A virtual UNEA governance session made some progress but revealed the limitations of online negotiations.

Briefing Note

The 2021 United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.1) took place on February 22-23 2021.

As the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) universal-membership governing body, UNEA plays an important role in international environmental governance. Held biennially, UNEA brings together the UN’s 193 member states and other stakeholders to outline UNEP's priorities and set the global environmental agenda.

Traditionally convened at UNEP’s Nairobi Headquarters-- the only UN headquarters situated in the African continent and in the Global South-- this year’s UNEA was decisively influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, taking place entirely online. On the one hand, the virtual sessions provided the opportunity for more than 12000 viewers to observe proceedings streamed online in the week leading up to and during UNEA, which included the Youth Environment Assembly (held 12-20 February) and the UN Science-Business Policy Forum on the Environment (held 18-20 February). At the same time, utilizing the internet as the primary means of communication also posed challenges for environmental advocates seeking ambitious environmental outcomes from this year's UNEA. Limitations of purely digital meetings have become apparent. While useful for consultations and information sharing, online negotiations have proven difficult to conclude. This year’s UNEA 5.1 also demonstrated both benefits and drawbacks of convening virtually.

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