What happened at UNEA?

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP),a universal assembly created by the United Nations (out of Rio+20), which every two years gathers ministers of all nations to take action and agree on wise policy that can ensure a healthy environment for our generation and those to come.

This was Achim Steiner's last UNEA. The new Executive Director of UNEP is  Erik Solheim present Chair of OECD DAC.  He is a Norwegian politician for the Socialist Left Party (SV). He was appointed Minister of International Development in 2005 and also Minister of the Environment in 2007, and sat in both offices until 2012. Solheim was leader of the Socialist Youth from 1977 to 1981, party secretary from 1981 to 1985, and member of the Parliament of Norway from 1989 to 2001. He was party leader from 1987 to 1997.

The new Executive Director will have an immediate challenge of offering his strategy for where the organization should go. Much of the key environmental areas are now no longer under UNEP but are governed by self standing environmental conventions. Will he work to bring them into some stronger relationship with UNEP? How can the scientific and early warning systems at UNEP be much stronger in the future? Critically how can UNEP work with the other parts of the UN to help deliver the SDGs? What role will UNEP play on the economic issues?

The second UNEA finished Saturday morning with confusion. 25 resolutions had been accepted in the session but conflict was not resolved over the resolution dealing with the Gaza Strip and the environmental conditions there. The original resolution was submitted by Morocco and the Arab Group. The resolution did focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A vote was in the end requested by Israeli and after a number at 3am a final rill call was called and there wasn't enough Member stets in the room to make decisions. Then a number of countries asked if the 25 resolutions passed had actually been passed. there had not been a role call when these were passed so there is confusion as i write the status of the resolutions. A very good analysis can be found in Doug Weir who manages Toxic Remnants of War Project and Jessica Dorsey of PAX blog here

Some of the resolutions passed include:

  • Combating desertification, land degradation and drought and promoting sustainable development of pastoralism and rangelands
  • Sustainable management of natural capital for sustainable development and poverty eradication
  • Investing in human capacity for sustainable development through environmental education and training
  • Role, functions and follow up to the Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia Pacific
  • Roles of UNEP and UNEA in delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda
  • Promoting the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change
  • Oceans and seas
  • Wasted food reduction, rescue and diversion
  • Sustainable consumption and production
  • Illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products
  • Review of the cycle of UNEA
  • Mainstreaming of biodiversity for well-being
  • Enhancing the work of UNEP in facilitating cooperation, collaboration and synergies among biodiversity-related MEAs

A full analysis can be found on Monday 30th on the Earth Negotiations Bulletin  site here. 

The closing statement by Major Groups - but never delivered I share with you now.

Closing intervention by the Major Groups and Stakeholders - UNEA2

"Thank you Chair. I speak on behalf of all nine Major Groups and Regional Representatives.

We wholeheartedly support UNEA and UNEP in taking a lead role to ensure effective implementation of the environmental dimensions of Agenda 2030, especially through active participation and decision making in the High Level Political Forum.

While we welcome some of the Resolutions and Decisions adopted here, we feel many fail to address the root causes of environmental degradation. The social impacts of environmental policies, including gender aspects, are not fully taken into account.

We express concern about the potential negative impact of the monetization of nature and some market-based approaches, as well as trade and investment agreements that undermine natural resource conservation. We are also concerned with the increasing tendency to shift sources of financial support for UNEP and environmental policies to non-public actors, including through Public Private Partnerships. As a minimum, we call for full transparency and accountability regarding any partnerships or other financial arrangements that might compromise the independence of UNEP or other UN agencies.

We call on Environmental Ministers to adopt just transition policies in order to achieve the transformation necessary to move towards a sustainable, low carbon and climate resilient economy, taking into account protection and sustainable use of natural assets, as well as the creation of decent work or other meaningful participation in society that offers quality of life and social protection.

We also call on National Governments and UNEP to actively respond and collaborate with local authorities, communities, and other Major Groups in ensuring that well-planned and managed urbanization is an opportunity for sustainable development. 

We welcome the recognition of the importance of respecting, protecting and promoting human rights, gender equality and the role of Indigenous Peoples in delivering the environmental  dimension of 2030 Agenda. Traditional and indigenous knowledge, innovations and citizen science should be fully respected and integrated in all assessments and environmental monitoring processes. 

We call for the effective participation of UNEP and other relevant stakeholders in developing safe, sound, environmentally and socially sustainable new technologies, as well as agro-ecological based agriculture that safeguards the environment and the livelihood of farmers.

As Major Groups that include many persons with disabilities, we call upon the Executive Director of UNEP to ensure that they can participate fully and effectively in UNEA meetings and other relevant processes on the UNON campus, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (particularly Article 9), and the intention of Agenda 2030 to leave no one behind.

The challenge now is to translate the resolutions and declarations adopted into concrete actions, ensuring policy coherence and taking into account the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities.

We believe that reaching the 2030 Goals will require active and open engagement with Major Groups, guaranteed by a robust Stakeholder Engagement Policy. We thank the former and new UNEA presidents for actively trying to achieve a policy that builds on current procedures and practices. 

We express disappointment, however, that Member States have not fulfilled their commitment to paragraph 88 of the Rio+20 Outcome. We look forward to further engagement in the intersessional period.

We are committed to working with Member States, UNEP and other UN agencies to fulfil the 2030 Agenda to create a sustainable future for all."


  1. The role of UNEP and UNEA has always been a challenge because so many states have resisted a special focus on sustainable development in "narrow" environmental terms... others have seen it as a chance to achieve broader development goals and some broader politico-economic goals ....now the SDGs add to the challenge because they cover everything and clearly that will make any distinct role even harder ....except as climate is existential, strengthening links with UNFCCC to ACHIEVE Goal 13 should carve out a distinctive and fulfilling place in the UN firmament. Also a renewed focus on coherent environmental education as our friend @mauricestrong always wanted (World Environment University) would also be worthy and much needed Geoffrey Lipman...www.thesunprogram.com


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