The fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) took place from 11-15 March 2019 in
Nairobi, Kenya, at the UN Offices at Nairobi (UNON), organized on the theme of “Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production.” The conference attracted a record number of participants, with five Heads of State and Government, 157 ministers and deputy ministers, and almost 5,000 participants from 179 countries attending the Assembly and related events during the week. The Assembly included plenary sessions, leadership dialogues and a multi-stakeholder dialogue, and took place concurrently with many events at UNON, including the One Planet Summit convened by the presidents of France and Kenya. Other events that took place in conjunction with UNEA-4
• Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (7-8 March);
• Science, Policy and Business Forum (9-10 March);
• Sustainable Innovation Expo (10-15 March); and
• Cities Summit (13 March).
The Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives convened from 4-8 March, with informal consultations on 9-10 March, to negotiate the resolutions and decisions to be adopted by UNEA-4. Negotiations on many of the draft resolutions and decisions continued in the UNEA Committee of the Whole. During the closing plenary on 15 March, delegates adopted a Ministerial Declaration, 23 resolutions and three decisions, addressing shared and emerging global environmental issues. UNEA-4 also adopted the UNEP Programme of Work and budget for the 2020-21 biennium and launched the Sixth Global Environment Outlook report.
Opening the Assembly on Monday, 11 March, UNEA-4 President Siim Valmar Kiisler (Estonia) invited delegates to
observe a minute of silence in honor of the 157 people who perished in the Ethiopian Airlines crash on Sunday while en route to Nairobi. Noting that UNEP will be 50 years old in 2022, he invited all participants to focus on scaling up efforts to find innovative solutions to environmental challenges. Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director, UNEP, introduced the UNEA-4 theme, “Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production.” She anticipated the attendance of environment ministers and other high-level delegations from over 170 countries as well as other stakeholders, and invited all to join the #SolveDifferent campaign, which aims at communicating the environmental cost of unsustainable consumption and production models.
Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat and Acting Director-General, UNON, said innovation is essential to leaving no one behind in an urbanizing world, and spoke of UNON’s plans to make the compound more environmentallyfriendly. Keriako Tobiko, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Forestry and the Environment, Kenya, described Kenya’s various initiatives to move towards a more sustainable economy, including efforts to
eliminate single-use plastics, and said that Kenya fully endorses the human right to a healthy environment.
Regional groups then made statements to plenary. The videos of all statements can be accessed at http://web.unep.org/environmentassembly/statements. The Assembly adopted the provisional agenda (UNEP/EA.4/1/Rev.1) without comment. Thereafter, the Assembly established the Committee of the Whole (COW) and elected Fernando Coimbra (Brazil) as its Chair and Putera Parthama (Indonesia) as Rapporteur. This report presents an account of the UNEA-4 plenaries and a summary of the decisions and resolutions discussed under
the COW, organized into the five thematic clusters in which they were originally discussed in the OECPR. The thematic clusters addressed: sustainable consumption and production (SCP); resource efficiency, chemicals and waste; biodiversity and ecosystems; environmental governance; and the UNEP Programme of Work (POW).
Addressing single-use plastic products pollution:
OECPR WG 2 took up discussion of the draft resolution, “Phasing Out Single-use Plastics,” sponsored by India, after it was decided that elements of this resolution could not be integrated into the waste resolution or marine litter resolution. The WG took up the draft on Thursday, 7 March, and returned to it on Sunday, 10 March, with informal bilateral consultations in between. Among the
issues dividing WG negotiators were whether to:
• “phase out,” “reduce” or “address” single-use plastics;
• apply the action to all, some, “certain” or “most problematic” single-use plastics;
• include a deadline, with India originally proposing 2025 as in
the draft Ministerial Declaration;
• include plastic additives;
• how Member States should work with industry;
• target actions that include the design and production phases;
• address consumers directly, and if so, what actions to
Delegates also disagreed on what scientific and technological cooperation to request, and what specific requests to make of UNEP. OECPR forwarded bracketed text to UNEA-4, where it was assigned to COW CG 2. In the CG, the two opposing sides proposed alternative formulations of the key operative paragraph: one alternative invited Member States to address the challenge of plastic debris by promoting solid waste management and innovation; the other urged all Member States to take actions to address single-use plastics by identifying and developing environmentally-friendly alternatives and action including, but not limited to, significantly reducing single-use plastic products by 2030. CG negotiations were unable to break the impasse, so on Wednesday, 13 March, CG 2 Chair Gronda proposed a Chair’s compromise text to the COW. The EU objected to the Chair’s compromise text, so COW Chair Coimbra ordered informal consultations facilitated by Gronda between India, the EU, US, and other interested parties. As a result of these consultations, the final text proposed to the COW changed the resolution’s title, encouraged Member States to develop and implement national or regional actions, and requested UNEP to support them in that endeavor upon request. The new compromise formulation was forwarded to the plenary for adoption on Wednesday 13 March.
