The First Substantive Session on a Global Pact for the Environment took place at UN Headquarters in Nairobi in January 2019. Member States deliberated on the findings of the UN Secretary-General’s report, “Gaps in international environmental law and environment-related instruments: towards a global pact for the environment” and debated the need for a new global pact for the environment”.
Currently, there are around 1,500 environmental frameworks, treaties, agreements and bodies, resulting in what many Member States consider to be a fragmented environmental law landscape. This in turn can make cooperation and communication between the various bodies of environmental law difficult and often inefficient.
The proposed global pact aims to create coherence, clarity and consensus in international environmental law by creating a legally binding instrument for all countries, outlining rules and principles on international environmental law. This would be the first international instrument that covers all environmental areas.
Yann Aguila, President of the Environment Commission of the Club des Juristes, Antonio Herman Benjamin Justice of the National High Court of Brazil and Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law, and Laurent Fabius, Former President of the COP 21, as well as 128 others pointed out that, “It [the global pact] would be the cornerstone of international environmental law, therefore overseeing the different existing sectoral agreements (climate, biodiversity, waste, pollution and other areas), filling the gaps and facilitating their implementation.”
During the five day meeting of the Ad Hoc Open Ended Working Group, Member States argued for and against the need for a global pact on the environment and shared their perspectives on the findings of the gap report of the UN Secretary-General. Many delegations welcomed the report of the UN Secretary-General, while some sought to ensure a wider Member State-led discussion on gaps.
Discussions and country reflections included:
- Consideration of new and emergent principles (such as intergenerational equity, environmental democracy and earth system approaches), including some already incorporated in regional environmental instruments, and consideration of principles in need of updating or qualification
- The merits of an overarching normative framework for international environmental law, and the respective merits of specialization in multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)
- Links between implementation of international environmental law and means of implementation
- Links between the mandate of the ad-hoc working group, Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals
- Whether the case has begun to be made for bringing all international environmental law principles into a new international instrument (the global pact)
Conversations continued throughout the week, as delegations sought to clarify numerous issues in order to develop their positions.
The relationship of a proposed new international instrument with multilateral environmental agreements, as well as the mandate of the ad-hoc working group were points of debate. There is a need to ensure that an international instrument does not weaken existing international environmental standards and processes. In addition, Member States expressed concern on the contents of the Secretary-General’s report, calling for more up-to-date information and the use of empirical evidence, with at least one country mentioning that the report goes beyond the mandate of the working group.
At the end of the session, the co-chairs noted the session’s constructive, open and transparent and inclusive discussion, with agreement that the work should not undermine existing instruments, bodies and processes, and underlined the importance of conducting work on a consensus basis with a view to a pragmatic outcome. Many delegations recognized the existence of gaps and challenges while others held different views, and further efforts would be needed to establish which gaps could addressed as part of the working group’s mandate.
A second substantive session will be held to continue this process from 18 to 20 March 2019 whose agenda will be “discussion of possible options to address possible gaps in international environmental law and environment-related instruments as appropriate.”