ENO is one of the two Finnish NGOs accredited to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Accreditation grants the NGO an observer status to UNEA. Until now, we have not had representation in the UNEP meeting. Senni, a student from the Aalto University, School of Business, will represent ENO in the UNEA meeting in Nairobi. You will hear more about Senni’s travel here on our website as the meetings progress.
My name is Senni Alho, and I’m a master’s student majoring in sustainability at Aalto University School of Business. I’m passionate about adventures, trying new things and working towards a future made of well-being, equity and regeneration.
In the end of January 2022, the Children and Youth Major Group of UNEP initiated a global call to offer 40 fully-funded spots for the youth across the world to participate in the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) in Nairobi. I’m happy and honored to have been selected for this opportunity, and I’m taking off to Kenya on Thursday 18.2. In order to participate in UNEA 5.2 and OECPR, all delegates needed to receive an accreditation letter from an NGO accredited by UNEP. ENO Schoolnet Association kindly provided me with an accreditation making it possible for me to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
The selected delegates actively participate in the Global Youth Environment Assembly (YEA) between 19.2-4.3, in the run up to the UNEA 5.2 and the Special Session devoted to commemoration of the 50th anniversary of UNEP, among other assemblies and sessions. YEA delegates are expected to contribute in discussions, preparatory work and facilitation tasks prior and during the sessions. The aim is to enable policy advocacy of the youth towards more environmental protection, and to increase their understanding of UN processes and environmental governance.
I’m personally very excited to learn a lot of new things during these three weeks and cannot wait to meet like-minded youth from different parts of the world!
26 Feb 2022
GREETINGS FROM NAIROBI!
Last week has been very intense yet informative for us youth delegates. Last weekend kicked off with YEA, the Youth Environment Assembly organized by the Children and Youth Major Group (CYMG). During the weekend we had capacity-building sessions, learned more about CYMG, and familiarized ourselves with the UNEA processes.
The fifth meeting of the Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives (OECPR) started on Monday. It is a meeting preceding UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) that consists of member states, NGOs, Major Groups, and other stakeholders. Even though UNEA is the main event of these weeks, OECPR actually bears more importance when it comes to influencing the structure of resolutions.
During the meetings, 17 resolutions regarding the environment submitted by member states and the secretary were discussed. In other words, during OECPR, member states aim to negotiate the language and wording of operative paragraphs (OP) and prospective paragraphs (PP) of resolutions before they commit to the tabled resolutions and they become legally binding.
We at CYMG were busy following the OECPR meetings, cooperating with multiple stakeholder groups and organizing side events. Most importantly, we have been drafting and delivering interventions on the resolutions, where we express our stance towards them on behalf of the children and youth. The hard work has yielded results; Our language has even been adopted in some resolutions.
From the early morning to late nights, recommendations to change wording and grammar by different member states flew left to right across the conference room floor. After six days of debate, the 5th OECPR is finally coming to an end and the resolutions are being sent to UNEA 5.2 for further discussions, starting next Monday. Meanwhile, the second part of YEA has resumed alongside the first part of Stockholm +50 Youth Assembly, where we contribute to the Stockholm +50 preparations, continue the work of regional groups, and prepare ourselves for UNEA and UNEA @50.
My experience here so far has been truly exceptional. I have learned so much about the language and processes used within the walls of UNEP and even more so UNEA. In just my short stay I have acquired plenty of resilience following the hectic and constantly changing schedule. However, my biggest insights have come from the fellow youth delegates here. It is incredibly inspiring to be surrounded by such intelligent, ambitious, bold and warm people.
If you want to learn more about the negotiations at OECPR, you can read the summaries from here: https://enb.iisd.org/unep/oecpr5.