In the resolution (UNEP/EA.4/L.10), UNEA:
• encourages Member States to develop and implement national or regional actions, as appropriate, to address the
environmental impacts of single-use plastic products;
• encourages Member States to take actions, as appropriate, to promote the identification and development of environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use plastic products, taking into account the full life-cycle implications of those alternatives;
• invites Member States to work together with industry to encourage the private sector to innovate and find affordable and environmentally friendly alternatives to single-use plastic products and to promote business models that take into account the full environmental impact of their products;
• encourages governments and the private sector to promote more resource-efficient design, production, use, and sound management of plastics across their life cycle;
• encourages Member States to carry out environmental education actions about the impact of plastic pollution,
sustainable consumption patterns, and sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic products; and
• invites Member States, intergovernmental organizations, the scientific community, NGOs, the private sector, and other stakeholders to promote and enhance cooperation in scientific research and the development of environmentally sound alternatives to single-use plastic products, where appropriate, as well as to tackle plastic pollution within local, national, and regional voluntary and regulatory frameworks, as appropriate.
The resolution requests UNEP, in partnership with other UN agencies, funds, and programmes, to:
• support Member States, upon their request, in the development and implementation of national or regional action plans to address the environmental impacts of single-use plastic products;
• facilitate and/or coordinate technical and policy support to governments, especially of developing countries that so
request, the scientific community, NGOs, the private sector, and other stakeholders regarding the environmental impact of single-use plastic products and the promotion of innovative and environmentally-friendly solutions for their replacement, taking into account their full environmental impact; and
• make available existing information on the actions Member States have taken to address plastic pollution, the full lifecycle environmental impacts of plastics, and the full life-cycle environmental impacts of other alternative materials, and share this information in advance of UNEA-5.
Resource Efficiency, Chemicals and Waste Marine plastic litter and microplastics:
This resolution, proposed by Japan, Norway, and Sri Lanka on “Strengthening global governance on marine plastic litter and microplastics,” resulted from a merger of three resolutions proposed separately by each of the co-sponsors. OECPR WG 2 first took up the draft on Tuesday, 5 March, when the cosponsors were asked to clean up the text as much as possible to eliminate overlapping and bracketed text. Formal WG negotiations during the remainder of
the week made limited progress. The draft resolution was forwarded to UNEA and COW CG 2 took up further negotiations, also with limited progress. Delegates conducted an off-the-record stocktaking of national positions on
the central issue in the draft resolution, namely whether to create an Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to prepare governance options for consideration at UNEA-5. CG 2 Chair Martin Gronda produced a Chair’s compromise text that sought to balance positions of the various factions. Malaysia objected to the compromise text in the COW plenary, and COW Chair Coimbra ordered informal consultations among interested delegations, facilitated by Gronda, which were successful. The COW approved and forwarded the text on Wednesday, 13 March.
In the resolution (UNEP/EA.4/L.7), UNEA extends the mandate of the Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics created by UNEA-3, tasking it to:
• take stock of existing activities and actions towards long-term elimination of discharges into the oceans, to reduce marine plastic litter and microplastics;
• identify technical and financial resources or mechanisms for supporting countries in addressing marine plastic litter and microplastics;
• encourage partnerships as well as increased cooperation in areas such as development of source inventories, improvement of waste management, awareness raising, and promotion of innovation; and
• analyze the effectiveness of existing and potential response options and activities on marine litter and microplastics at all levels to determine their contribution in solving the global problem.
The resolution invites the UN Environment Management Group to engage in and contribute to the Ad Hoc Open-ended Expert Group by providing a mapping of all relevant UN agencies, programmes, initiatives, and expertise with relevance to marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics. UNEA also decides to establish, within available resources, and building on existing initiatives, a multi-stakeholder platform within UNEP to take immediate action towards the long-term elimination of discharges of litter and microplastics into the oceans through a life-cycle approach. Among other things, the multi-stakeholder platform is mandated to:
• serve as a forum to share experiences and coordinate action;
• serve as a repository for, inter alia: assessments on how land and sea-based sources of marine litter, including plastic litter and microplastics, are addressed at the national, regional, and international level; guidance materials; and action plans;
• raise awareness;
• establish and maintain a database of technical and scientific information related to marine litter;
• promote collaboration among relevant existing science mechanisms; and
• promote action in Regional Seas Conventions and Programmes, within available resources, to address marine litter through action plans, protocols, partnerships, and other activities.
The resolution requests UNEP to:
• within available resources and benefiting from the work of relevant existing mechanisms, immediately strengthen
scientific and technological knowledge with regard to marine litter including marine plastic litter and microplastics;
• through its 10-Year Framework of Programmes on SCP Patterns, elaborate guidelines on plastic use and production in order to inform consumers, including on standards and labels, to incentivize businesses and retailers to commit to sustainable practices and products, and to support governments to promote the use of information tools and incentives to foster SCP; and
• report to UNEA-5 on progress in implementing the resolution.
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need”
– Rolling Stones, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
Delegates arrived in sunny Nairobi facing a heavy workload for the fourth sessions of the Open-ended Committee of
Permanent Representatives (OECPR-4) and UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), with a record number of 29 draft
resolutions and decisions, almost twice the number under consideration at UNEA-3, on the broadest variety of topics yet. Most were confident that this session of UNEA, “the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment,” would produce solid outcomes with levels of ambition appropriate to the many challenges identified. Others, however, warned that weak intersessional preparations had not created the conditions to tackle
this workload. This analysis examines what UNEA-4 set out to do versus what it did and did not accomplish, and what impacts it is expected to have on UNEP itself and other processes going forward.
Besides the Member States, several representatives of Major Groups and other UN agencies were there. ESDO Secretary-General, Dr. Shahriar Hossain also took the floor.