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UNEA: The more the merrier?

23 Jul UNEA: The more the merrier?

The inaugural United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), the new governing council of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), saw representatives from all 193 UN member states gather together late last month for the first time.

The adoption of the UNEA by the UN General Assembly last year, sends out a clear message that environmental sustainability is as important as economic sustainability, and is not an afterthought. It has taken the world 40 years to give environmental issues the same status as those of peace, security, finance, health and trade.

Despite this significant milestone, the newly formed assembly presents itself as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives the UNEP unprecedented access to increased financial resources from the UN’s regular budget, with an option to raise more funds through voluntary commitments from governments. It also allows the UNEP to fulfil its mandate of coordinating the implementation of multilateral agreements and other international and regional commitments, in a more inclusive, effective and coordinated manner.

On the other hand, the slightly dramatic closure of the first UNEA is a tell-tale sign that the process still has areas for improvement. Leaving out the mention of the term ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ in the final outcome document shows that wider participation could slow down any serious discussion because of diverse interests.

The 58-member governing council, the pre-incarnation of the UNEA, has previously delivered successful resolutions. The Montreal Protocol, for one, stops the global production of CFC-emitting products while the CITES Convention (or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) prevents illegal animal trading.

However, it is still too early to judge whether the UNEA will deliver similar commitments. The outcome document reiterates what was said at the 2012 Rio+20 Conference, but adds reaffirmed commitments. Unsurprisingly, some say that the inaugural assembly is little more than an agenda-setting event.

It is realistic to expect the UNEA to deliver some tangible results that impact government and businesses five years from now. In the meantime,  the assembly has to sort itself out in terms of procedural structure and institutional mandate, given the increased participation.


United Nations Environment Assembly [Official Website]

IISD RS Coverage of the First UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) of the UN Environment Programme(UNEP) [IISD, 23-27 Jun 2014]

The Role of International Organizations in the Development of Environmental Law: A Case of UNEP
[UNEP, Oct 2001]

The Role of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Financial Services Sector[UNEP]

Mee, Laurence. (2005). ‘The Role of UNEP and UNDP in Multilateral Environmental Agreements’, International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 227-263.

Photo Credit: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)