By IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub

10 May 2018: Following the high-level ‘Summit on a Global Pact for the Environment,’ which was held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) General Debate in September 2017, UNGA adopted the resolution, ‘Towards a Global Pact for the Environment’ (A/72/L.51). The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has described the pact as an agreement that would “create a unifying legal document with general ambit and binding value.”

By the resolution, UNGA requests the Secretary-General to submit a report during its 73rd session, which identifies and assesses possible gaps in international environmental law and environment-related instruments. It also decides to establish a working group to consider that report and discuss possible options that may include convening an intergovernmental conference to adopt an international instrument.

Presented by France and sponsored by 71 delegations, the resolution aims to address the challenges posed by environmental degradation in the context of sustainable development. It was adopted by a vote of 143 in favor to five against with seven abstentions. The Philippines, Russian Federation, Syria, Turkey, and the US opposed the resolution, while Belarus, Iran, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Tajikistan abstained.

According to the text, UNGA requests the Secretary-General to establish a special voluntary trust fund in support of the process, inviting all Member States and agencies to make financial contributions. It also requests the Secretary-General to establish a special voluntary trust fund to assist developing countries, particularly least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing States (SIDS), in attending the working group.

Introducing the text, Francois Delattre, Permanent Representative of France, said while the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development helped develop environmental guidelines, it is time for the international community to take on new responsibilities. He noted that the Paris Agreement on climate change showed that it is possible to take concrete steps by developing a new tool.

Bulgaria, for the EU, said he looked forward to constructive discussions in furtherance of the Global Pact for the Environment. China welcomed France’s initiative.

Emphasizing Nairobi’s standing as the environmental capital of the UN, Kenya introduced an amendment that said all substantive sessions, rather than just the initial one, must be held in the Kenyan capital. She cautioned that any meeting taken out of Nairobi would undermine the capacity of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The amendment was adopted without a vote.

Noting that it is “unfortunate that no transparent and open discussion” took place for a new environment‑related instrument, the US expressed regret that his delegation was compelled to call for a recorded vote on the draft resolution. “In the spirit of compromise,” he said, the US supports the establishment of a working group to address gaps but cannot not support the title of the draft resolution or any language that would prejudge discussions before challenges had even been identified. Regretting that more time was not allocated for Member States to engage in the process, he noted that the US will nevertheless participate in the working group’s discussions.

The Russian Federation called for focusing on existing environment-related instruments, primarily the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development. Pointing out that there are currently more than 1,000 environmental instruments, he called for the working group to focus on their implementation rather than on establishing new instruments.

The Philippines said the 2030 Agenda represents the integrative framework for bringing the global community together on the environment and, supported by Bolivia, cautioned against renegotiating already agreed principles and solutions, such as the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR).

Syria underscored that the concept of world environmental law is still legally controversial. Iran expressed support for already-existing processes.

Among the next steps, the UNGA President will appoint two co-chairs of the working group. Following from the text, the costs of the group will be met by voluntary contributions. [UN Meeting Coverage] [Resolution A/72/L.51: Towards a Global Pact for the Environment] [IUCN Press Release]

Source:: IISD – International Negotiations

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