Simon shares his knowledge on UNEA-5.2, the second half of UNEP’s biennial United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEA functions as the world’s parliament on the environment, where global environment ministers congregate to debate and decide on priorities of environmental concern in the context of nation states and the global community. Due to COVID-19, the event was divided into two halves with the first part taking place almost entirely online in early 2021, and the second half shortly taking place at the end of February 2022.
Some key questions covered:
To learn more about the 5th session of UNEA, please visit:
About our co-hosts:
Andre Mader leads the IGES unit on Biodiversity and Forests and is adviser to an IPBES Technical Support Unit hosted by IGES. He has a background in conservation management, science and policy, and has practiced mostly in Switzerland, Canada, the UAE, and his land of birth, South Africa.
Bob McDonald leads our Technology Solutions unit at IGES. He has decades of experience in IT and Web Development, but is an interested outsider when it comes to environmental issues. He loves making stuff, both physical and digital.
Erin Kawazu is a Programme Coordinator in Knowledge Management and Communications, Strategic Management Office at IGES. Her background is in environmental health sciences, a field that combines environmental science and public health. Off work, she can be found reading books on her ancient Kindle Keyboard, journaling, and struggling to self-teach the guitar.
Simon Høiberg Olsen is Research Manager at IGES. His areas of interest include environmental governance, civic engagement, social justice and the sustainable development goals (SDGs). He has a Master’s Degree in Southeast-Asian studies from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and a PhD in Environmental Sciences and Policy from the Central European University, Hungary. In his free time he enjoys gardening, woodworking and repair.
"About Sustainability..." is a podcast brought to you by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), an environmental policy think-tank based in Hayama, Japan. IGES experts are concerned with environmental and sustainability challenges. Everything shared on the podcast will be off-the-cuff discussion, and any viewpoints expressed are those held by the speaker at the time of recording. They are not necessarily official IGES positions.
Hello and welcome to the first episode of the IGES podcast. IGES is the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, an environmentally focused policy research institute headquartered in Hayama, Japan, not far from Tokyo. We've been around for more than two decades, producing a variety of publications and other work. A few of us thought that a long-form discussion would add some value to the conversation. We're going to kick things off by talking about the United Nations Environment Programme, also known as UN Environment or UNEP, and specifically UNEA 5.2. 5.2. UNEA, the United Nations Environment Assembly, Is organized by UNEP, and 5.2 is the upcoming second part of the fifth session. Before we get into that, let me start with some quick background. I'm Bob McDonald, senior web developer and head of the Technology Solutions Services Unit at IGES. I'm decidedly not a researcher in the areas IGES covers. I work here to enhance our impact because I think it's critically important, but I'm not an environmental expert. The IGES podcast will feature me and fellow hosts who are researchers at IGES, having detailed discussions on various topics around the areas IGES works in. Sometimes it'll just be the host and other times we may invite outside experts. We'll try to keep the discussion accessible, but we won't shy away from the detail. We'll leave out the jargon and not assume too much prior knowledge. My three co-hosts are Erin Kawazu, Andr Mader, and Simon Olsen. Erin works in our Strategic Management Office as a program coordinator. She handles a broad spectrum of tasks for the institute, including project management, social media management, stakeholder engagement, and research. Prior to this discussion, she rated her knowledge on UNEA at a three out of 10. By the way, I give myself a one when it comes to knowledge of UNEA. I can remember what it stands for on a good day. Andr leads our unit on Biodiversity and Forests. He has a background in conservation biology, so biodiversity is his primary area of focus. And Simon works in our Integrated Sustainability Centre on areas such as governance, civic engagement, the Sustainable Development Goals, and UNEP and UNEA. So he'll be our primary source of expertise for today's discussion. Everything shared in the podcast will be off-the-cuff discussion, and any viewpoints expressed are those held by the speaker at the time of the recording. They're not necessarily an official IGES position. And as I mentioned, the discussion is about UNEA 5.2, which will take place as a hybrid meeting online and in Nairobi, Kenya, from February 28th to March 2nd of 2022. Its theme is "Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals". So let's go find out more from Simon. I'm excited that we're all here to talk about UNEA. I know very little about it, which is is part of why we're here - to fill in some of those gaps. So I think the resident expert in this chat is Simon, so I'll direct the question to him to kick off the discussion. What is UNEA? What is it? What's the history and why do you know about it? Okay, so UNEA is the United Nations Environment Assembly. You know, the UN has the General Assembly, and now we have since 2012, almost ten years ago, we have the United Nations Environment Assembly, which is a universal - that means a consisting of all countries, all member states of the world are invited to join this environmental assembly once every two years to get together in person