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The UN Environment Assembly of the UN Environment Programme Held its First Historic Session

Thursday, 10 July 2014
The first session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) took place from 23 to 27 June 2014, at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. The first UNEA, which had as overarching theme the “Sustainable Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda, including sustainable consumption and production”, was attended by a wide range of participants from 100 countries, including government representatives and environment ministers, heads of international organization, scientific communities, non-governmental organizations, business leaders and the private sector. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the 68h UN General Assembly John Ashe, the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta and Prince Albert II of Monaco, were between the international leaders that participated in the High-Level Segment of the first UNEA.

The first UNEA marked an important milestone in the implementation of paragraph 88 of the outcome document The Future We Want (TFWW) of the UN Conference of Sustainable Development (Rio +20 outcome) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012 and, in particular, in the strengthening and upgrading UNEP. It is to be noted that in response to paragraph 88 of TFWW, the UN General Assembly adopted, on 21 December 2012, Resolution 67/213 on strengthening and upgrading UNEP and establishing universal membership of its Governing Council. Following this Resolution as well as Decision 27/2 of the first Governing Body meeting of UNEP with universal membership in February 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted, on 13 March 2013, Resolution 67/251 changing the designation of the UNEP Governing Council to “the United Nations Environment Assembly of UNEP”. As a result, now all the 193 United Nations Member States, Observer States and other stakeholders participate in discussions and decision-making on issues that affect the state of the environment and global sustainability. Following Decision 27/2, a five day Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives (OECPR) meeting was held during the last week of March 2014, in order to prepare the first UNEA session.   

The UNEA session was opened in the morning of Monday 23 June 2014 and lasted five days, the last two being the High-Level Segment. During the opening plenary, the Assembly established the “Committee of the Whole” (where the resolutions and decisions were presented and discussed in plenary), the “Drafting Group” (that worked on the substance of draft decisions that did not require special technical expertise) and the “Friends of the President” (that supported/negotiated the outcome on the overarching theme of the UNEA high-level segment). The “Committee of the Whole” then established two further contact groups to work on specific issues where technical expertise was necessary, namely “Budget” and “Chemicals and waste”. In parallel, on the margins of the UNEA session, a number of important side events and symposia were held, including the “Symposium on environmental rule of law”, the “Symposium on financing a green economy”, the “Ministerial dinner on climate change”, the “Gender and environment forum”, and the “Global major groups & stakeholders forum”.

More specifically, the High-Level Segment of UNEA lasted for two days (26-27 June 2014). It had two main themes, namely “Sustainable Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda, including sustainable consumption and production” and “Illegal Trade in Wildlife”. While for the second theme it was decided during the OECPR meeting in March that the outcome of UNEA would be a Chair’s Summary and a Resolution, the form of the outcome for the first overarching theme was not pre-decided. The “Friends of the President” group that was convened for this purpose decided to first examine and negotiate the content of the outcome document on the first theme and then its form. After long negotiations, a consensual document was adopted on Friday 27 June late at night, the “Ministerial Outcome Document of the first UNEA Session”. It should be noted that five countries requested that the report of the meeting reflect their objections to the adoption of the document, mainly because it did not include direct reference to the Rio Principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

During the week of UNEA, delegates held negotiations in drafting and contact groups and, finally, adopted in the Plenary a number of resolutions on important issues in the field of the environment and international environmental governance. The adopted resolutions include:  
  • Amendments to the Instrument for the Establishment of the Restructured Global Environment Facility (UNEP/EA.1/L.4),
  • Strengthening the role of the United Nations Environment Programme in promoting air quality (UNEP/EA.1/L.5)
  • Science-policy interface (UNEP/EA.1/L.6)
  • Global Environmental Monitoring System/Water (GEMS/Water) (UNEP/EA.1/L.7)
  • Marine plastic debris and microplastics UNEP/EA.1/L.8
  • Relationship between the United Nations Environment Programme and Multilateral Environmental Agreements (UNEP/EA.1/L.9)
  • Revised programme of work and budget for the biennium 2014-2015 (UNEP/EA.1/L.10)
  • Proposed programme of work and budget for 2016–2017 (UNEP/EA.1/L.11)
  • Ecosystem-based adaptation (UNEP/EA.1/L.12)
  • Implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (UNEP/EA.1/L.13)  
  • Different visions, approaches, models and tools to achieve environmental sustainability in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication (UNEP/EA.1/L.14)
  • Coordination across the United Nations system in the field of the environment, including the Environment Management Group (UNEP/EA.1/L.15)
  • Illegal trade in wildlife (UNEP/EA.1/L.16)
  • Chemicals and wastes (UNEP/EA.1/L.17)  
  • Management of trust funds and earmarked contributions (UNEP/EA.1/L.18)
  • Amendments to the rules of procedure (UNEP/EA.1/L.21)
The second meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) of the UN Environment Programme was decided to be held at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya from 23-27 May 2016 (Decision UNEP/EA.1/L.19).

Source: United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)
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