The UN General Assembly has taken a first step toward establishing a Global Pact for the Environment, in a move opposed by the United States, Russia, and a handful of other nations.
The pact would be aimed at finding gaps in protection of the environment around the globe and taking steps to address them. By a 142-5 vote on May 10, the 193-member world body approved a resolution to start identifying those gaps in international environmental laws.
Under the resolution, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is asked to produce a report on environmental gaps for the next General Assembly session starting in September. It also establishes a working group to discuss possible options for addressing any gaps, with a view to making recommendations to the assembly in 2019.
The proposal passed despite opposition from the United States, Russia, Turkey, Syria, and the Philippines, but it has been championed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
It ultimately could lead to adoption of an "international instrument" or pact similar to the 2015 global climate accord, which was ultimately adopted by most UN members.
Macron envisions the new pact as the first legally binding international accord to gather all environmental rights into a single document.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre, speaking on behalf of more than 90 co-sponsors of the resolution, told the assembly that "the unprecedented deterioration of our environment is already causing hundreds of thousands of deaths due to planetary warming, water and air pollution, and the deterioration of biodiversity and soils."
"These attacks on the environment are affecting the most vulnerable populations first," he said. "If we don't act decisively, we are exposing ourselves to dire consequences: the exhaustion of natural resources, migrations, and an upsurge in conflicts."
Delattre said the early entry into force of the Paris climate agreement and the adoption of UN goals for 2030 aimed at combating poverty and preserving the environment demonstrate that it is possible for the international community "to act concretely and ambitiously on environmental issues."
U.S. opposition follows President Donald Trump's announcement last year that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate pact, which is aimed at reducing carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere that have contributed to global warming.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley sharply criticized the new UN proposal.
"When international bodies attempt to force America into vague environmental commitments, it's a sure sign that American citizens and businesses will get stuck paying a large bill without getting large benefits," she said.