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The permanent representatives to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reached agreement on three decisions regarding the future of UNEP’s work on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.

Inger Andersen
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The decisions were forwarded to the UN Environment Assembly for consideration at its fifth session and were adopted on the opening day.

The decisions ensure that UNEP can continue operating during a global travel ban, while deferring substantive debate on key thematic issues to a resumed face-to-face session of the OECPR in 2022.

The fifth meeting of the Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives (OECPR-5) took place from February 15 to 17, 2021 through virtual means. Taking part in the deliberations, held online for the first time, were 88 Member States, 29 accredited organisations, and over 500 other online attendees.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin reports that without the ability to “mingle or huddle in groups to listen, learn and hash out the details of an agreement” it is difficult to navigate the politics of intergovernmental decision-making. These difficulties were further complicated for OECPR-5 by time zone differences and technical challenges, and the meeting required an extra day to complete deliberations.

The Committee – the body mandated to provide advice on policy matters and prepare UNEA’s agenda – endorsed a medium-term strategy (MTS) for 2022-2025, and a programme of work and budget for the biennium 2022-2023. One sticking point on the endorsement of the MTS related to references to “environmental rights,” which many delegates said lacked an intergovernmentally agreed definition.

Member States agreed to replace the term “environmental rights” with “human rights’ obligations related to the enjoyment of safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.”

Another concern related to UNEP’s attention to geographical and gender parity of its staff, with several participants noting that European individuals dominate professional posts.

The Committee also reached agreement on the management of trust funds and earmarked contributions, and convening the resumed, in-person sessions of OECPR-5 and UNEA-5. On this item, views diverged on the most appropriate way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of UNEP, and whether a special session should take one or two days.

They agreed that the special session to commemorate the 50th anniversary of UNEP would convene over two days, in conjunction with the resumed session of UNEA-5 in 2022. 

The first part of UNEA-5 takes place from February 22 to 23, 2021. Following the adoption of the three decisions negotiated by OECPR-5, UNEA participants engaged in the first of two leadership dialogues.

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