As 2021 draws to a close, the EMG looks back on a busy and productive year. Together, we published five collaborative reports, which are briefly described below. This year’s annual EMG Senior Officials Meeting launched two new processes – one on next June’s Stockholm+50 international meeting, the other on a pollution-free planet. The eight ongoing consultative processes and issue-management groups, as well as this year’s nine Nexus Dialogue topics, successfully engaged colleagues from around the UN system and beyond.
2022 also promises to be an important year for the EMG as well as for the UN system as a whole. As EMG Chair and UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen remarked at the Senior Officials Meeting, “We speak today of a triple planetary crisis: the crisis of climate change, which the entire UN system has understood and integrated into its programming; the crisis of biodiversity loss and nature loss, which continues to be the focus of our work; and the pollution and waste crisis, which the UN still needs to take fully on board. These crises clearly require our collective action.”
Environmental Sustainability Management
Ensuring that the UN system “walks the talk” on sustainability is vital to our reputation and credibility. The EMG has been exploring how the UN can more fully mainstream fundamental environmental and social sustainability principles into every aspect of its work. Key actions range from ensuring that management functions, programmes, and partnerships respect sustainability principles to joint reporting on the sustainability of the UN system.
In an important step forward, the EMG and the Sustainable UN Facility (SUN) have developed the Strategy for sustainability management in the United Nations system, 2020-2030 – Phase II: Towards leadership in environmental and social sustainability. It has been approved by the EMG Senior Officials, the UN High Level Committee on Programme, the UN High Level Committee on Management and the Chief Executives Board.
Sustainability Strategy II describes how environmental and social sustainability considerations (based on the 2030 Agenda, the Common Agenda, and other UN commitments) can be mainstreamed into the UN system and UN entities. It builds on 30-plus existing UN strategies and action plans that are in place already, including Sustainability Strategy I, and seeks to foster greater coherence among them. Implementation will start in 2022 with the exchange of knowledge and with discussions on a scorecard and indicators. An article describing the Strategy has been published in the November issue of UN Today.
Although the final text of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) has been delayed until 2022 due to the pandemic, the EMG is already exploring how to enhance UN-system collaboration on the GBF through the UN Common Approach to Biodiversity. Last May at a high-level event, the EMG launched a report describing the UN system’s commitment to assisting Member States to deliver on the Post-2020 Framework.
The Supporting the Global Biodiversity Agenda report highlights the relevance of biodiversity to the work of virtually all UN entities. It describes the multiple benefits that biodiversity brings to the SDGs, human development, health and food security, human rights, and to global efforts to achieve poverty eradication, gender equality, climate resilience, chemicals management, sustainable economies and intergenerational equity, to name but a few issues. It concludes that all actors will need to work together in a coordinated manner.
Marine Litter and Microplastics
The human impact on the oceans, from coral bleaching to overfishing to plastic wastes, has attracted growing concern. In response, the UN Environment Assembly established an Ad Hoc Open-Ended Expert Group on Marine Litter and Microplastics and invited the EMG to contribute to it. The resulting report, An Inventory of UN Activities and Initiatives related to Marine Litter and Microplastics: A UN system-wide contribution to support Member States in addressing marine litter and microplastics, is now available on the EMG website. It will be delivered to the Environment Assembly in February.
The report highlights the importance of taking a life-cycle approach to combating marine litter and microplastics. It notes the need for holistic management and the source-to-sea approach. It concludes that the UN system, with its wide range of expertise in many relevant sectors, can play a greater role in addressing marine litter and microplastics. To maximize its impact, the UN should strengthen collaboration among its various entities, starting by ensuring greater information exchange.
Infrastructure is central to sustainable development. It directly or indirectly influences 92% of the individual SDG targets*, underpins economic growth and delivers the services that are essential for improving livelihoods and well-being. At the same time, unsustainable, poorly planned and delivered infrastructure can have disastrous effects on the environment and societies.
The EMG served as a platform for UN contributions to the International Good Practice Principles for Sustainable Infrastructure (second edition) report, which sets out ten guiding principles that policymakers can follow to help integrate sustainability into infrastructure planning and delivery. It aims to inform the forthcoming wave of global infrastructure investment, which will need to be massive to ensure that the SDGs can be achieved.
*Thacker, S., Adshead, D., Morgan, G., Crosskey, S., Bajpai, A., Ceppi, P. et al. (2018). Infrastructure: underpinning sustainable development. UNOPS. Available here
COVID-19 and the Environment
The COVID-19 pandemic has harmed societies and economies around the world. Concerned about the potential impacts on the SDGs, the EMG has published a report entitled Inclusive Green Recovery: An Essential Post-COVID-19 Paradigm Shift to Build Back Better.
The report explores how to re-orient economies so that development supports the “Future We Want” vision and measurably improves human well-being. It concludes that achieving a green recovery requires the active involvement of the public sector, the financial sector and private enterprises. Their respective activities should be aligned to promote investments in clean energy, natural capital, buildings and energy efficiency, transportation, and R&D, education and connectivity.
Human Rights and Environment
In October, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognizing, for the first time, that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. Soon after, at the climate COP in Glasgow, the EMG Issue Management Group on human rights and the environment shared a briefing note on five priorities for integrating human rights in climate action with all UNFCCC-designated contact points representing EMG members. It also assisted with a side event on human rights and climate change. The COP26 outcomes explicitly integrated human rights into the operative text of the rules for implementing the international carbon markets under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in June 1972 in Stockholm. This landmark event adopted the Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan for the Human Environment and paved the way for the founding of UNEP, the negotiations for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and a dramatic increase in global awareness of environmental issues. To mark the 50-year anniversary, the UN General Assembly will convene the Stockholm+50 international meeting in Sweden on 2-3 June 2022. The meeting will evaluate progress as well as setbacks, new and continuing challenges and potential solutions.
The EMG has established an interagency task team to prepare a UN-system wide contribution to Stockholm+50. The report will provide an overview of achievements and challenges encountered by the UN system since 1972; analyse how the environmental agenda has been integrated into, and implemented within, the 2030 Agenda, the SDGs, and other related initiatives and frameworks; identify lessons learned and what can the UN do better; and feature a joint statement expressing the UN system’s commitment to accelerating and aligning efforts to address the three planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
Towards a Pollution-Free Planet
A Ministerial Declaration adopted by the UN Environment Assembly, calling for heightened efforts to address pollution, led in 2019 to agreement on an implementation plan entitled Towards a Pollution-Free Planet. UN system-wide support is fundamental to help countries effectively tackle the root causes and drivers of pollution. The EMG has therefore established a new interagency consultative process to facilitate UN system-wide support to action in support of the implementation plan. The process will explore opportunities for stronger investments and actions by the UN system as a whole that could accelerate the move towards a pollution-free planet and sound management of chemicals and waste. A Core Working Group will be established to prepare a response to the Secretary-General’s recent call to the Senior Management Team to unite efforts across the UN system on solutions for challenges posed by plastic pollution.