UNEA 5 – The United Nations Environment Programme

23 November, 2022
The United Nations Environment Programme - UNEA 5

UNEA 5 – The United Nations Environment Programme

This week I want to talk specifically about the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Programme, after having delved into the broader functioning and purpose of the UNEP in the past week’s blog. Held in two parts over the course of an online session in 2021 and an offline meeting in Nairobi, Kenya in 2022, representatives of 193 member countries met as the United Nations Environmental Assembly under the authority of the UNEP. The overall theme for UNEA-5 was “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” highlighting the pivotal role nature plays in our lives and in social, economic and environmentally sustainable development. The purpose of this blog is to study the goals and direction taken by UNEA 5, and the future of environmental regulation in the world.

UNEA 5 Overview

The first session of UNEA-5 (UNEA-5.1) was held online on 22-23 February 2021 with a revised and streamlined agenda that focused on urgent and procedural decisions.

These included

(1) the endorsement of the Medium-Term Strategy for 2022-2025, and the programme of work and budget for the biennium 2022-2023;

(2) the management of trust funds and earmarked contributions; and

(3) the agreement to convene a resumed in-person fifth session in 2022.

Substantive matters that require in-depth negotiations were tabled for discussion, and resumed at the Nairobi session UNEA-5.2 in 2022, with the goal of adopting a political declaration on strengthening the implementation of international environmental law and international environmental governance.

UNEA 5.2 Resolutions

Several resolutions were adopted at this session, including (but not limited to):

  • Resolution on Management of Chemicals and Waste
  • Resolution focused on Nature-based Solutions
  • Resolution Prioritising Ecosystem Restoration
  • Resolution to end Plastic Pollution:
    • Under the legally binding agreement, countries will be expected to develop, implement and update national action plans reflecting country-driven approaches to contribute to the objectives of the instrument.
    • They will be expected to promote national action plans to work towards the prevention, reduction and elimination of plastic pollution and to support regional and international cooperation.

The Resolution to end Plastic Pollution is considered the most important environmental deal since the 2015 Paris Agreement, and under this, world’s ministers for the environment agreed to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) with the mandate to forge an international legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution.

The INC is expected to present a legally binding instrument, which would reflect diverse alternatives to address the full lifecycle of plastics, the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials and the need for enhanced international collaboration to facilitate access to technology, capacity building and scientific and technical cooperation.

Environmental Regulation and its Future

Environmental lawyer Manon Ruby talks about the need to codify and give legal value to the principle of non-regression and create an essential nexus of international law and international environmental legislation.

Two very important concepts in the current sphere of environmental legislation are environmental rule of law, i.e. when environmental requirements and environmental rules are respected and enforced, and sustainable development, i.e. a balance between economic growth, people’s welfare, and environmental protection.

The connection between these two issues was underlined by the 2022 UNEA declaration, which enhanced the significance of the environmental rule of law in the sustainable development process.

Maria Magdalena writes, “Legal and practical measures to increase transparency, strengthen access to information and enhance public participation in the environmental decision-making processes will allow equality in terms of environmental protection while achieving sustainable development objectives, goals, and targets.”

While countries have taken steps that indicate a commitment to soft environmental agreements and targets over the decades, since a lot of these are not legally binding, the issue of implementation and compliance with these environmental requirements needs to be prioritised in order to achieve the set targets.

Enhancing the principle of environmental rule of law provides a unique mechanism to ensure that the realization of sustainable development is on the proper track.

Jo Nettleton, Chief Scientist, Environment Agency spoke about the need for environmental regulation in the UK recently. She pointed out the positive impact that regulation can and has had in the past, with regard to the reduction in radioactive discharges and industrial pollutants.

The UK’s regulatory framework as we know it currently is not only too complicated but not a valid long-term picture. The future of regulation needs to look different if we are serious about our commitment to the net-zero goal.

Nettleton says, “Regulation must have a progressive framework that is flexible and proportionate, and makes it easier to dial up and dial down the level of intervention as the risks and our understanding of the risks change.”

So what does the future of environmental regulation look like? What innovations are needed in this respect, and what should we expect out of legislative action taken by the government? How do we meet the growing need for sustainable development and still meet the goals of financial development?

Environmental regulation must grow to use the tools provided by technological advancement as well as adapt to financial needs so as to come close to the goals we have set out to achieve.

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