstream environment into sectoral policies and programmes at all levels, including into national development and sustainable development plans;
  • Encourage the “active and meaningful engagement” of all relevant stakeholders at all levels in the different forums related to the implementation of IEL and environment-related instruments;
  • Encourage the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), as chair of the Environment Management Group, to continue to strengthen system-wide inter-agency coordination on the environment, and to call for the implementation of system-wide strategies on the environment; and
  • Forward the working group’s recommendations to the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) for consideration, and for UNEA to prepare, at its fifth session in February 2021 (UNEA-5), a political declaration for a UN high-level meeting, subject to voluntary funding, in the context of commemoration of UNEP’s creation in 1972, with a view to strengthening the implementation of IEL.

Opening the briefing at UN Headquarters on 9 July 2019, UNGA President Maria Fernanda Espinosa invited the UNGA to consider the recommendations of the working group, bearing in mind that two-thirds of the SDG targets maturing in 2020 depend on environmental action, as does the entire 2030 Agenda. She said the substantive, actionable recommendations generated by the working group send a positive signal about governments’ ability to work together and “find common ground.” Espinosa added that the recommendations come at a “critical time,” as the latest data show that humanity has only 11 years left to address the climate crisis, and it is nearing tipping points also in biodiversity and desertification: vertebrate populations have declined by 60% since 1970, and a portion of land of the size of Greece is rendered unproductive each year due to desertification and drought.

Co-chair Mudallali highlighted the working group’s recommendation on forwarding its outcome to the UNEA, and for UNEA-5 to prepare a political declaration on IEL. The EU announced that a group of countries will “soon” table a procedural resolution to enable the UNGA’s adoption of the recommendations, with the intention of organizing only a few informals and having the text agreed by the end of July 2019. The EU stressed that consensus should continue to be the basis for action, moving forward.

Morocco, France and China also welcomed the working group’s outcome. France said the outcome represents the first steps towards an agreement to be negotiated in 2021 and adopted during “Stockholm +50” in 2022. Morocco expressed trust in the ability of a Global Pact on the Environment, if agreed and adopted, to harmonize and coordinate international environmental law principles and their implementation. He added that “the binding legal nature of such an agreement is not essential at this stage” because of the current lack of consensus, but should be further discussed during the proposed high-level meeting.

China urged the UNGA to take into consideration the concerns expressed in the working group’s outcome with regards to enhancing the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and supporting developing countries in implementing international environmental agreements through financial, technological, and capacity building assistance. [UNGA President’s letter on briefing] [Briefing webcast]


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