Definitely not a Treaty, but a declaratory Global Pact for the Environment

June 7, 2019

Posted by: Frances Lawson

The outcome from an intense set of intergovernmental negotiations in Nairobi was dimly predictable and all-too-familiar. Following on from the post on this blog of 11th January 2019, the not-so-neatly titled “ad hoc open-ended working group” (AHOEWG) established by General Assembly Resolution GA Res 72/772 “Towards a Global Pact for the Environment” concluded its latest and last session in Nairobi with an outcome lacking any of the ambition hoped for by proponents of a Pact. Against hopes of a legal binding treaty or instrument to give some much-needed clarity and clout to international environmental law, there is likely only to be a “political declaration” in 2022.

The 2022 date for the political declaration is not anodyne, rather it will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Declaration of the United Nations on the Human Environment (“the Stockholm Declaration”), the first declaration of its kind on the human impact on the natural environment, commonly considered as heralding the start of “international environmental law”.

As Co-Chair Ambassador Duarte Lopes noted, the final outcome was a ‘weak result but consensual’. In particular, the recommendations:

  1. Simply acknowledge the value of “discussions” on the principles of international environmental law, instead of recognising the need for such principles to be codified as is the case with principles of international trade law and international humanitarian law;
  2. Call for “renewed efforts at all levels” to enhance the implementation of existing obligations and commitments under international environmental law yet shy away from any binding legal instrument to catalyse such “renewed efforts”;
  3. Stress, seemingly without irony, the importance “enhanced ambition regarding means of implementation” while in themselves representing a significant reduction in the ambition of the original GPE initiative as promoted by President Macron;
  4. Call for “enhanced cooperation” between the bodies overseeing the numerous different Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) whilst remaining silent on the means to finance and enable such enhanced cooperation;
  5. Similarly, inviting the governing bodies and secretariats of the MEAs to consider “identifying and addressing implementation challenges” in their regimes, again whilst failing to acknowledge the resource implications of such work.

Those backing a Global Pact for the Environment will continue their campaigning, backed by a small but growing list of ‘celebrity backers”. On the basis of the recommendations above, however, a quick comparative exercise between the Stockholm Declaration and the political declaration envisaged in 2022 is likely to highlight the staggering lack of progress in international environmental law over that 50-year period.

The recommendations of the AHOEWG can be found here