From 17 to 19 November 2021, UN Member States met in Nairobi for a second informal consultation on the draft political declaration mandated by UN General Assembly resolution 73/333. For reference, the first session took place in July 2020.
This second session allowed the Member States to perform line-by-line negotiations on the content of the political declaration. An initial draft of the declaration was published by the co-facilitators on 11 October 2021. Despite some interesting provisions, this draft was notoriously lacking in truly ambitious proposals.
The objective of this declaration is to strengthen the implementation of international environmental law and governance. It is intended for adoption at a special session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) commemorating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), from 3 to 4 March 2022.
The consultation revealed that (1) references to rights and principles remain divisive, and (2) the overall level of debate remains somewhat unambitious. Nevertheless, (3) the Global Pact Coalition has made efforts to raise the level of debate.
1/ Rights and principles remain divisive
The Good News:
On the one hand, more and more States support the recognition of the right to a healthy environment (currently included in the preamble of the draft declaration).
– The European Union presents a unified position in favor of the right to a healthy environment and its “procedural” offshoots (access to information, public participation, and access to justice). This stance results from a German turnaround in favor of this right.
– Also in favor are the Latin American and Caribbean Group (in particular Colombia and Costa Rica), Morocco, Norway, and Switzerland. While not opposed, the United Kingdom remains rather lukewarm on the matter.
– This strengthening of positions in favor of environmental rights is a positive consequence of the adoption by an overwhelming majority on 8 October 2021, of UN Human Rights Council resolution 48/13 enshrining the right to a healthy environment.
The Bad News:
On the other hand, the opposition of some Member States is not weakening. The United States and Russia have been particularly vocal in their opposition to a right to a healthy environment. Japan and Algeria are also reluctant. In the face of such opposition, consensus will likely be achieved by downgrading the level of the declaration. This dynamic is likely to result in the deletion of the content on the rights and principles of environmental law.
In conclusion, this opposition is a bad omen for the adoption of an ambitious declaration in 2022. Nevertheless, the increase in the number of States supporting the right to a healthy environment is encouraging for another project, that of the adoption in 2022 of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly recognizing the right to a healthy environment, extending the resolution of the Human Rights Council.
2/ The debate settles around two lines of disagreement
The general level of ambition
Some delegations systematically refuse to negotiate any new proposal. This category includes the United States and Russia. On the contrary, a large group of delegations such as the European Union, Colombia, Costa Rica, Morocco, and Switzerland, are trying to raise the ambition of the declaration.
The developed/developing country divide
This debate is mainly about the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Brazil invariably tries to include the latter, to the dismay of developed countries. Other developing countries, such as Costa Rica and Chile, attempt to reach common ground by insisting on the responsibility and respective capabilities of all States.
3/ The Global Pact Coalition was active during the three days to push for more ambition
Our teams sent emails to various delegations in a bid to push them to raise ambition. Following our requests, the Algerian delegation changed its position on the right to a healthy environment after having pointed out that Algeria already recognized this right through the Arab Charter on Human Rights (2004).
The Global Pact Coalition took the floor twice out of the five times allotted to civil society. Although the line-by-line negotiations were conducted exclusively by the States, observer organizations were able to intervene at the end of the session. This visibility increase could be put to good use with States that support recognizing the right to a healthy environment.
The positions of the States were also recorded by our teams through detailed note-taking of their interventions during the three days of consultations.