or virtually, and to make decisions around what UNEP should be working on, what should be focused on, and so on. So in the end of February, we have the second part of the fifth session. The first part of the fifth session took place last year. Usually, it's not like that, but that's because of COVID, so everything was put online, and that's why decisions could only be made a little bit slower. So we had a UNEA 5.1 last year in 2021, and we have UNEA five point two at the end of February. And one more thing I could say about this is that, before it was called UNEA, UNEP's main governing body was called the GC, the unit governing council, and the difference between UNEP governing council and UNEA is that the governing council only consisted of 58 members. So 58 government representatives at a time would join that smaller assembly and make decisions around UNEP. But at Rio+20 in 2012, 10 years ago, it was decided that maybe it was better for the environment - better for several reasons which we can get into - to make this decision-making body universal so that everybody could join and everybody could have an equal voice, in theory. I was just curious about, like, the GC and why- how that transition came about, and who was really part of this GC and- also why those 58 countries? I was curious. Do you have any idea why it was those and who those were? I think that the number derived from the UN from ECOSOC (the Economic and Social Council), which at the time I think had a similar constitution, a similar sort of administrative body. But so let's say the number was more limited and it came from the previous decisions that had been made on how UNEP should be governed. And it wasn't that it was always the same 58 countries. The seats would rotate, so some years there would be some countries that would actually have a seat and have something to say. And other years, some countries wouldn't have a seat. But in reality, probably even though they didn't have a seat, they would have a friend country or sort of a representative country that they'd go go up to and say, "Hey, can you make sure that this item doesn't get pushed off the agenda because we feel very strongly about it?" Things like that. So I I don't imagine that from a from an administrative or practical perspective that maybe the difference is between having 58 and 190 odd members is huge, but from a political and symbolic point, it is a significant difference to have a universal membership. And that takes us to the question, which was a decision at Rio+20 to to give or grant universal membership to UNEP. But so one of the items for decision was how to strengthen international environmental governance, and there were people and organisations and countries advocating for turning UNEP into a specialized agency. But for several reasons, there was not enough political appetite to upgrade UNEP into a specialized agency, which would have given it much more independence. So instead, UNEP was endowed with universal membership, which actually today means as we as we are talking about UNEA as the Environmental Assembly, you can compare the word "assembly" with the General Assembly. In fact, suddenly you have two assemblies. And usually an organisation would have an assembly, a universal assembly where decisions are made. So actually, from a governance structure point of view, UNEP, very much looks like an independent organisation. But from the political side, it is still a programme and that does have some implications. And it ties back to some reasons, potentially on how strong countries wish environmental governance to be. That leads right into the issue of whether what they decide on is going to be legally binding and what it means to be legally binding in the context of several sovereign nations making an agreement. That's a difficult question, I'm not a legal expert. I say that upfront, but that is one of the big tensions that that is holding us back, right? I guess you have some environmental agreements, some of them UNEP administers or takes care of and part, and others are more independent. And I'm here thinking of the Convention on Biological Diversity or the the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Those came out of the Rio Earth Summit in '92, and they are to an extent said to be legally binding. But de facto, if a country decides like, "Oh OK, we are going to to step out of the Paris Agreement, or we are going to not join the Kyoto Protocol or cancel it," then there's nothing much that other countries can do. So in the end of the day, the most effective power that we have is that of sovereign nation states. And in that sense, if you set up the agenda-setting capability of a body like UNEA, if countries decide that they don't want to follow what's being said there, then there isn't much that can be done at the international level. I mean, you can maybe name and shame, or you can create groups of friends that try to push a certain agenda forward. But it's always something that will have to be negotiated. And at this stage of UNEA, this environment assembly, everything is decided by consensus. And so that is great in a way because that assures that every voice is heard, but it's also very ineffective in other ways because sometimes you need to take a decision. And decisions, you know, especially on the environment, they are sometimes painful for some and great for others. There are winners and there are losers. There are tradeoffs. And if everything is decided by consensus, you end up with the lowest common denominator or you even end up without a decision. And in this day and age - I'd say that's just my personal opinion - with mounting problems on pollution and and ecosystems degradation or climate change, sometimes maybe we cannot wait for for some magic consensus to materialise five or seven years down the road. We need to take action. And maybe for that, just