Half time analysis on conflict and the environment from UNEA-2

The Committee of the Whole at UNEA-2 in Nairobi, with time running out for the negotiations, will consensus be reached on the two resolutions on conflict and the environment?

The Committee of the Whole at UNEA-2 in Nairobi, with time running out for the negotiations, will consensus be reached on the two resolutions on conflict and the environment?

Governments, international organisations and civil society are meeting in Nairobi this week for the second meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-2). The environmental causes and consequences of armed conflicts are on the agenda and with UNEA-2 approaching its halfway point this blog examines who’s been saying what and what the expected outcomes might be.

Prior the formal opening of UNEA-2 on Monday, 260 civil society representatives had met for two days to discuss the agenda for the week ahead and to try to reach common positions on the resolutions and wider policy issues, such as UNEA’s stakeholder engagement policy and the environmental dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals. The TRWN updated attendees on the two draft resolutions on conflict and the negotiations to date.

The draft resolutions

Two resolutions have been tabled on conflict and the environment, a general text from Ukraine and a text focusing on Gaza that was tabled by Morocco. A briefing on the former is available here. Both resolutions, which were subject to negotiations prior to UNEA-2, were formally submitted to the plenary meeting of the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday (ENB report here).

The DRC, Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon all expressed support for Ukraine’s text in plenary, with the DRC highlighting issues of concern, including the migration of wildlife species due to armed conflict, resulting in a loss of tourism earnings even after the conflict is over. They invited the international community to assess their country’s physical assets and biodiversity, noting that such world heritage is under threat.

Syria highlighted the sabotage of oil pipelines, destruction of water treatment facilities, and lack of access to solid waste disposal as conflict-related issues with environmental and public health impacts, mentioning, as an example, that uncollected waste attracts insects and rodents that transmit dangerous diseases. Ukraine said the resolution was intended to be universal, not country-specific, and called on the international community to cooperate more closely to reduce conflicts.

Meanwhile Morocco introduced its Gaza resolution on behalf of the Arab States. Venezuela, Egypt, Nicaragua, South Africa, Djibouti, Lebanon, Oman and Algeria all expressed their support for the text. Egypt stated that it is within UNEP’s mandate to conduct environmental assessment missions in such areas where deemed necessary by the country under consideration. Both resolutions were placed in the third of the three resolution drafting groups, with formal negotiations expected to start on Wednesday.

What governments are saying

Negotiations on Ukraine’s text have been ongoing since January and informal consultations have been taking place in Nairobi prior to the final stage of drafting. Unfortunately, a minority of states have misinterpreted the text as a land grab for a much expanded mandate for UNEP on conflicts. That diplomats have been joking over the image of green-helmeted troops intervening to protect the environment gives a sense of the state of confusion.

The reality is that the text seeks merely to validate UNEP’s historical and current work on environmental assistance, recovery and environmental cooperation. The confusion over the question of the mandate had encouraged some governments to seek to block elements of the text but those that the TRWN has spoken this week seem to be softening their views. This is welcome as the delivery of the SDGs will require UNEP and the wider UN system to be far more effective than at present on the management of environmental issues in fragile or conflict-affected States. Nevertheless, it looks as is paragraph five of the resolution, which relates to this question may remain the biggest hurdle to consensus.

Another issue that has surfaced has been on the implementation of the currently weak legal frameworks intended to protect the environment during conflict. States must ensure that their militaries are fully aware of the rules and that they are respected during operations. However some have questioned their applicability. It is thought that these objections are not insurmountable and the sponsors will be working to integrate these concerns during the drafting process. A further question of law has related to human rights and the environment. A number of predictable – and one less predictable – objections have been raised but it may be that language from a March 2016 resolution of the UN Human Rights Council could provide common ground.

The final area of contention has related to the language on displacement, which originally came from a Jordanian resolution that was merged with Ukraine’s text in February. Some States had justified concerns that the existing language risked blaming the victims of displacement for the environmental damage they might contribute to and efforts to reframe the language on displacement are ongoing.

In spite of the issues above, there is general optimism that consensus will be reached, however time is short and the progress in the drafting groups has been slow thus far. Much will therefore depend on the informal consultations and the flexibility of governments.

There is much less optimism surrounding the Gaza text, which is causing a huge political headache for States and the secretariat. There is little to no chance of consensus being reached on the resolution, with States vehemently objecting to country or conflict-specific resolutions, all the more so thanks to the political baggage associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Procedure would technically allow Morocco to put it to a vote and on numbers alone it would be likely to pass, however this would break with precedent, and few governments want to be seen as spoilers or entertain the future implications of such a move. Time is short and a solution to this impasse needs to be found. There’s no doubting the need for a comprehensive environmental assessment of conditions in the Gaza Strip and creativity will be needed to ensure that this takes place.

The negotiations this week are set against a background where States have been overwhelmed by the number of resolutions and their scope. In spite of the lengthy preparations for UNEA-2, the majority of the drafts tabled contain contested language, some of which speaks to profound political and ideological differences. With only three days to go, it will take late nights, coffee and flexibility if consensus is to be reached.


With thanks to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin for their coverage of the plenary.

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