The existence of more than 500 Multilateral Environment Agreements, (local, national, regional and global legal frameworks) that govern and contain environmental challenges, has provided a robust resource in ensuring environmental responsibility and stewardship. Unfortunately, as the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, notes in his report, there are considerable “gaps in international environmental law and environment related instruments”. There is therefore the need for the development of a Global Pact for the Environment.
Subsequent to the May 10, 2018 General Assembly Resolution 72/277 entitled, “Towards a Global Pact for the Environment”, which requested the Secretary General to produce the Report, an ad hoc Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) convened its first substantive session at the UN office at Nairobi from 14-18 January, 2019. The OEWG was tasked with the responsibility of reviewing the Report and offer input that would feed in to the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
Environment is a broad discipline from which every life form derives nourishment. The continuous pressure that is being exerted exponentially on the environment has over time exceeded the ecological footprint of the planet. It has been noted that most environmental challenges are anthropogenic and control measures must be put in place with urgency before we paralyze the earth’s life-support “muscles”. Appreciating that impacts of environmental challenges are transboundary and some are global in nature, international cooperation among states through appropriate legal framework is indispensable to the creation of effective responses and solutions. This necessitated the towards global pact for the environment.
I had the privilege of attending the sessions as part of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) delegation. Having graduated just a month before the meeting with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science, this was a golden opportunity to learn more and get the real picture of how global environmental policy making organs deliberate on, and arrive at policy that I have only read in theory and written exams about. Being my first time in such a forum, observation was key to get a proper orientation. On the first day, the two co-chairs – Francisco António Duarte Lopes and Amal Mudallali introduced the day’s provisional agenda for adoption. The floor was then opened for member states’ delegates to present their general statements. The subsequent sessions followed a chapter-by-chapter review of Secretary-General’s report.
CYNESA, in consultation with the various NGOs present, also gave me an opportunity to present an intervention addressing the section of the Report on protection of the atmosphere to the plenary. The intervention underscored the importance of global environmental legal cohesion in the implementation of the existing environmental regimes
The week was defined by wide ranging discussions with diverse opinions about whether having a global pact on the legal instruments would strengthen or weaken implementation of the existing, yet fragmented MEAs and other legal instruments on the environment. Proponents of the Global Pact argued that the current fragmented body of international environmental law is relatively weak because it is often nonbinding, has blind spots and the different instruments are often sector-specific, which limites their spatial scope. They also pointed out the often-uncoordinated and variant application of International Environmental Law (IEL) principles. They opined that a global framework should have a long-term perspective and assemble the main principles of IEL.
Towards the closure of the session, the co-chair appreciated that the discussions provided a synthesis of wide-ranging views and should be treated as an exhaustive account. CYNESA’s Board member, Hellen Mugo and Programs Manager, David N. Munene were also part of the delegation attending the 1st Substantive Session of the OEWG. A second substantive meeting of the OEWG is scheduled for 18-20 March 2019 to advance the discussions further.
Alphonce Munyao Muia,