having to rely on decisions by UNEA is not enough. It is one important instance, but I don't think that's enough. There's other international processes happening, right? Like COP and High-Level Political Forum? How are those different? Are they working in different areas or are they by different, like you said, assembly versus program? Are some of them different levels at that stage? And I guess how do they differ as far as what they're working on and also how legally binding they are, how effective they are at setting policy at the international level? Maybe we should say first about some of the things that can that are usually decided at UNEA. That's- Usually you have countries or groups of countries come forward with proposed decisions or proposed draft resolutions, and those are things that that they want to have a a common decision on. For example, this year it looks like there can be a decision or resolution on how to deal with marine plastic litter or a decision on green recovery post-COVID for countries to ensure that the economic recovery is more environmentally sustainable or a decision on setting up an expert advisory body on chemicals a little bit like the the IPPES or the IPCC in the climate context. Some of these things might be decided and and when they are decided at UNEA, the expectation is that either there's an international process that's set in motion or countries because they've decided on it, that environmental ministers have been there and said and they haven't opposed it. So then they will go home to their capitals and they'll say, Well, we actually have decisions on Item X, Y and Z. Let's compare with the national policies that we have, and if we find that they are inappropriate, we might have to update those policies. So that's how the actual sort of practical influence comes from UNEP back to the country level. If you compare with HLPF, which is the High-Level Political Forum - that is an annual review forum for the Sustainable Development Goals - that is absolutely not legally binding. That's just a forum where countries come and and are invited to share their voluntary national reviews on what they have done on the Sustainable Development Goals. And that's also happening. But it's a very soft power type of thing and very voluntary. But still, I mean, I think has an element of benefit that's not as direct as law would be, but maybe it's reputational or about sharing good practices and hopefully also challenges. So that has an important function in a slightly different area. So when when it comes to the COPs, the conferences of the parties, it gets a little bit complicated. I'm wondering if any of you want to say something about that. Couple of things that are going around in my head and also a couple of questions, Simon. I mean, you know, you're talking early on about consensus and exactly the same thing applies with the CBD, for example, which is the convention that I'm most familiar with. And there the way that it works is that the convention text the original convention text from back in the 90s - that is officially legally binding. But then all of the decisions that move the convention forward over the decades now - and we're now entering the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, where those decisions are considered - those decisions are not legally binding. And, you know, very often they can be quite major decisions. But I think that there might be something to be said for the fact that they're not legally binding because, you know, as you alluded to earlier on, if they were legally binding, then consensus would be even more difficult to reach. So the fact that they're not legally binding means that countries might be a little more easy to convince that that they should sign on and be a part of the consensus. But that said, my experience with the CBD is that countries are pretty careful about approving a decision. You know, you're more likely to see a watered-down decision than that, a strongly worded decision, despite the fact that nobody's legally bound to to abide by it. That's why the negotiations go on into the early hours of the morning sometimes to fine-tune these these decisions, so the countries do seem to take it pretty seriously. You know, I guess that UNEA is the same in that respect. Who's participating in these meetings? Is it politicians or bureaucrats or both? I wonder if they if there is some political- like a politician has to be careful about what kind of announcements they make or what kind of agreements they make, no matter how legally binding they are. So UNEA 5.2 in the end of February actually is split into two parts and you will have a high-level segment at the end and you will have sort of a more working level segment at the beginning. And you can imagine that the first segment is maybe where you have bureaucrats that come. The positions, I mean, on different issues are, of course, already finished and ready from the capital cities. And they come with those and they compare them to- and negotiate basically. And that has to be ready once the ministerial or the high- level segment starts when the heads of state come, and that's then more ceremonial, more political and perhaps more symbolic where the package, as it were, of resolutions and agreements should be already almost ready already. And maybe there's a few points that need to be decided symbolically by a head of state here and there, but that's then saved for the high- level segment, and that's how it usually goes. And in fact, there's a lot of things happening behind the scenes leading up to this, of course. So there are working level meetings. It's something called the Committee of Permanent Representatives, which are embassy people from the countries that meet very regularly and discuss all these items that are on the agenda, whether it's marine plastic litter or it's nature based solutions or