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Second Consultation on 2022 Declaration: Debrief

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Second Consultation on 2022 Declaration: Debrief

From 17 to 19 November 2021, UN Member States met in Nairobi for a second informal consultation on the draft political declaration mandated by UN General Assembly resolution 73/333. For reference, the first session took place in July 2020.

This second session allowed the Member States to perform line-by-line negotiations on the content of the political declaration. An initial draft of the declaration was published by the co-facilitators on 11 October 2021. Despite some interesting provisions, this draft was notoriously lacking in truly ambitious proposals.

The objective of this declaration is to strengthen the implementation of international environmental law and governance. It is intended for adoption at a special session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) commemorating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), from 3 to 4 March 2022.

The consultation revealed that (1) references to rights and principles remain divisive, and (2) the overall level of debate remains somewhat unambitious.

1/ References to the rights and principles of environmental law remain divisive


On the one hand, more and more States support the recognition of the right to a healthy environment (currently included in the preamble of the draft declaration)

  • The European Union presents a unified position in favor of the right to a healthy environment and its “procedural” offshoots (access to information, public participation, and access to justice. This stance results from a German turnaround in favor of this right.
  • Also in favor are the Latin American and Caribbean Group (in particular Colombia and Costa Rica), Morocco, Norway, and Switzerland. While not opposed, the United Kingdom remains rather lukewarm on the matter.
  • This strengthening of positions in favor of environmental rights is a positive consequence of the adoption by an overwhelming majority on 8 October 2021, of UN Human Rights Council resolution 48/13 enshrining the right to a healthy environment.

On the other hand, the opposition of some Member States is not weakening. The United States and Russia have been particularly vocal in their opposition to a right to a healthy environment. Japan and Algeria are also reluctant. In the face of such opposition, consensus will likely be achieved by downgrading the level of the declaration. This dynamic is likely to result in the deletion of the content on the rights and principles of environmental law.

In conclusion, this opposition is a bad omen for the adoption of an ambitious declaration in 2022. Nevertheless, the increase in the number of States supporting the right to a healthy environment is encouraging for another project, that of the adoption in 2022 of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly recognizing the right to a healthy environment, extending the resolution of the Human Rights Council.

2/ The debate settles around two lines of disagreement


The general level of ambition: some delegations systematically refuse to negotiate any new proposal. This category includes the United States and Russia. On the contrary, a large group of delegations such as the European Union, Colombia, Costa Rica, Morocco, and Switzerland are trying to raise the ambition of the declaration.

The developed/developing country divide: this debate is mainly about the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Brazil invariably tries to include the latter, to the dismay of developed countries. Other developing countries, such as Costa Rica and Chile, attempt to reach common ground by insisting on the responsibility and respective capabilities of all States.