Global Pact on the Environment

Legal assistance paper

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Date produced: 07/12/2018

Can you prepare a short high level summary on the content of the Pact for the Environment, its objectives, scope, main rights and obligations, and the implications for states that sign up to it?

Background to the Draft Global Pact for the Environment

On 24 June 2017, a group of 80 experts from 40 countries presented the draft Global Pact for the Environment (the “Global Pact”) at La Sorbonne in Paris. Subsequently, on 19 September 2017, France held a Summit on the Global Pact for the Environment, in which President Macron stressed the need to negotiate and finalise the Global Pact.

On 10 May 2018, the United Nations General Assembly then adopted Resolution 72/277 entitled ‘Towards a Global Pact for the Environment’ (the “Resolution”). The Resolution requests that the Secretary General of the United Nations submit a report to the General Assembly on gaps in environmental law. It also established an ad hoc open-ended working group to consider the Secretary-General’s report and discuss options to address possible gaps in international environmental law and environment-related instruments, with a view to making recommendations.

Francisco António Duarte Lopes and Amal Mudallali, Permanent Representatives of Portugal and Lebanon to the UN, serve as co-chairs of the working group, which met for an organizational session in New York from 5-7 September 2018. The Group will meet again in Nairobi, Kenya, from 14-18 January 2019, followed by meetings in March and May 2019 of 3-5 days each, unless otherwise decided.

So for the time being the Draft Pact is part of a wider political initiative to provide an overarching framework to consolidate and advance international environmental law and to improve the implementation of sustainable development goals and globally agreed targets. It is not an international instrument countries could “sign up” to and it is not clear yet whether there will be formal intergovernmental negotiations in the future to develop such an instrument.

The current version of the Draft

The Pact in its current draft is structured around a preamble and twenty articles on substantive rights and obligations, supplemented by six articles on process and institutional arrangements (e.g. monitoring of implementation and entry into force). It brings together the main principles of international environmental law in one document that distinguishes between rights and obligations of people and the states (“parties”).  The full text is available at

The Draft establishes two main principles: the right to a healthy environment (Article 1); and a corresponding duty to take care of the environment (Article 2).

Article 1: The Right to a Healthy Environment

  • The aim of this article is to establish a universal human right to live in a healthy environment.
  • This article applies to “every person”.
  • The environment must be suitable to the person’s circumstances, including their culture, dignity, well-being and health.

Article 2: The Duty to Take Care of the Environment

  • The aim of the article is to place responsibility of taking care of the environment on the State and its bodies as well as private persons.
  • It makes reference to actors both on a large scale (institutions) and a small scale (individuals).
  • The content of the duty relates to the conservation, protection and restoration of the world’s eco-system.
  • The duty emphasises that everyone contributes at their own level.
  • This duty is supplemented by a further duty to cooperate with other States in conserving, protecting and restoring the environment (Article 18).

Other main duties on state parties to the Draft Global Pact are:

  • Policies: to take into account environmental protection when making policies (Article 3).
  • Education: to teach adults and children about environmental protection (Article 12)
  • Research: to promote environmental research and exchange knowledge (Article 13)
  • Armed conflict: to minimise environmental damage during armed conflict (Article 19)
  • Damage: to remedy environmental incidents (whether natural or accidental) and notify other states of such incidents (Article 7)
  • “Polluter Pays” Principle: to ensure that the originator of environmental harm is responsible for repairing the damage (Article 8)

Article 20 on Diversity of National Situations gives:

  • Special consideration to developing countries, the least developed states and
  • the Parties’ common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.

The main rights held by individuals are:

  • Participation: to participate in the decision making process affecting the environment (Article 10)
  • Accountability: to hold public authorities or private persons accountable for breach of environmental law (Article 11)
  • Access to Information: to access environmental information held by public authorities (Article 9)