green recovery. All these issues are discussed to ensure that there are very few or to try to prevent that there any debilitating surprises during the sort of symbolic event of UNEA 5. So that's how it usually takes place. But I just want to add then, for this year, because it in fact is UNEP's 50th anniversary, there will be, at the beginning of March - that means right after UNEA is finished - there will be something called a special session. And that's two days of commemoration of UNEP at 50, where there will be sessions discussing, you know, what has happened the last five decades to the environment and to environmental governance and what is likely to happen the next 50 years and to see whether we think UNEP is fit for purpose, what can be done to strengthen UNEP in order to enable a more effective, equal and efficient tackling of the various environmental challenges that we have. So it's really sort of a triple type of event that will take place at the at the end of February or early March. So it'll be very interesting to attend this if we can. And this is the same as Stockholm+50? Or is a different thing? Yeah, Erin, that's a different thing, actually. But it is different, but it's certainly closely related. And why wouldn't it be right? Because if you think about it in that way, maybe the best way to explain it is- well, you said Stockholm+50. Well, then let's go back 50 years to 1972, when we had the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. And that Stockholm conference, among others, gave birth to an agreement to set up UNEP. That's why, UNEP is also turning 50 years old. This year is in fact a very important year for environmental governance and an occasion to make, some would argue, necessary changes. But that being said, because we are in a time of pandemic and have been for a long time and everything has taken place mostly online, the preparations for effective outcomes, I would say personally, have taken longer to get to than they would have otherwise if things would happen in person or compared to my experiences, say, 10 years in the past. And that's why I'm very interested to see what outcomes may come out of the commemoration of UNEP at 50 and what maybe that commemoration can push to Stockholm+50. And hopefully some political decisions can be made that can benefit environmental governance going forward, because we may ask ourselves if we think that the environmental challenges are being managed or being tackled appropriately, or if we want to leave all of that to our children. Simon, I was just wondering, you know, you were talking about the possibility of - because this is such a significant time in terms of commemoration and all the rest of it - there might be a time for some major changes. Maybe, maybe some remember some recent discussions that I've been hearing on podcasts about critiques of the US government becoming bigger and bigger. You know, the bureaucracy proliferating in the agencies, proliferating in, you know, more and more employees, more and more departments and all the rest of it. And I don't know much about UNEP, I don't know if they follow the same trajectory, but my guess is that that UNEP has grown a lot and and continues to grow. Is that your sense of things? And do you think that's something that might might have some potential for change in one direction or the other? Your question made me think of the discussion that happened in 2012 on whether to have a world environment organisation that means whether to upgrade UNEP to a specialised agency or not. Where I think part of the critique to do so was that we need to look at form and function. And if we just have a ceremonial form, but the functions don't change, there's no need to change the form. Let us focus instead on the functions. Let us focus instead of what UNEP is doing. Let us focus instead of funding. And that is a very valid point, I think. But as it UNEP as an environmental program, you know, cannot force its member states to pay a certain amount of fees. An organisation could do that, you know? But a program cannot. So there's something called a voluntary indicative scale of contributions. It's quite complicated, but basically there is a certain formula according to which UNEP is estimating - and that's sort of based on, you know, a country's GDP - And based on that, how much a country should be contributing to UNEP's operational budget. And then there's, of course, a lot of critics saying that that may be too large or blown up. But if you compare the overall budget of the UN with what's out there, I mean, a very known comparison is, that is approximately the same or a little bit less than the New York Fire Department. And if you have that type of budget and you are asked to meddle in all kinds of political and and or environmental affairs, then you shouldn't be surprised if you're not always successful and you're setting yourself up for critique. So in the end of the day, I think that's the situation that we are sort of in, that the UN is doing a very important - and UNEP as well - doing very important normative and agenda setting functions, but is not equipped to be really very strong on anything. And that is because countries are not interested in it. If countries were interested in it, it would happen. I just want to push back a little bit there because like, I had no idea about the size of the budget. That's a really interesting comparison there. But if you were to multiply that budget by 10, knowing that UNEP is not a funding agency, obviously, if it was a funding agency, then it could, you know, the funds could go to countries. But how would they improve the way they do things if the budget was multiplied by 10 or 100? I'm just kind of wondering what they would use that money for to make them operate better. Is it a case of quantity or quality? I think it's a case of both quantity and quality. But