Report of main proceedings for 20 February 2013
27th Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC27/GMEF)
On Wednesday morning, GC27/GMEF delegates convened for regional ministerial consultations on environmental challenges and UNEP regional presence and responsiveness. The Executive Director then conducted consultations on aspirations for the GC. In the afternoon, ministerial consultations took place in plenary. The COW met throughout the day and into the night. The working group on institutional arrangements and rules of procedure met throughout the day. The groups on budget and on chemicals management also convened in the morning and afternoon respectively.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CONSULTATIONS: In his opening remarks, Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UNEP, urged ministers to view the new UNEP GC with universal membership as the principal body for articulating the environmental dimension of sustainable development.
The EU, NORWAY and PERU called on ministers to play an active role in priority setting and decision making in the newly reformed GC. PERU, FRANCE and GERMANY supported a name that would reflect the importance of the new body, such as “world” or “global” assembly. The US supported a “UNEP Assembly,” with meetings every two years. She also noted that UNEP should serve as a “repository” for scientific assessments, rather than conducting these assessments. JAPAN emphasized the usefulness of a high-level segment to provide guidance to the new body.
FRANCE, NORWAY, GERMANY and NIGERIA emphasized the importance of stakeholder participation in a strengthened UNEP. NGOs called for an open-ended, time-limited working group to discuss the issue.
The MALDIVES, FIJI and CHILDREN AND YOUTH requested building UNEP’s regional capacity. The GAMBIA proposed creating regional programme frameworks for improved coherence and delivery.
NIGERIA requested UNEP to collaborate with the UN Statistics Division in order to strengthen the relationship between science and policy. PAKISTAN proposed two initiatives: establishing a global level environmental technology incubation and dissemination center; and establishing UNEP resident offices in One UN reform programme pilot countries.
In response, Steiner highlighted the return on investment from countries’ contributions to UNEP, noting that contributions even at the minimum level give a signal of political support for the Programme. On regional strengthening, he said that regional structures should correspond to the volume of activities and financing available. He expressed hope that the strengthened UNEP would be a place for countries to prepare input and share approaches, principles and ideas on the SDGs, pledging that UNEP would be ready to bring together expert groups to support this.
PLENARY CONSULTATIONS: On Wednesday afternoon, the co-chairs of the six ministerial roundtables reported on Tuesday’s discussions.
GC President Hilal introduced the President’s summary of GMEF discussions (UNEP/GC.27/L.4). SWITZERLAND expressed concern with the summary having been prepared in a “closed” Friends of the President Group. BRAZIL, SWITZERLAND, PAKISTAN and the US said that the document was a non-consensus summary prepared by the President, which did not need to be adopted.
Summarizing the ministerial consultations, Executive Director Steiner highlighted, inter alia: a clear signal from ministers of their desire to be involved in decision-making at meetings of a strengthened UNEP; calls for UNEP to strengthen its regional presence and respond to regional and national needs; and the need to support environment ministers in providing input to the SDGs process. He thanked ministers for their participation, and expressed hope that by the time of their next meeting, “a re-engineered UNEP will be in full swing.” President Hilal declared the GMEF closed at 5.35 pm.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
POLICY ISSUES: World Environment Situation: The COW continued discussion of the draft decision on international water quality guidelines for ecosystems, with some delegates emphasizing their voluntary nature. Delegates also considered whether the guidelines should deal specifically with water quality guidelines for ecosystems, or if they should be more general.
BOLIVIA presented two proposed decisions on climate change and reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (UNEP/GC.27/CW/CRP.5), and on different approaches, visions, models and tools to achieve sustainable development (UNEP/GC.27/CW/CRP.6). On the former, he noted that the term “REDD+” was “unofficial” UN language and should not be used in formal documents or in UNEP programmes or projects. On the latter, he called for a greater focus on initiatives other than the green economy. The US, noting prior and ongoing discussions on both of these issues at other fora, opposed discussing the proposed decisions. CHILE said that the acronym “REDD” is more commonly accepted. Delegates decided to continue discussions on the draft decisions informally.
Delegates then considered a draft decision on the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), with discussion dwelling on: language authorizing the UNEP Executive Director to make arrangements for the operation of the Centre at UNEP headquarters; an invitation to the GEF to fund the CTCN; and a call to member states to provide voluntary financial and other contributions.
Progress Report by the Executive Director: The Secretariat introduced a progress report by the Executive Director regarding emergency response and preparedness, South-South cooperation, engagement of youth, UNEP International Ecosystem Management Partnership, and IPBES (UNEP/GC.27/13, 15, and UNEP/GC.27/INF/8, 15, 16 and Add.1). The REPUBLIC OF KOREA registered his support for the UNEP International Ecosystem Management Partnership. CHILDREN AND YOUTH called for the development of a new strategic programme for the Tunza programme for 2015-2020.
Delegates then considered Malaysia’s draft decision on IPBES (UNEP/GC.27/L.2). The EU, opposed by the US, suggested referencing an IPBES decision (I/4) on entering into a collaborative partnership arrangement with UNDP, FAO and UNESCO. INDONESIA, supported by MALAYSIA, proposed alternative text, referencing language used in the IPBES decision on partnerships. Delegates were unable to reach consensus on this issue.
International Environmental Governance (IEG): The Secretariat introduced documents on IEG (UNEP/GC.27/6, 15 and Add.1, and UNEP/GC.27/INF/20).
