14 May 2020
Countries Preparing for UNEA-5, Stockholm+50
Photo by IISD/ENB
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The UN Environment Assembly’s Committee of Permanent Representatives held a virtual meeting to “continue the business of environmental governance”.

The Committee discussed plans for the fifth UNEA session in February 2021, agreed on UNEA’s input to the 2020 session of the HLPF, and considered the way forward on the 50th anniversary of the UN Conference on the Human Environment, in 2022.

The CPR Chair said ambition in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and the Beyond 2020 Chemicals and Waste Management Framework will help keep nature intact and flourishing.

The UN Environment Assembly’s (UNEA) Committee of Permanent Representatives held a virtual meeting to “continue the business of environmental governance.” The Committee discussed plans for the fifth UNEA session, which is scheduled to take place in February 2021. They also agreed on UNEA’s input to the 2020 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and considered the way forward on the 50th anniversary of the UN Conference on the Human Environment, in 2022.

At the 150th meeting of the CPR on 30 April 2020, the UNEP Secretariat updated the CPR on preparations for UNEA-5. The session will have the theme, ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.’ It is expected to convene in Nairobi, Kenya, from 22-26 February 2021.

The Secretariat described the session’s expected strategic and thematic elements, which include:

  • Agreement by the multilateral community on four areas for transformative action for nature to achieve the SDGs:
    • Action area 1: Nature for Jobs and Economic Prosperity
    • Action area 2: Nature for Health
    • Action area 3: Nature for Climate
    • Action area 4: Nature for Sustainable Food Systems
  • The importance of communication to citizens, and plans for the ‘Actions #ForNature’ campaign that blends the World Environment Day ‘Time #ForNature’ campaign with the UNEA theme; and
  • The relevance of the UNEA-5 theme in the era of COVID-19, in light of the need for urgent, transformative, and sustained actions to “deliberately reshape humanity’s interaction with nature,” including by re-building economies in ways that address systemic threats to nature (e.g. unsustainable consumption and production, rapid urbanization, weaknesses in governance and accountability).

Committee members pointed to UNEA-5 as an opportunity to provide global political leadership towards a sustainable recovery post COVID-19 and to other global sustainable development processes, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, such as by centering COVID-19 recovery plans around investments in nature and green jobs, sustainable finance, sound chemicals management, and sustainable production and consumption.

Ahead of the July 2020 session of the HLPF, the CPR agreed to submit the UNEA input developed through remote negotiations and silence procedure. The input to HLPF reports that: “January 2020 was the hottest month of January ever recorded, one million species may be pushed to extinction in the next few years and air pollution kills millions of people every year. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that the world is currently facing, and its immediate aftermath, are likely to place additional strains on the environment.” Moreover, “the climate, biodiversity and chemicals crises have not disappeared [and] the world can ill-afford delays in key environment-related decision-making and investment.”

The UNEA recommends that the 2020 HLPF, among other items:

  • call for ambition in the 2020 environmental negotiations whose success will be crucial for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda including the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and the international sound management of chemicals and waste beyond 2020;
  • stress that COVID-19 does not provide a “silver lining” for the environment but offers an opportunity for rebuilding the world better through green and sustainable recovery efforts, sound management of hazardous medical, and chemical waste and a clear commitment to “building back better”;
  • recognize the role of regional level coordination as key to address transboundary issues and facilitate regionally coherent approaches; and
  • acknowledge the request made to the UNEP Executive Director to develop a global environmental data strategy by 2025 and ask other UN entities to contribute to the strategy.

On commemorating the 50th anniversary of UNEP, in 2022, the Committee discussed Sweden’s offer to host a high-level political meeting in Stockholm to commemorate the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. The CPR asked the UNEA secretariat to prepare a report on substantive aspects of preparations for the 50th anniversary.

In his statement to the 150th meeting, CPR Chair Fernando Coimbra (Brazil) said “the environmental agenda remains one of our most powerful insurance policies in preventing future global pandemics like COVID-19.” He added, “we have learnt the hard way that environmental protection is not a luxury,” but essential for growth and protection of vulnerable populations. 

He highlighted that the COVID-19 medical emergency is resulting in a rapid increase in medical and hazardous waste. The UNEP framework ‘Towards a Pollution-Free Planet’ agreed at UNEA-4 provides support for Member States to address capacity gaps in medical waste systems in order to minimize possible secondary impacts on health and the environment.

The Chair also recalled that a “prescient” UNEP report from 2016 found that 60% of all known infectious diseases in humans and 75% of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. In other words, COVID-19 is just one of many diseases now known to have crossed between animals and humans. Currently, he said, UNEP is mapping the links between deteriorating ecosystem health, habitat and biodiversity loss, and over-exploitation of species. This will allow for policies to interrupt the zoonotic transmission pathways and provide “safe operating space” for nature, to prevent future pandemics.

Coimbra stressed that an ambitious, measurable and inclusive Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, as well as The Beyond 2020 Chemicals and Waste Management Framework, because both play a central role in keeping nature intact, diverse and flourishing. Finally, he said the postponement of the next UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 26) is as an opportunity to strengthen NDCs by incorporating recovery efforts and climate-friendly investments to stimulate economies, build resilience, and create green and sustainable job opportunities. [CPR meeting webpage] [Agenda] [CPR chair statement

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