The ad hoc open-ended working group established in May 2018 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), in resolution 72/277 (“Towards a Global Pact for the Environment”) convened its second substantive session 18-20 March 2019 at the United Nations grounds at Nairobi. At its first substantive session in January, the OEWG considered a report by the UN Secretary General that identified and assessed possible gaps in International Environmental Law (IEL) and environment-related instruments with a view to strengthening their implementation. Following this consideration of gaps, this time the OEWG was tasked with considering “possible options to address possible gaps” in IEL and environment related instruments.
Coming just two days after UNEA4, which is the highest environmental decision-making body, delegates were keen on the way forward taking into account the plethora of global environmental crisis hitting the news headlines every time most of which are anthropogenic and the planet has placed its hopes on the policy makers in this OEWG to come up with a refined piece of IEL. Having keenly followed the proceedings of the first substantive session held in January 2019, I was now well acquainted with the UN diplomatic proceedings as well as the legal and political inclinations of environmental affairs.
The OEWG comprised of delegations from most of the member states, International governmental organizations, Civil societies, environmental conventions and Non-governmental organizations. I was the only representative from the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) in the second substantive session. With a background in Environmental science and a background in Catholic Social Teaching further encouraged by Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, I was full of enthusiasm to share and learn ideas regarding protection of our common home for the benefit of us youth and the generations of all life forms succeeding us on this planet. Unless one believes in the unauthenticated idea of Elon Musk of making Mars a habitable planet, we should all agree that there is No planet B.
Co-Chair Amal Mudallali opened the meeting and invited Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director, UNEP, who welcomed delegates. She called for meaningful and substantive deliberations and consensus-based recommendations since the process had only one more meeting before it submits its report to the UNGA. The co-chairs, Amal Mudallali and Duarte Lopez led delegates in well guided deliberations confined in four carefully crafted questions designed to form a bridge from a preliminary “stocktaking” exercise in January to a process of formulating responses and possible design options. The questions invited delegates to consider options to address gaps or challenges in principles, governance, implementation, and specific regulatory regimes of environment-related instruments a process which lasted for the first 2 days.
Towards the end delegations were prepared to receive a Co-Chairs’ compilation of draft elements for draft recommendations in April with a clear intention to embark on an intensive negotiating process based on this draft at the third substantive and final session beginning on 20th May 2019.With a deadline to meet before the first half of 2019 comes to a close, the OEWG has work to do, and most delegates agreed that it has made progress towards its mandate, even if not as much as some had desired.
This is the first opportunity the world is coming together to discuss the environment in the broadest sense not like many a times when conventions address a particular aspect of the environment. It is a golden chance that the environmental governance should be streamlined or else the planet is nose diving if we continue with the “business as usual” syndrome.
Alphonce Munyao Muia