Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director
The environment is set to take centre stage this June with the holding of a landmark meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, the home of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Environment Ministers and Government representatives from 193 UN Member States and major groups will gather on June 23-27 for the inaugural meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)—a body designed to place environmental issues at the heart of the global agenda.
UNEA strikes new ground. It is a subsidiary assembly of the UN General Assembly and this is intended to allow environmental issues to have a similar status to those of peace, security, finance, health and trade. Mandated to determine policy and catalyze international action, UNEA represents the world’s political and strategic vehicle for driving global work on environmental priorities.
The universal membership assembly, which replaced UNEP’s Governing Council, reflects the commitment of world leaders at Rio +20 to strengthen and upgrade UNEP as “the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, that promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and that serves as an authoritative advocate for
the global environment.”
UNEA will tackle diverse environmental challenges and emerging issues of global, regional and national significance. Such challenges will impact the extent to which governments and other stakeholders can successfully implement sustainable development at different levels.
At its first session, UNEA is expected to provide leadership on global environmental policy, and continue to keep the world environment under review; a mandate first conferred upon UNEP’s Governing Council by the 1972 United Nations General Assembly resolution 2997 and subsequently enhanced through the Rio +20 outcome – The Future We Want.
One of the main themes of UNEA’s first session will be “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, including sustainable consumption and production”. Deliberations are intended to contribute to the ongoing formulation of a set of targets and indicators on SDGs.
Ministers will also discuss the illegal trade in wildlife and timber, an issue that is generating increasing global attention and action.
UNEA will additionally provide a forum for examining crucial processes in environmental action such as the science-policy interface and the strengthened engagement of major groups and other key stakeholders.
A set of unprecedented symposia will be organized on this historic occasion: a symposium on the Rule of Law will bring together law makers and decision makers, along with key civil society organisations in lively debates on recent developments linked to international environmental governance.
How the global finance system can contribute to the Green Economy and what makes the green economy work for the financial systems? This second symposium of UNEA will bring together professionals of the finance sector, policy makers and environmental economists with the expectation to identify opportunities and bottlenecks for “green” sustainable investments.
The first UNEA session is a historic event that is set to define not only the future of the United Nations Environment Programme for the next few decades, but also to strengthen the institutional framework and programmatic platform for the environmental dimension of integrated sustainable development.
For the UN system, the Environment Assembly embodies the notion that challenges are best addressed and opportunities realized when the community of nations and citizens of the world join forces to promote economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental sustainability in a holistic manner.
As such, UNEA is not just an expanded UNEP Governing Council, but symbolizes a fundamental change of scope as the new body plays its newly defined role of serving as the world’s authoritative voice on environmental matters across the UN System.
Every Member State has a voice in the Environment Assembly on environmental sustainability.
A strong showing of ministers from all regions, complimented by the significant presence of the major groups and stakeholders, will help define the relevance of the United Nations Environment Assembly well into the future, including strengthening UNEP’s regional presence for effective delivery of support to member states.