Main page content

UNEA-6 passes resolution on environmental assistance and recovery in areas affected by armed conflict

Consensus, even between conflict parties

The sixth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) has adopted a consensus resolution that aims to reinvigorate UNEP’s work on the environmental dimensions of armed conflicts to make it more responsive to global environmental challenges. If implemented, the resolution will also lead to the development of much-needed technical guidance for states and other stakeholders on how to measure environmental damage. The resolution, which was proposed by Ukraine, and which was greatly informed by its recent experience, also urged states to abide by the legal framework, and drew attention to its most recent addition – the Principles on the protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts (PERAC Principles).

However, divergent views from states on the importance of environmental protection in conflict, occasionally baffling red lines from capitals, and the tensions between conflict parties meant that the final text was far less ambitious than originally proposed.

“This resolution was hard fought, and we commend Ukraine on its diplomacy,” said CEOBS’ Director Doug Weir. “The efforts by many to water down the text were disappointing, particularly those elements concerning state responsibility, nevertheless, remedying the recent weakening of UNEP’s conflicts work, and taking a first step towards recognised standards for environmental data collection are fantastic outcomes.”

From the Climate Diplomacy podcast:

Damage control: Unpacking rules and recommendations to protect the environment during armed conflict

War and conflict disrupt the environment. The effects on human lives are excruciating and long-lived, making environmental protection a priority for human security - even in armed conflicts. This episode looks at how rules and recommendations can help protect the environment in armed conflict under international law and prevent damage.

CEOBS had worked closely with the Ukrainian delegation for a year to help make the resolution a reality, and provided technical and legal support throughout the negotiations. The backdrop of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza meant that interest in the environmental dimensions of conflict was high during UNEA-6. Civil society interest was acute, with six Major Groups, four regional groups and more than 30 organisations supporting a call on states to pass the resolution. Meanwhile, 41 states called out Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during UNEA’s opening plenary, while Colombia urged governments to make peace with nature.

However, this tense geopolitical context, and the need to reach consensus, meant that at times there was considerable pressure to streamline and water down the text. In the end, and after late night negotiations, multiple non-papers, “informal informal” consultations, endless bilateral meetings and several missed deadlines, it came down to reaching agreement over a minor change to a single paragraph. Once the final text was agreed, the US joined as a co-sponsor of the resolution.

Points of contention

As originally drafted, the resolution had sought to nudge the dial on state responsibility for wartime environmental damage. Its preamble reiterated PERAC Principle 9 on state responsibility, and cited the economic costs of damage, meanwhile its operative part requested that UNEP facilitate a transparent, expert process to develop guidance for use by states and others for determining the severity of harm. In the end, Russia blocked a reference to economic costs, while China objected to PERAC Principle 9. Several states argued that calculating economic costs is not part of UNEP’s conflicts mandate – despite the guidance being intended for the use of states and other stakeholders.

The draft also sought to identify new pathways through which conflict-affected states could be supported. Multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) have been identified as holding potential in this respect. Those states broadly supportive of the aims of the resolution backed the idea but others argued that conflicts are outside the mandates of the MEAs. This argument held little weight given that the text was broadly oriented towards the post-conflict recovery phase. The rejection of this idea in Nairobi is unlikely to hold back initiatives aimed at making the implementation of the MEAs more conflict sensitive and responsive.

The negotiations saw much focus on the legal framework, but while references to the PERAC Principles survived, language supporting their application by states was watered down. Sadly, a preambular reference to the revised International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) guidelines on the environment was cut due to opposition. This was unfortunate, given that the process to revise them had been encouraged by a UNEP report.

The devil will be in the detail of implementation

In contrast to its two predecessors in 2016 and 2017, the UNEA-6 text has more tangible outputs. However, the consensus negotiation process demanded the merging and simplification of the text’s key operative paragraph that detailed them. What began as a clear request for a report on the barriers that UNEP has encountered while providing environmental assistance and recovery, with a view to informing improvements to it, ended up as a vague call for a report on its historical activities. Similarly, the arms-length, expert-led consultative process to identify guidance for assessing damage has been dragged under the purview of states in UNEP’s Committee of Permanent Representatives, risking its politicisation.

Related content: 

Civil society repeatedly expressed concern that the political sensitivity of this work might curtail UNEP’s ambition to develop these outputs in a way that truly delivers for conflict-affected states and communities. Both are to be delivered by UNEA-7 in December 2025 and the  implementation of the resolution’s two most important outputs will be watched closely. The text sent a clear message on UNEP’s conflicts mandate: the downgrading of its conflicts work in the current UNEP Medium-Term Strategy needs to be reversed in the near and longer terms. This message should encourage UNEP to be ambitious, and to deliver on the review it needs to reimagine its work, as well as the technical guidance that states and others need to evaluate environmental damage in relation to armed conflicts.

It takes a village

At present, UNEA is one of the few universal international fora where the environmental dimensions of armed conflicts can be debated, and acted upon, but it’s not without its limitations. One such limitation is the degree of legal expertise in many delegations. A few delegations struggled to understand quite basic international humanitarian law (IHL), at times proposing language that could have severely constrained UNEP’s mandate to work on conflicts. We very much welcomed the attendance of advisors from the ICRC at UNEA for the first time, and we would strongly encourage both UNEP and the ICRC to develop more events for Nairobi delegations on IHL in general, and the revised environmental guidelines in particular.

The resolution’s successful outcome was contingent on the support of many people. These included our legal colleagues, who advised on its original wording; the UNEP secretariat, which was frequently called upon to clarify points of law or technical processes; and a number of like-minded delegations, whose sometimes timely support during negotiations helped move the text forward. Civil society coordination and advocacy in Nairobi were also vital, not least in reminding delegations that those tracked changes on the screen have real world consequences.


Doug Weir is CEOBS’ Director and would like to recognise the fantastic work of Illia Karandas, Ukraine’s Deputy Permanent Representative to UNEP; Stavros Pantazopoulos, University of Helsinki; Atila Uras and Sagal Abshir, UNEP; Jemma Arman and Laura Muriithi, ICRC; Christina Parandii, PAX and Ingrid Rostad, ForUM, and all the Major Group colleagues that supported this initiative.

This article was originally published on