Coordination across the UN System, including the Environment Management Group (EMG): The Secretariat introduced a document on coordination across the UN System, including through the EMG (UNEP/GC.27/15/Add.1). The US lauded the work of the EMG, while MAJOR GROUPS called to be included in the EMG as “sources of information and expertise.” SWITZERLAND called for a report on the allocation of funds within the EMG. The UNCCD stressed that the EMG should provide greater support to the development of drylands.
Delegates discussed the draft decision on this issue late into the night.
Coordination and Cooperation within the UN System on Environmental Matters: The Secretariat introduced the relevant document (UNEP/GC.27/15/Add.1).
Corporate Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) between UNEP and other bodies: The Secretariat introduced a table of corporate MoUs between the UNEP and other bodies (UNEP/GC.27/15/INF/9) and a note on concluded progress in UNEP collaboration with the UN Human Settlements Programme (UNEP/GC.27/15/INF/18).
Coordination and Cooperation with Major Groups: The Secretariat introduced the document on coordination and cooperation with Major Groups (UNEP/GC.27/INF/5).
Environment and Development: Justice, Governance and Law: The Secretariat introduced the relevant documents (UNEP/GC.27/13; UNEP/GC.27/INF/8; UNEP/GC.27/CW/CRP.2; and UNEP/GC.27/CW/CRP.6). The US, supported by CANADA, introduced its revised draft decision on advancing justice, governance and law (UNEP/GC.27/CW/CRP.6). The EU and CROATIA, NORWAY, BRAZIL and SWITZERLAND expressed preference for the Secretariat’s draft, which delegates agreed to use as the basis for their work.
ARGENTINA, with BRAZIL and EGYPT, opposed by the US and NORWAY, emphasized that the Rio+20 Declaration on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability, adopted at the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability, is not a negotiated outcome and should not be referenced.
The US suggested, and the EU and CROATIA and NORWAY opposed, deletion of text on exploring the potential value of borrowing provisions from the Aarhus Convention on access to information and participation in the implementation of principle 10 (participation). The text remained bracketed. CHILE suggested, and delegates agreed, to refer to the GRULAC regional process to promote public access to information, participation and environmental justice.
Delegates debated the suggestion by the EU and CROATIA for the establishment of an international network composed of judiciary and other stakeholders in the legal enforcement chain. The US cautioned against duplication of efforts with similar networks. Delegates agreed that UNEP would “explore the possible establishment” of such a network.
The EU and CROATIA proposed referencing “environmental crimes” in the document with regard to sanctions for non-compliance. ARGENTINA and BRAZIL opposed this, saying such wording is not agreed under any intergovernmental process, and proposed “criminal activities regarding the environment.” Both references remained bracketed.
Working group on institutional arrangements and rules of procedure: Discussion on Wednesday addressed: stakeholder participation; enhancing UNEP’s voice in the UN system; promoting a strong science-policy interface; and consolidation of UNEP headquarter functions in Nairobi. On stakeholder participation, delegates considered a series of principles proposed by Major Groups, including: full stakeholder participation in all UNEP activities, including agenda setting and decision making; full access to all meetings; and a right to submit documents for consideration.
Support was expressed for stakeholder involvement in agenda and policy setting, but many delegates said decision making is a prerogative of governments. A few delegates said they welcomed stakeholder input into decision making. The need to amend UNEP’s rules of procedure to enable enhanced participation was also discussed, including through a mechanism of accreditation for non-international NGOs and other stakeholders to participate in UNEP meetings.
On enhancing UNEP’s voice, there was widespread support for a strengthened Environment Management Group (EMG), and one delegate suggested that the Executive Director represent the EMG in the UN Development Group to raise environmental issues during those discussions.
On consolidation of headquarter functions in Nairobi, one delegate proposed requesting the Executive Director to immediately start the process of consolidation and conclude it by 2016. Others said the terms “headquarter functions” and “consolidation” needed to be clarified first, and highlighted the Rio+20 outcome also requires stronger UNEP regional presence. They proposed that the Executive Director could provide guidance on these issues.
The group agreed to reconvene on Thursday morning to consider a draft decision prepared by the Co-Chairs on the issues discussed.
IN THE BREEZEWAYS
The Rio+20 mandate given to UNEP to “progressively consolidate headquarters functions in Nairobi” proved contentious in the discussions on institutional arrangements. According to some delegates, the provision clearly requests UNEP to start moving its outpost departments and sub-programmes back to Nairobi. “This session should set that process in motion without delay,” asserted a delegate. Others disagreed, cautioning against rearranging UNEP’s facilities without a clear understanding of what “headquarter function” means. Some predicted the issue will not be resolved at this meeting and will likely remain contentious, given that UNEP has a strong presence in cities like Geneva, where important efficiencies and synergies have been achieved in the chemicals and wastes cluster and other areas.
By mid-afternoon, discussions in the working group were suspended, amid buzz that stakeholder participation were also proving to be a knotty issue, particularly the question of how or whether stakeholders could be involved in decision making at a strengthened UNEP. Major Groups were busy lobbying delegates, using a set of principles discussed and agreed to at the previous weekend’s Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum. Light-hearted lobbying spilled over into the evening reception, lit dimly by solar lamps – a metaphor for the way forward at this point, suggested one participant.