7 September 2018
Governments Set Dates for Global Pact Discussions, Begin Debating Agenda
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
story highlights

The Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on a global pact for the environment held the second day of discussions to organize its work.

The Group agreed to the dates of three substantive sessions in the first half of 2019, in January, March and May.

They also extensively discussed how to set out the agenda of the substantive sessions, and the discussion was expected to continue on 7 September, the final day of the organizational session.

6 September 2018: On the second day of the organizational meeting for the working group on a global pact for the environment, delegates agreed to the dates of three substantive sessions in the first half of 2019. They also extensively discussed how to set out the agenda of the substantive sessions.

Amal Mudallali, Permanent Representative of Lebanon, and Francisco António Duarte Lopes, Permanent Representative of Portugal, serve as co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group, which was created by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in resolution 72/277, ‘Towards a Global Pact for the Environment.’ The first day of the organizational session addressed support for developing countries’ participation in the Group, general views on potential contributions of the Pact, and initial preferences on the number, length and dates of the Group’s substantive sessions, which will take place in Nairobi, Kenya.

On the second day, 6 September, the co-chairs highlighted that the resolution calls for the Group to complete its work by June 2019, and that the first session must convene no sooner than one month after the submission of the mandated report by the Secretary-General. They said the report is expected to be available in late November 2018. Towards the end of the day, delegates agreed to hold substantive sessions as follows:

  • 14-18 January 2019: The scheduling of this session aims to give countries as much time as possible to consider the report of the Secretary-General after it is issued in late November.
  • 18 March 2019, for 3-5 days, unless otherwise decided by the Working Group. This meeting takes place back-to-back with the fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4).
  • 20 May 2019, for 3-5 days, unless otherwise decided by the Working Group.

Before agreement was reached, the number of sessions sparked discussion. Australia, the EU and Switzerland preferred to schedule only two confirmed sessions, with the possibility of a third if the Working Group deems it necessary later in the process. They also expressed concern about: a back-to-back meeting with UNEA-4 in March, especially for smaller delegations (Switzerland); and time needed to absorb discussions from one session and prepare for the next (EU and Australia). The EU asked for a breakdown of the costs of possible durations for each session (three, four or five days). Meanwhile, Egypt for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China) wished to preserve the possibility of convening more than three sessions, and indicated a preference for longer rather than shorter sessions.

As the final text was agreed, Co-Chair Lopes acknowledged that G-77/China’s proposal regarding additional sessions was not included, but pointed out that the text does not specify a number of sessions or label sessions by number, which creates flexibility.

Regarding the agenda of the substantive sessions, G-77/China repeatedly called for a “step-by-step approach” to setting the agenda, rather than anticipating items that the Group would address in future sessions, and China and the US expressed support for her idea to begin with examining the Secretary-General’s report, after which States would decide how to proceed.

A debate then emerged around referring to the Group’s “mandate” in the provisional agenda for the first session, as a way to frame the next session. The co-chairs eventually proposed the following text (for item 6 of the first session’s provisional agenda and its annotations): “The agendas of the substantive sessions shall reflect the mandate of the ad hoc open-ended working group as laid out in resolution 72/277, including to consider the report and discuss possible options to address possible gaps in international environmental law and environment-related instruments…,” continuing with the rest of Operational Paragraph 2 of resolution 72/277.

While several delegations indicated acceptance of the co-chairs’ text, G-77/China objected to the word “mandate,” reiterating concern about pre-empting the outcomes of the Working Group by specifying the context of OP2, and preferring a more general reference to the entire resolution. She urged further discussion of the issue on the third day of the organizational session.

Also discussed with regard to the agenda for the substantive sessions:

  • Whether to discuss the Group’s financing at the beginning of each substantive session or later in the agenda;
  • Whether to retain an agenda item on “general statements”;
  • A desire for UN agencies and other stakeholders to speak during the sessions; and
  • An interest in a co-chairs’ summary from each session to indicate “milestones toward the mandate.”

Australia, Russia and the US stressed that issuing specific recommendations to the UNGA is not strictly mandated. By resolution 72/277, the Working Group will hold its discussions “with a view to” making recommendations. Australia also cautioned that any recommendations should not dictate what national laws should look like, as that is States’ purview to decide.

The day’s discussions also addressed financing for the work of the Group. Jamil Ahmad, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), reported that two voluntary trust funds have been established, one to support the process, including the Secretariat’s functions, and the other to assist delegates from developing countries to participate in the substantive sessions in Nairobi. Approximately US$921,000 has been received of a pledged US$2 million, but additional financing must be secured before the substantive sessions can be convened, he said. France noted its contribution of over US$1 million, split evenly between the two trust funds.

Four NGOs made statements as part of the day’s general discussion. The World Blockchain Organization outlined the need to apply technological solutions for environmental good. Plastic-Free Peru said the “unnecessary problem of plastics” can affect biodiversity, the economy and potentially human health. The International Center of Comparative Environmental Law listed several human rights that can be adversely affected by environmental conditions, including the rights to food security, shelter, adequate and clean water, the highest attainable standard of health, and human dignity. The Commons Cluster called on the Working Group to address sustainable and impact financing options, such as public-private partnerships, conservation finance and green bonds. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [UNEP webpage for global pact process]

related events