8 March 2022
Last week started off with UNEA 5.2, the fifth resumed United Nations Environment
Assembly. UNEA is a three-day high-level session, where agreed resolutions and decisions
are adapted. UNEA main sessions are somewhat predetermined, as most of the statements
are submitted beforehand – except for the statements related to geopolitical issues given this
The actual dialogue happened during the Committee of the Whole sessions. Throughout
UNEA, the working groups of different clusters continue negotiating the resolutions that have
not been agreed on during the OECPR sessions. I followed the heated discussion of the
working group of cluster 2 for a while. Member states could not agree on some terminology
in the operating paragraphs, and the co-facilitator kept reminding everyone that they were
running out of time and that the resolution “won’t go” if they cannot reach a consensus in the
next 10 minutes.
Finally, 14 out of 17 resolutions were adopted during the UNEA 5.2. The most remarkable
one was about creating an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution
covering its whole life cycle. This deal would lead to the world’s first ever global plastic
pollution treaty. The Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen commented that it is the
“most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris Agreement”. However, a lot
of work still needs to be done regarding plastics, because the resolution allows the member
states to decide themselves how they will tackle the issue on a national level.
The busy week continued with a two-day special session called UNEP @50. In order to
celebrate the 50-year journey of UNEP, national statements, dialogues and exhibitions were
delivered focusing on the past, the present and the anticipated future of the program. And if
someone still happened to have time on their schedule, it could be spent with engaging side
events during the days and abundant reception celebrations by the nights.
The delegates of the Children and Youth Major Group (CYMG) had a variety of tasks during
the week: We followed the clusters and main sessions, drafted and delivered interventions,
facilitated bilateral and regional meetings and organized side events. Throughout the weeks
our main messages were loud and clear: the time for action is now, and children and youth
are crucial stakeholders that should be included in all decision making processes and levels.
Tim Christophersen, the Head of the Nature and Climate Branch at UNEP, captured the
essence of our persistent work when he wanted to thank CYMG for being “unreasonable”. It
really is crucial to bring the sense of urgency and accountability into the decision making
processes that are slow and conciliatory by nature.
These past 2,5 weeks have been demanding yet incredibly rewarding. I’m beyond grateful
for this unique experience and want to thank ENO Schoolnet Association for letting me
represent them during OECPR, UNEA 5.2 and UNEP @50. It is truly a privilege to get an
opportunity to experience UNEA, work with CYMG and meet such driven and interesting
people. I intend to take these learnings with me and turn them into practice by continuing the
advocacy of the environment and youth.
You can read more about UNEA 5.2 and UNEP @50 from here:
If you want to ask more about my experiences or discuss anything related to YEA or UNEA,
feel free to reach out to me to via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sennialho
29. March 2022
Looking back to YEA & UNEA 5.2
It’s been three weeks now since coming back to Helsinki – almost the same amount
of time that I spent in Nairobi. I’ve taken some time to digest and reflect on my
experience in YEA (Youth Environment Assembly) and UNEA 5.2 (UN Environment
Assembly), and now I want to share some of my thoughts here with you!
Being a first-timer in the UN
I hadn’t had any prior experience with the UN before coming to UNEA, and quite
frankly, the first few days felt overwhelming, to say the least. Even though I was
surrounded by nearly 40 other youth from CYMG for UNEP (Children and Youth Major
Group), it seemed to me like everyone somehow knew what was going on. At
moments, I could barely understand what people were saying because of all the UN
After the first confusing days, I learned that most of the youth delegates had
previous experiences with the UN or otherwise in political advocacy. It helped me to
understand that, naturally, I couldn’t be as knowledgeable as some of them right
away, and took some time just to follow what was going on, memorize the weird
jargon, and ask a zillion “stupid” questions. And even though it first felt a bit
intimidating, I soon started taking on some tasks. Learning by doing proved to be the
best method for me to assume loads of new things fast.
