Outcomes and Significance of the Fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA4)

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This briefing note provides a concise overview of the main outcomes of the Fourth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA4), held 11-15 March 2019 as well as an early discussion of its potential significance. The theme of this year’s meeting was “innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production”. Several major reports were launched documenting not only severe pollution and environmental damage threatening the health of the environment, but also worrisome consequences for human health.UNEA4 considered 29 resolutions and adopted 23, both record numbers, in addition to 3 decisions and the Ministerial Declaration (IISD Reporting Services 2019). These resolutions covered a wide range of topics. The resolution addressing marine plastics received considerable attention. Many resolutions related to the meeting’s themes of innovation and sustainable consumption and production. The resolutions focused on a variety of issues related to the circular economy, including chemicals, waste, sustainable mobility, sustainable infrastructure, and food loss and waste, as well as environmental assessment. Others were related to issues such as deforestation, biodiversity and land degradation, coral reefs, and nitrogen.Regarding UNEP’s overall budget, the good news is that it is planned to increase by USD 121 million from 2018-19 to 2020-21, an increase of 15.3 percent. Nevertheless, it is clear that the scale of UNEP’s financial and human resources is not commensurate with the scale of the problems identified in various global environment reports mentioned above.Various individual companies made presentations on their initiatives at side events and other meetings, and some had booths to exhibit their products and services. Much more progress could be made if stronger measures were adopted. In conclusion, the results of UNEA4 at least provided a basis for the continuation and possibly modest strengthening of current voluntary efforts on the environment, even if the overall level of ambition and achievement is not as much as hoped.In the future, think tanks and NGOs involved in the UNEA process should devote more attention to assessing progress on past UNEA resolutions and presenting the results in side events, not just presenting new proposals.