there are so many in my understanding, there's a few constraints, you know, because those voluntary indicative funds that that the Program receives from countries and you know, they're not- they don't always receive all that those funds. But when they're received, very often, they're earmarked. So that means a country will will provide the funding that they have to or some of the funding that they have to - but also telling UNEP, "Would you please spend it for X, Y and Z ?" And these are often items that the country itself is interested in furthering or promoting, either because they see that, think that those are important environmental items or, you know, they may be tied to the country's own economy and promotion of the country's own economy. So that's- that's part of it. And so just providing more money - if much of that is still shackled by different political interests, it might not make things easier. So I don't see any easy solution to that, but that's the situation that we are in and and of course, environmental governance is not only performed by UNEP, it is performed by a multitude of actors across scales and sectors. So there are many things that are being done. And but yeah, I mean, I think it's important to know, know a little bit about UNEP and UNEA and and how we as a country or as a citizen can relate to what's going on. Maybe now we can shift to what that money is paying for. Like what is on the agenda for UNEA 5.2, and beyond that, is it split this time because of the pandemic? Or is there some other reason like the negotiations need more time? Or why is it split into two and what's on the agenda? Maybe what roughly was accomplished in 5.1 And then what's slated for 5.2? Yeah. So usually UNEA takes place once every two years. But just like many other international meetings and international things that had to take place during the pandemic, they were disrupted by the pandemic. And that's why in 2021 it was decided - well, probably it was decided in late 2020 - that UNEA would be split into two halves. That means 5.1 and 5.2. And 5.1 was almost entirely online. Mostly the decisions that were taken there related to UNEP's own strategic program of work, getting that approved by member states, getting that rubber-stamped and deciding on its budget. So basically things that were necessary to keep the wheels rolling, as it were, during the pandemic - those were decided because they had to be decided. And then knowing that that 2022 is well at that time would be a key milestone date for all sorts of celebrations and commemorations, it was decided then, well, we will have you now 5.2 at this point of time. And for that, all the other sort of more political, if you will, items were decided to be and those include at this point of time, decisions and resolutions that are currently being debated and discussed and negotiated on issues like animal welfare, nature-based solutions - which is, by the way, a slightly contentious issue -, on green recovery on the Global Environmental Outlook, which is UNEP's flagship publication. And there are several more, but I think one key expected outcome is a decision to set in motion an international negotiation committee that will decide on an international legal instrument to deal with marine plastic pollution. I think that's sort of one of the most important ones. There is then also related to the commemoration of UNEP at 50. There will be a political declaration talking about UNEP and strengthening UNEP. What shape and form that's going to take, I don't know yet. We will have to wait and see what the appetite is for that. Those are some of the expected outcomes of the hybrid meeting of UNEA 5. 2. I understand marine plastic pollution, I think that's a big topic. Yeah. And I think the other ones are big, too, but I'm not particularly familiar with nature-based solutions, what that means. Yeah. Can you touch on that a little bit? I just want to say one thing on the marine plastic litter issue. There is a difference whether there is an instrument designed to deal with marine plastics just by managing what is already out there in the oceans or just by managing pollution at what it's called end-of-pipe. So that means building better waste management facilities or putting in place systems for sorting of different types of garbage and waste. Those are all, you know, very valid and valuable tools and approaches, but another one is to maybe look at it more upstream and say, "Well, we should look at the whole lifecycle of plastics, and maybe we should try to prevent that so much plastic is being produced." Because if we reduce the amount of plastic that is produced, then we don't have to deal with all the stuff that is coming out there at some point. So those are sort of the discussions that are likely to take place, and they're quite complex because they involve different stakeholders along different parts of the supply chain or the value chain. And some of them are big businesses. And of course, the challenge will be how do you- how do you involve big businesses? How do you make it so that they are willing to be engaged, right? So those are sort of part of the challenges that we, I think, stand before in articulating an approach to deal with marine plastics pollution. But I think this will be very interesting to follow because I think this is an issue that everybody can recognise. If you go out to the ocean and you see what's on the beaches, no matter where you are in the world, you will see that this is an issue and that that should be tackled. Anyway, so the other issue - the other one on nature-based solutions is a little bit interesting. Nature-based solutions is an approach or an initiative that was introduced eight or nine years ago or nine or 10 years ago by the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN(. And there are some countries and regions, among them Europeans, that promote this, and they are proposing a resolution on this as a way to bring greater recognition to the potentials of nature and the environment to be a very core element in all kinds of things that are important for our economy and society, such as flood prevention. -also, climate change, Simon - that's also quite often in the discussion, right, as a means of mitigating and even adapting to climate change. We've had a recent internal discussion about that, so it's fresh in my mind. Yeah, there are approaches out there that already exist, and in an attempt to promote them more, there are advocates for what is called nature-based solutions among- And we can see that in that draft resolution proposed by the EU. But there is skepticism and a critique out there from other countries that basically say, maybe this is just an attempt to promote carbon markets, or maybe this is just an attempt to- for some countries to buy other countries natural resources in order to ensure their resilience, thereby jeopardising other countries' resilience. So that's also not a new tension and not a new conflict that has been there for decades, but that's also surrounding the concept and the attempt to promote nature-based solutions. But I think one thing we might see as an outcome from UNEA 5 is simply, if the international community or the delegates there can agree on a definition. Because that's usually what stops any progress is - if there's no agreed definition that- then the concept can be used or interpreted in all kinds of different ways, and that's a little bit risky. So if they can agree on a one definition on it, then that means probably in the future, at least there is a foundation to stand on when talking about nature-based solutions, and everybody knows what it means. And is that up for discussion at the meeting? Well, a resolution or decision will will be several pieces of paper that propose- you know, that outline the situation and propose an action to remedy or approach the situation. And that's what a resolution on nature-based solutions will also contain. But among them, I think the important issue is to get to common ground on this. And then see what progress can happen further down the line. Are you familiar with any of those proposals or an example of what's considered a nature-based solution? That's where I'm still stuck is - I don't quite- I haven't wrap my head around what an example of that would be. Yeah, as you said, Simon, the nature-based solutions is kind of a - you didn't put it in these words, but it's sort of a repackaging of a concept that's already been around for a very long time. But perhaps the most famous set of examples is ecosystem-based adaptation. So- and that's referring to climate change adaptation. So ecosystem based adaptation could be seen as a subset of nature based solutions specifically to adapt to the climate. And it's using nature rather than human engineered solutions or constructions as a way of adapting to climate change in that particular example. So as a very sort of simple example of that: you might want to restore and conserve mangrove forests on the coastline instead of building a sea wall to protect the coast from from surges. It's not really a tsunami protection, but to protect from coastal surges. That's that's one example that's provided quite often. And then the justification for that is number one, you're protecting nature at the same time as you're protecting communities. And number two, it can also be a lot cheaper and more more sustainable, you know, more easy to keep going. If I can just sort of add something else in here because this comes up so often in these discussions - I think there's very often a tendency for people in our field to assume that nature-based solutions are the best solutions without really much of a discussion to accompany it. And I think that what's really important is to acknowledge that it's not always the best solution for the communities involved. But what we need to do is to be able to identify when it's the best solution and then to really, you know, aim resources in the places and the situations where nature- based solutions are the best ones. Why might it not be the best solution for our community? Is it impacting livelihoods of things that are already in place ? Is that is it that kind of thing or? So just to use the same example that I use just now, you know, I mentioned that mangroves can protect from coastal- from tidal surges, but they're not going to protect from a 10-metre tsunami, or let's say, a four-metre tsunami. But a really well-constructed seawall / tsunami wall might be able to protect from a four-metre tsunami, just as as a simple example again. And I guess there's a distinction also between nature- based solutions and eco system-based approaches, right? That's right. I would say they are the same thing or that the one is a subset of- okay - So I'd be curious to know where where we differ. And Simon was agreeing with you. So maybe- Yeah, no, I mean, I don't know if I agree. I think I can understand the perspective of wanting to to promote something as a solution because it's maybe usually seen as a constraint or as a problem. But sometimes if you promote something as a solution, it's all- it can be perceived as being a little bit too simplistic. And let's be let's be a little bit more humble and say, well, there are different approaches, and they're not all equally solutions. So I think a lot of this has to do with the wording, and a lot of it has also in the international community sometimes has a lot to do with who proposes it - and not only what is proposed but who proposes it, you know. And in that sense, the European Union and the European countries sort of often are seen as promoting the environment. But they don't always- they can also be criticized for not following through at home and therefore maybe not being as credible as they would like to be viewed as. So that's one of the problems that might be tied to nature- based solutions as well, and it goes beyond the UNEA discussion. I mean, this whole thing about "nature-based solutions and/or ecosystem-based approaches", we recognize that. So if they can be just a definition on what nature-based solutions are and are not, I think that already constitutes progress. I think we just did a good job of highlighting why that kind of definition-setting might be important. And that discussion is really interesting. I'd like to dive in more to learn more about it. Maybe it's not something we should continue on this one. In the future, I want to know more about where they overlap, how they might be different. The one thing I still had in my notes about what I wanted to know about UNEA 5.2 is, what discussions are likely to be, particularly the contentious? What are we fairly certain we're going to come out with a decision on? And what are we- what are they trying to do, but we're not really sure that we're going to make that much progress on? I think there are probably- there are probably many items, and I'm not familiar enough or confident enough to talk about all of these items. So I can just sort of maybe reiterate the things- some of the things that we have talked about over the last several minutes or so that that I see as being some of the important, but maybe not all easy potential solutions, and that is one whether you can get to a definition on nature- based solutions or not. it's- I think it's almost without a doubt there will be some process set in motion to figure out how the world should respond to marine plastic pollution or plastic pollution. But some some of the contentions there will be whether it should focus on only marine plastic pollution or plastic pollution throughout the lifecycle, even land- based plastic pollution. Because, you know, plastics come from us and we live on the land, right? So that's, I think, one of the areas that are not clear yet. And then the other one is should it be legally binding or should it be voluntary? I think that's also some things that are not clear at all and that that will be decided. I would venture as far as saying this very likely to be an instrument, some kind of international agreement on, let us deal with plastic pollution. I'm not sure whether it will deal with only marine plastic pollution or more broadly with plastic pollution. And I'm not sure whether it will be legally binding or just completely voluntary. That remains to be seen. Both, I think, are some of the areas and then the third area, Bob, is - and it's not very clear - is that this the occasion of 2022 being the 50th anniversary of UNEP and Stockholm is going to be a key date to do something to strengthen environmental governance because usually that would happen on a key symbolic date. But I don't- I'm not sure that it's going to happen. And if not, I think that might be a missed opportunity. But I think it has simply been so difficult to negotiate all of the items when everything has to be consulted or even negotiated online. I actually was quite curious. You made that distinction between marine plastics pollution and just, I guess, regular plastic pollution. And I mean, what is the implication of just focusing on marine plastics? Is it, like you said, just focusing at the end of the lifecycle or, I guess, product cycle of plastics and just the disposal of plastic that they're concerned with? Or is it more like, you know, are they really trying to get at the upstream issues with this agreement? Yes, actually, I think an agreement will focus across the lifecycle, but where the main focus will be, I think that's not clear yet. And that is that can be explained by saying, you know, there are some countries that are primarily consumers and there are other countries that are primarily producers. And so for some countries, having a very broad focus across the entire lifecycle could be argued to be less relevant than for other countries. Mm-Hmm. So I think no matter what the focus of this agreement or instrument will be, it might have to be differentiated so that it is relevant for countries in different situations. That's always a challenge to have those big global agreements and then they are so overarching so that they end up maybe not being relevant for many countries in specific situations. So that's going to be a challenge. So, Simon, just related to that, it leads into something that I was going to ask about, you know, as I which have noticed that the CBD negotiations where there's often a split of opinion between developed and developing countries on a particular issue and, you know, various different issues because the actions that need to be taken are different, the funding's different, the developed countries have done the damage in the past and the developing countries are doing damage in the future- all those kind of things. So considering the issues that you've mentioned now and just UNEA more generally, is that something that's sort of usually flares up to sort of a like a grouping of countries according to developed versus developing or other kinds of groupings? Yeah, that is- that's no different for UNEP and I think the- I was going to say the closer you get to something that might be legally binding, the more that flares up or the more you recognise it, but actually it is recognised even in purely voluntary things and agreements. So it is very recognisable. I see it especially for environmental issues, because it has very much something to do with- some countries feel that other countries should not limit the development space or the policy space of some countries, so it comes back to it comes back to this- the skepticism and the fear of having something imposed upon from others, which you could argue that history has shown that that has happened and, in some cases, is still happening. So it's not that I don't understand it, but it's a shame that the environment always becomes a hostage to the lack of trust between countries. -Mm hmm. Simon, I was also just wondering about IGES' role at UNEA 5.2 and also perhaps the past roles in previous UNEAs, including 5.1. What are we going to be contributing and how are we going to be participating? Right. IGES has, in the past, participated sometimes as part of the Japan delegation, supporting the Japan delegation in location in Nairobi, and that includes factfinding before and also creating summaries of certain sessions for people that may not have been able to be there. So those are some of the tasks that IGES takes, but IGES has also been involved from the civil society side. In fact, civil society will meet at the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum very soon for a number of days to work out what are civil society positions and asks or demands regarding what will be on the agenda at UNEA 5. And so I have, on behalf of IGES, been part of that process several times and also have been involved up to- up to UNEA5.2 this time. But everything online, of course. This year also, I just was involved having a staff in an advisory function to the Japanese government regarding the plastics agreement discussion. We have colleagues that help the Ministry of Environment with that. So I think this year is working more sort of in the behind-the- scenes and in front of the scenes. Did anyone else have any other questions or thoughts? I think we've had a pretty good discussion, at least for me, as someone who didn't know much about the process before, I've learned a lot. -Me, too. Yeah. Not necessarily about UNEA 5, but I think with respect to maybe the plastics agreement that would be decided. It reminded me of our recent working paper with WRI, where we analysed some of the initiatives that were, I guess, posted on the Platform for Redesign, which IGES also manages. And we discovered that, indeed, there was a lot of emphasis on end-of-stage - I guess - end-of- the-pipeline initiatives for circular economy and not enough to being introduced with respect to the, I guess, the 2Rs at the beginning of the 3Rs, I guess. So "Reduce" and "Reuse". And so I was really curious about, you know, how negotiations will take place at UNEA and whether they will actually do something about just the entire cycle as opposed to the end. I think- I think this will depend to a large extent on if there are any countries that are really willing to take the lead and show this is how it can be done, and "we are- we are very willing to help to share the technology and the know-how". So if there is really leadership and walking the talk, if that can be seen, I think that will very much help this process along to address the lifecycle more holistically. And one thing I just wanted to emphasise is that it's not that the agreement will be an outcome of UNEA 5.2, but merely that an agreement to set up a negotiation committee- Right, so an agreement to make an agreement, kind of, yeah? You could say you're kicking the can down the road a bit, but I think it's just important. It's just important that all countries are on board and that this will be a negotiation that will take place. So I think that's what we can expect. And let me just add a tag-on question there, which is kind of the counterfactual question of, what would happen if there were no UNEA 5.1 and 5.2? You will just get my very personal opinion. I think you can you can definitely criticise and say, "Maybe it's not effective enough" or "It looks like nothing - it doesn't make much of a difference". That's usually what we hear. But I'm just thinking what would happen if we didn't have UNEA? Then, there wouldn't be a global forum where countries come together to have consensus about important environmental issues such as plastic pollution or climate change or others. If we didn't have that, then it might be it might become all too easy for the economically or politically powerful countries to just give a heck about the rest of the world and do whatever they wanted to monopolise environmental resources at the cost of other countries, people, communities, and livelihoods. So I think you would see a world with much less collaboration and a much more cut-throat and brutal world. You know, it would be the realism that we read about in our IR (international relations) 101 books that could just play out. So I think it fulfills a very important function, but it's political and symbolic, much more so than practical. And accountability mechanism, right? Yeah, that's a very clear and very good answer. But another the further question would be climate and biodiversity are thoroughly dealt with in other forums.- Yeah. So and I don't know about the other issues that UNEA covers, you know, I'm less familiar with those ones, but there are lots of other conventions and they all have the plenaries and their COPs. So I assume that most of the things that UNEA covers are already covered there. So looking at it from that point of view, what would be your answer to the same question? Yeah, I would probably lean back to someone like Elinor Ostrom, who wrote a lot about environmental governance, and I would say, you know, since we we can critique these different institutions for not having enough teeth and not doing enough on their own... Maybe that's why a certain polar centricity where you where you end up having a certain overlap between different initiatives and institutions - you could say that is a lack of efficiency. But some things tend to fall through one of them, and that might be caught by the next one. So that is how the system works. And I think it doesn't work- it doesn't work well enough to deal with the challenges that we have. But rather than being cynical and closing down, we should think about how can we strengthen them?