Heads of state raised a united plea for multilateral action this week marking the 50th anniversary of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The special session of the UN Environment Assembly, which wrapped up on Friday in Nairobi, addresses how to build a resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world.
The two-day event was an important highlight among a number of activities and events over the past year to recognise the significant progress made on tackling climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, and address the challenges to come.
Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Botswana’s Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, and Central African Republic Prime Minister Felix Molula joined Ministers of Environment and other representatives from 175 nations for the event.
In his opening speech on Thursday, President Kenyatta recalled some notable environment successes of UN member states, coordinated through UNEP, including historic conferences like the Rio 1992 Earth Summit and the 1987 Montreal Convention to protect the ozone layer.
“I want to commend all Member States for the dedication and diligence that you’ve shown in prioritising the issues that affect our planet. We cannot talk of development, peace, and security without highlighting the nexus with climate change,” he said.
The President praised UNEP as an “ecological conscience,” and “a credible platform for nations to come together and act boldly to advance the global environmental agenda”.
In the spirit of celebrating UNEP@50, President Kenyatta concluded by announcing a new bi-annual award of $25,000 from the people of Kenya to persons or institutions who champion environmental sustainability and peace.
President Buhari said: “It’s time to bolster international cooperation and stimulate collective action to address the triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and rising levels of pollution and waste. No country or continent can achieve this alone. Each nation has an essential role to play.”
Pledging to continue working with other countries to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, he went on to say: “We recognise that restoring key ecosystems is crucial to help combat climate change and achieve sustainable development.”
President Masisi said: “Economic activity and population growth has compounded the already enormous strain on the world’s natural resources and ecosystems. Climate change, desertification, loss of biodiversity and growing levels of poverty are painful realities of our times.”
Detailing Botswana’s record on sustainable management of its biodiversity — 40 per cent of its land is under protected area status — and integrating environmental considerations into national planning processes, he affirmed his country’s commitment to Multilateral Environmental Agreements, urging “green philanthropists, private sector, research institutions and development agenciesa(to) incentivise success in conservation.”
The 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm is regarded as one of the first major multilateral meetings on the environment; it spurred the formation of environment ministries and agencies around the world, kickstarted a host of new global agreements to collectively protect the environment and led to the formation of UNEP — the only UN agency whose headquarters is in Africa.
For five decades, Kenya has been the host of UNEP and over the past week it has hosted the resumed 5th session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2).
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, extended gratitude to Kenya for hosting UNEP for 50 years, and for the country’s unwavering support for UNEA-5.2.
“UNEP is now at the heart of protecting the asset upon which we all rely, the environment. The world has realised that we cannot pollute our way to development and clean up after. We have a human right to a healthy environment. Youth are demanding change. Governments, cities and regions are acting. Businesses are acting. Investors are acting,” she said.
“None of this was in place 50 years ago.”
“However, our journey will only conclude when we ensure that humanity can thrive without skewing the delicate balance of life on this glorious planet,” she added.
The special session to commemorate the establishment of UNEP follows the three-day UNEA-5.2, which drew about 3,000 participants in-person and 1,500 online from 175 UN Member States, including 79 ministers and 17 high-level officials.
The Assembly adopted 14 resolutions, two declarations and one decision on curbing pollution and for the protection and restoration of nature.
Among these are a historic resolution to forge an international legally binding deal to end plastic pollution, the establishment of a science policy panel on the sound management of chemicals and waste, and on the definition and implementation of nature-based solutions.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at email@example.com)