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Report UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

Represented by Kai Striebinger and Tse-yu Su

The Japanese Delegation stood for environmental progress in the deliberations of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Established in 1972, UNEP plays an increasingly important role in finding solutions for global environmental problems. The Governing Council of UNEP consists of 58 members who are elected according to the UN’s system of regional distribution. In its meeting, three topics were on the original agenda:

1. Protecting Water Resources in a Changing World;
2. Post-disaster and Post-conflict Environmental Programs;
3. Chemicals Management.

The tempo of agenda setting session was going really fast. Almost every delegation had in mind to vote for “water topic” as the first order. It is a multidimensional topic that contains a broad scope of different issues and hence every region has its own interest in it. As a result, not too much time wasted and the order was set, determined by a clear majority that “Protecting Water Resources in a Changing World” came out to be the agenda topic one, a result expected and welcomed by Japanese Delegation.

It is also the only topic that we dealt with for the upcoming days. The Japanese Delegation strived for the creation of an “International Arbitration and Mediation for environmental progress”, also known as I AM for environmental progress. We remembered the words of Ban Ki-moon who urged us to think ahead and find new, creative and progressive solutions and thus decided to pursue the idea of an international arbitration and mediation mechanism specifically dealing with environment-related conflicts. A new institution to prevent upcoming environment-related wars. An institution to secure peace.

Quickly, groups formed focusing on different topics: climate change, water pumps, technology transfer… Instead of working on several topics at the same time, we chose to focus on drafting our own resolution. We did not target regional groups or particular developed countries as working partners. The partnership forming was topic-oriented. Therefore, we ended up working with Chad, Czech Republic, and Zimbabwe. Working inside a smaller sponsor group had its merit. Flexibility was one of them. The quick-wittedness of Chadian diplomats brought about great laughter. The cooperation between sponsors was very lively. With more and more discussions, our big concept gradually came into details. I AM stands for centralizing knowledge and advising countries when they are experiencing an environmental problem; an effective, knowledgeable, judicial process when two countries give their express written consent to have this binding judgment; a complete process of dealing with environment-related conflicts.

Once the working paper came into concrete shape, the real task began. All the sponsors walked around the room, passed around our working paper, and sought for signatories. We talked our idea to others, and tried to dissolve the rising concerns. At the end of the day, it proved quite fruitful, many countries considered it unconventional and interesting, and actually liked it. We got 19 signatories.

However, while getting signatories was one thing, keeping close and immediate track of them was another. Most of the delegations were busy working on the draft resolutions of their own. There are EU, working on a resolution promoting Environmentally Sound Technologies, or big countries like Brazil, the Russian Federation, and the U.S., calling for creating a technology transfer base. Groups were spreading around inside and outside the room. Even in a smaller committee like UNEP, trying to find a delegation wasn’t such an easy task.

Some words slowly fermented: one of the key words was sovereignty. It was quite an effort to assure the other delegations that such a resolution would never infringe the principle of sovereignty, a principle that Japan greatly upholds.

In the process of persuading other delegations, we constantly revised our working paper. E.g., when we realized that most countries have problems with our wording “final and binding”, we had it changed to “without further appeal”, in order to detour from their concerns, but at the same time, not to lose the essential spirit of our resolution. However, this was not enough, and soon some important countries (e.g. the U.S. and China) that have a different conception of environmental protection and international jurisdiction than Japan has, were starting to work against us.

Not surprisingly, most of the sessions were conducted under informal caucus, leaving little time for formal debate, but we still managed to put Japan on the speakers’ list twice. The first time, the Japanese Delegation successfully drew attention to the necessity of the establishment of I AM for environmental progress; while the second time, right before the speakers’ list was closed, our Delegation tried to “break the myths”, namely, that 1. indeed I AM has great connection with solving “Water” conflict, even when it does not limit itself only to dealing with water conflict; and 2. it does fall under the mandate of UNEP.

The result, however, indicated that myths remained. Eleven draft resolutions were handed in. Ten were passed in very quick voting procedure. Our draft resolution was the one that did not with a result of 15 in favor, 17 abstentions and 21 against. The fact that big countries like Brazil or China voted against it was not surprising, since it was in line with the position they consistently posed during the meeting. However, when some of our signatories turned against us, we didn’t expect that to come. But this proved that, politics, after all, is ever-changing.