The world has pledged to protect the polluted, rapidly warming, degraded planet earth, and has laid the groundwork for a radical shift to a more sustainable future, where innovation will be harnessed to tackle environmental challenges.
The pledge was made by ministers from 179 UN member states during a five-day meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) that concluded recently in Nairobi, Kenya. The theme of fourth session of the Assembly was ‘Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Production and Consumption.’ The ministers delivered a bold blueprint for change. They agreed to tackle the environmental crisis through sustainable consumption and production, and significantly reduce the use of throwaway plastics.
The delegates resolved to improve national resource management strategies with integrated full lifecycle approaches and analysis to achieve resource-efficient and low-carbon economies.
The UNEA-4 negotiated draft resolutions addressing global environmental challenges and then conducted a ministerial High-level Segment. The meeting adopted the UNEP Programme of Work and budget for the 2020-2021 bi-ennium.
The Assembly adopted 26 resolutions and decisions. The conference also adopted a Ministerial Declaration that commits to significantly reduce single-use plastic products by 2030. It expressed support to a UNEP global environmental data strategy by 2025. The declaration says, “The global nitrogen use efficiency is low, resulting in pollution by reactive nitrogen which threatens human health, ecosystem services, contributes to climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion.” The resolutions on single-use plastic and sustainable nitrogen management were piloted by India.
Experts believe that the resolution can help establish international coordination for nitrogen similar to what exists for carbon. Led for the first time by India, the resolution said that only a small proportion of the plastics produced globally are recycled, with most of it damaging the environment and aquatic biodiversity.
Key focus of the meeting was the need to protect oceans and fragile ecosystems. The ministers adopted a number of resolutions on marine plastic litter and micro-plastics. These included a commitment to establish a multi-stakeholder platform within UN Environment to take immediate action towards the long-term elimination of litter and micro-plastics.
The conference attracted a record number of 5,000 participants, with five Heads of State and Government, 157 environment ministers and deputy ministers. The delegates included scientists, academics, business leaders and civil society representatives. The final declaration reaffirmed that poverty eradication, changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are the overarching objectives of, and essential requirements for, sustainable development.
The conference pledged to promote sustainable food systems by encouraging resilient agricultural practices, and tackle poverty through sustainable management of natural resources.
The sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) was launched during the Assembly. The launch event highlighted the linkages between health and well-being of humanity and the state of the environment. The report, with the theme ