UNEP’s First Environmental Assembly: Let us wait and watch!

June 3, 2014

By Meena Bilgi, WOCAN Core Associate (Published in 45th Issue of Forest Cover, newsletter of the Global Forest Coalition (GFC)

All eyes are waiting to witness the outcome of the landmark meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), a body designed to place environmental issues in the heart of global agenda, which is to be based in Nairobi, Kenya, the home of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 

UNEA will strike new ground as it is intended to give environmental issues a similar status to the issues of peace, security, finance, health and trade. Mandated to determine policy, promote a strong science-policy interface and catalyze international action, UNEA represents the ‘world’s political and strategic vehicle for driving global work on environmental priorities, ensuring a common vision in setting the path for global sustainability towards a life of dignity for all’. This reflects the commitment of world leaders at Rio+20 to strengthen and upgrade UNEP “as the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda and by
establishing universal membership in its Governing Council.” 

The first ever UNEP Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives (OECPR) replaces the Governing Council (GC) which used to be a subsidiary body of the General Assembly and, together with the Global Ministerial Forum (GMF), they used to submit a report highlighting diverse environmental issues for the consideration of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.9 In its first version,97 countries attended in Nairobi in March 2014; it can also be looked at as the preparatory committee for UNEA. This is the first time that Major Groups and Stakeholders (MGS) have been permitted to participate in UNEP’s Committee of Permanent Representatives10. This opportunity is both unique and timely, because a key topic within OECPR is how UNEP can better engage with Major Groups (MGs). For MGs this new openness as an important opportunity for change. Suggestions
offered included encouraging a new approach to addressing key environmental challenges, strengthening the institutional framework and programmatic platform for the environmental dimension of integrated sustainable development, as mentioned in Rio+20 by Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director. The Ministers also believe that civil society can provide substantial assistance – a reaffirmation to the importance of MGM.

Issues of concern during OECPR included Environmental Rule of law which lays the foundation for demographic governance and the right to a healthy environment. It was noted that many countries still have no legislation on environmental law and this is critical. Groups such as smallscale producers, indigenous people and women face increasing difficulties in accessing natural resources which are becoming scarcer and more costly. In particular, forests are a lifeline for many poor and for women around the world since they provide shelter, jobs, and security and have cultural relevance. Furthermore, respect for basic human rights and equality of opportunity for all including with respect to economic policies that are designed to avoid environmental degradation, calls for the integration of the three pillars of sustainable development, and placing environmental stewardship at its heart. 

However, the OECPR agenda did not include the post-2015 and SDGs process in it. As a result CSOs issued a statement12 where these main points, among others, were brought up. These included:
• Emphasizing that the environment and human rights cannot be an after-thought in the design of the
SDGs, rather they must be a central element in the post-2015 development framework;
• Warning against harmful ‘new’ technologies;
• Addressing sustainable consumption and production;
• Calling for accountability and transparency with a special attention to public-private partnerships, and lastly,
• Requesting a more active role of UNEP in this process.

In addition, there civil society and other stakeholders called for the strengthening the science-policy interface; contribute with resources for structural economic transformation and inclusive growth; prioritize people-centered development; address natural resources management including illegal trade in wildlife and timber (an issue that is generating increasing global attention due to its adverse impact on biodiversity); seek peace and security; and secure finance and partnerships in order to ensure sufficient funding to meet its objectives. 

There were also calls for results-based management; improved quality of monitoring and reporting; investments in new systems and partnerships; increased sensitivity towards social and economic safeguards; and sharpened communications and knowledge management strategies. These were all discussed as important mechanisms for solutions.

The needs of the planet’s growing population is putting all the more pressure on an already shrinking resource base, and this is being aggravated by inefficient and wasteful resource use. Political commitment, moving away from perverse incentives, and social accountability are required to leverage a shift towards sustainable consumption and production. For this, we need an enabling environment that focuses on changing, reforming and reorganizing governance structures at all levels for greater integration, transparency and accountability, prompting multiple stakeholders to take rigorous action.

We are hoping that the outcomes from UNEA and expansions within UNEP will stress efficiency and effectiveness and encourage broad based participation to strengthen delivery of goals. 

Read the Full Newsletter: http://globalforestcoalition.org/3077-45th-issue-forest-cover-newsletter-global-forest-coalition