INTERVIEW - New environmental pact could face September vote, UN official says

by Sebastien Malo | @SebastienMalo | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 13 April 2019 01:11 GMT

United Nations General Assembly President Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa listens during an interview in New York, United States, April 12, 2019. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Sebastien Malo

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The new pact contains clauses that establish the right to a clean environment and commits parties to creating judicial processes and other means to hold polluters accountable

By Sebastien Malo

UNITED NATIONS, April 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new, ambitious environmental treaty is expected to be ready for a vote when the United Nation's annual summit begins in September, the president of the U.N. General Assembly said on Friday.

Maria Fernanda Espinosa, who is nominally in charge of the 193-member body, said negotiations underway could soon produce a definitive text for the Global Pact for the Environment, which is supposed to plug holes left by prior treaties.

As president of the General Assembly, Espinosa represents all member states, a role that differs from that of the U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, who acts as the chief of the U.N. itself.

"I really hope that we will have something in hand," she said in an interview. "A finalized version."

Espinosa, a former foreign minister of Ecuador, was elected president of the 73rd General Assembly last June.

It is mainly a ceremonial post that nonetheless carries a high profile and important procedural functions.

A geographer by training, she has made environmental action a key pillar of her agenda, last month convening a global gathering on climate change and poverty.

A preliminary draft of the new pact, introduced by France and released in 2017, contains clauses that establish the right to a clean environment and commits parties to creating judicial processes and other means to hold polluters accountable.

The treaty is being negotiated in Nairobi, where U.N. Environment is headquartered.

Negotiations of the treaty were "very strained," Espinosa said.

Disagreements centered around questions of accountability and reporting on progress, she said.

"There are different fears and different understandings of how far the pact should go," Espinosa said.

The pact has received a mixed reviews from some legal experts, who question whether a one-size-fits-all treaty can deal with a myriad of holes left in measures addressing distinct environmental problems.

But it has received the backing of Guterres and has been promoted by French President Emmanuel Macron and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The new accord would give more teeth to global environmental regulations coordinated by the U.N. beyond the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, Espinosa said.

That 2015 pact, agreed by nearly 200 nations, aims to keep the increase in average world temperatures to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times, mainly by reducing the use of polluting fossil fuels.

Climate change brings stifling summers, worse flooding from storms, rising sea levels, crueler droughts and ever-longer allergy seasons, among a slew of other extreme weather effects.

The Global Pact for the Environment would create a solid baseline for implementing other environmental protections like the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity and the Statement of Forest Principles, she said.

The Forest Principles, adopted in 1992, are a set of guidelines on the sustainable management of forests worldwide.

Short of adopting a "holistic" approach like the Global Pact for the Environment envisions, other U.N. goals on climate and poverty risk failing, she said.

"If you don't fix the relationship between society, nature and the economy, it won't work," said Espinosa.

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers climate change, humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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