During those first days, I didn’t just learn about the language, procedures, and
activities, but I also understood what it actually means to be proactive and
independent. I was kind of expecting someone to hand me a timetable, tell me what
to do, and explain how to do it. But CYMG is a flat, self-organized group run by youth,
which means that everyone is quite free to do what they want, bearing in mind that
there are certain expectations and rules to follow. You have to find the working
groups you want to join, follow the clusters you are interested in and ask for
someone to explain things that are unclear. It might sound pretty obvious that you
have to be responsible for your own activity, but for me, it was quite enlightening to
work in an organization where you have to figure out your own ways to contribute.
During these intensive weeks, there were quite a few moments when the discussion
got heated. I think it’s absolutely natural when working non-stop in order to tackle
such urgent disasters as the triple planetary crisis and yet seeing that things are not
going the way you were hoping for. Nevertheless, I noticed that pointing fingers is not
usually as effective as trying to understand each other and have a dialogue. Most of
the delegates and ministers at UNEA – and everywhere else for that matter – want to
live on a healthy and habitable planet. Building on this common ground is often a more
fruitful basis for negotiations than assuming that others are opponents if you
don’t agree with their every action. Don’t get me wrong; It is sometimes necessary to
call out people and organizations if other measures are not working. But generally,
it’s hard to get your agenda through if you start negotiations in a hostile manner.
Another thing that I learned during UNEA is that you don’t have to be afraid to
approach Member State delegates, ministers, or other UNEP authorities. In the end,
they are not any different from anyone else, and your ideas and thoughts are not less
valuable just because you don’t have a seat at the decision-making table. And many
times they were actually interested in hearing what the youth thinks, and both parties
were able to benefit from the encounter.
I was both impressed and dissatisfied with UNEP as an organization. Although being
the leading global environmental authority, UNEP has several flaws in my opinion.
One of them is that the processes don’t often allow for an actual dialogue between
the stakeholders at UNEAs. During the plenary sessions, Member States and major
groups only have a couple of minutes to express their stances on environmental
issues on a general level. And when the actual resolutions are negotiated, Member
States get to talk about the grammar and wording of each paragraph, but there is no
exchange of thoughts on the themes. Major groups, like CYMG, don’t even get the
floor during every session. When they do, they usually get to deliver the intervention
at the very end – when the possibility to influence is way lower than it would be at the
Having said this, I was still amazed to see 193 Member States coming together at
UNEA and working to reach a consensus on resolutions night and day. It is a huge
privilege to get a seat at the table in UNEA and have the opportunity to express your
views. However, I think it is then also your responsibility to raise the flaws and
injustices too. You can be at the same time grateful for your seat yet non-conforming
to prevailing norms in the system that fall short.
To conclude this compilation of experiences and thoughts, I would like to share a few
sentences that I heard during YEA that really resonated with me. They went
somewhat along these lines:
“Some countries are so afraid to get it wrong that they don’t even dare to try to
get it right.”
The quote above is by Sam Barratt, the Chief of the Youth, Education and Advocacy
Unit in UNEP’s Ecosystems Division. Even though in his speech he was referring to
the inactivity of countries’ climate actions, I think the thought applies to people and
other themes as well. But hearing Barratt put this fear into words made me realize
how paradoxical and irrational it is: you are bound to fail if you don’t even try.
“No one can change the whole world, but you can make a difference in your own
little one. And who knows, your actions might spread wider than you’d ever
This second piece of wisdom is by Shantanu Mandal, the youth representative of
Brahma Kumaris and a member of the steering committee to UNEP CYMG – and a
dear friend of mine. Shantanu helped us to remember that even though the ongoing
crises might create pressure and anxiety, we should always take care of our own
wellbeing first. Only then we are able to support ourselves and others around us too.
I’d like to thank ENO Schoolnet Association once again for making it possible for me
to attend this experience of a lifetime. I got to see a glimpse of the world where
experts from all over the planet are working relentlessly to solve the wicked
problems of our time and learn so much from the incredibly inspiring youth
delegates. Most importantly, I came back home with increased capacity, motivation,
and hope – hope that we are able to change the course of events when we start
collectively and actively choosing the wellbeing of everyone over the benefit of some.