Nairobi -- The shaping of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the illegal trade in wildlife, and sustainable consumption and production (SCP), were among the major topics discussed during the 15th Global Major Groups and Stakeholder Forum (GMGSF), which took place on the eve of the inaugural session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA).
A series of regional meetings were held by major groups and stakeholders around the world in the months leading up to UNEA. In all, 273 participants, representing indigenous peoples, Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), science and technology, business and industry, farmers, women, children and youth, workers and trade unions, and local authorities - participated in six regional consultations to prepare key messages and recommendations to feed into UNEA proceedings and outcomes.
A highlight of the event was an interactive discussion with UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) . In his welcome remarks, Mr. Steiner said that despite some setbacks, notably in the climate change negotiations, there is broad consensus today that environmental protection requires addressing the relationship between humanity and nature. In this regard, he welcomed the return of the principle of universality in the SDGs process, but noted that the greatest challenge facing environmental governance today is helping societies to make informed decisions that do not dichotomize people and nature, or the North and South.
Another feature of the forum was a series of civil society presentations on a range of environmental themes, including the critical role of civil society in the shaping of the SDGs.
'Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were formulated with less input from civil society; the SDGs and UNEA processes are encouraging the participation of a diverse civil society stakeholder base, to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups' are taken into account, and that there is broad support for the implementation of the SDGs,' said Sascha Gabizon, Director of Women International for a Common Future.
The forum's nine thematic clusters covered most UNEA themes, and provided stakeholders with a critical opportunity to influence the upcoming Ministerial discussions on SDGs and the post - 2015 Agenda.
Sustainable consumption and production was the subject of many discussions, as most groups expressed concern for the heavy toll the planet and many of its most vulnerable groups are paying for unsustainable consumption and production patterns.
Norine Kennedy of the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) said, 'Businesses of all sectors, sizes and nationalities are bringing forward more sustainable consumption and production options, responding to markets and driving innovation in products, practices and management. This is about greening the entire economy, which we consider vital to development and indispensable to the SDGs.'
Civil society representatives shared their high expectations that UNEA will lead to a firming up of commitments from UN member states on a range of critical sustainable development issues. Ten thematic statements with concrete proposals for decisions to be taken at UNEA were prepared as part of the forum outcomes and shared with member states.
'The Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum adopted a statement that demands respect for our right to live in a healthy environment and recalls our common responsibility to confront the environmental crises that are pressing the boundaries of our planet's physical capacity to sustain a life of dignity for all,' said Marcos Orellana, Director of the Centre for International Environmental Law, Human Rights and Environment Programme.
'The Forum expressed its commitment to making UNEA a historic opportunity for the international community to come and work together to respond with vision and determination to the hopes and aspirations of humanity,' he added.
The major groups and stakeholders also expressed their desire for the draft modalities of stakeholder engagement in UNEA to emulate the existing best practices already adopted by UNEP.
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About the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA):
UNEA is the highest-level UN body ever convened on the environment with universal membership of all 193 UN member states as well as other stakeholder groups. With this wide reach into the legislative, financial and development arenas, the new body presents a ground-breaking platform for leadership on global environmental policy. UNEA boasts over 1200 participants, 170 national delegations, 80 ministers and 40 events during the five-day event from 23 to 27 June 2014 at UNEP's HQ in Nairobi, Kenya