In the aftermath of the fifth United Nations Environmental Assembly, UNEP convened, on 3-4 March 2022, a special session called UNEP@50 to commemorate the 50 years since the establishment of the United Nations Environmental Programme in 1972, in Stockholm. The meeting was held under the theme “Strengthening UNEP for the implementation of the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, providing the opportunity for high-level officials, scientists, academia, and civil society to reflect on the organization’s five decades of engagement into environmental affairs. In this context, the meeting explored how to further strengthen UNEP in the entity’s endeavor to substantially implement the environmental dimension of the sustainable development, thus contributing to the battle against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
In his statement on the first day of the meeting, UN Chief António Guterres applauded UNEP’s efforts towards a sustainable future. Among others, he underscored the need to tackle the devastating plastic pollution, to decarbonize the energy sector and to further support the global south through the expansion of financial and technical assistance by the developed north, in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
On the first day of the special session, two reports were presented before the delegates. In particular, the first report was drafted by UNEP’s Executive Director Andersen under the title “Reflecting on the past and imagining the future: a contribution to the dialogue on the science-policy interface”. Through this report, Ms. Andersen pointed out the importance to close the time gap between scientific discovery and policy action through the formation of an effective as well as inclusive science-policy mechanism. The second report, entitled “The UNEP we want”, was collectively developed by the UNEP Major Groups and other Stakeholders. This report rigorously examined how the global environmental authority could implement more effectively the environmental dimension of sustainable development in the framework of its mandate, while it, also, underlined the necessity to encourage pluralism in the formulation of stakeholders’ interests, who are repeatedly forced to speak and act as one.
In addition, the commemorative UNEA meeting adopted a strong political declaration, which called for the strengthening of the authority’s mandate in the effort to promote the environmental dimension of sustainable development as outlined in the sustainability “road map” known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this “celebrating” declaration the UN Member States reaffirmed, inter alia:
- their will to strengthen the international environmental governance,
- their support to foster constructive cooperation between multilateral environmental agreements and the organization,
- their intention to enhance the implementation of existing obligations and commitments under international environmental law,
- their belief that a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is an undeniable constitutional right,
- the need to bolster the developing south in the implementation of domestic environmental policies through capacity-building, technology transfer, and funding,
- the need to reinforce conservation, restoration, and sustainable use in the context of intragenerational and intergenerational equity,
- the importance of access to information, access to public participation, and access to justice in order to promote environmental justice,
- the necessity to engage all relevant stakeholders, including indigenous people and local communities, in the decision-making process,
On the second day, the meeting proceeded with two high-level leadership dialogues, namely “Looking back: 50 years of UNEP” and “Looking forward: Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for people and planet”. In the context of the leadership dialogues, distinguished speakers reflected on UNEP’s 50 years past accomplishments and explored how the organization could become more effective in urgently accelerating the sustainable change the Earth -our home- needs, whilst strengthening the engagement of the new generation in the formulation of the global environmental policy. The leadership dialogues were followed by a multi-stakeholder dialogue in which various perspectives were raised on the kind of UNEP we want or otherwise the future we want in the next 50 years.
Reflecting on the past five decades, the participants underscored that, despite UNEP’s huge input in the areas covered by its mandate, the environmental challenges the world faces today are more crucial than ever. That indicates the significance of further advocating the institutional role of the organization, with a view to generating an embracing environmental narrative that will lead the world decisively towards the path of sustainability. As the chair of the first special meeting stated in the closing session “the UNEP mandate will be even more significant in the next 50 years and, in the light of the triple planetary crisis we are facing, the role of UNEP has to be non-traditional”.
Sources: UNEP, United Nations, IISD, International Center for Comparative Environmental Law
About the author
MEPIELAN Centre is an international research, training and educational centre established by Professor Evangelos Raftopoulos at the Panteion University of Athens in 2008.
Before its establishment as a University Centre, MEPIELAN operated as a successful international research, training and informational programme (2002-2007) under the scientific direction of Professor Evangelos Raftopoulos and the aegis of the Panteion University of Athens, supported by the Mediterranean Action Plan/UNEP and the Greek Ministry of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works.
MEPIELAN Centre is an accredited UNEP/MAP PARTNER (since 2013), a Member of the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development (MCSD) (since 2016), and a Member of the Steering Committee of the MCSD (since 2019).
On 22 May 2022, MEPIELAN Centre proceeded to the development of MEPIELAN as a Non- Profit Civil Organization (INGO) for the more effective and efficient advancement of its Goals and Missions and furtherance of its activities. MEPIELAN Centre as a Non- Profit Civil Organization (INGO) is registered in Greek Law (Hellenic Business Registry, Reg. No. 16477300100) in accordance with Laws 4072/2012 & 4919/2022 as applicable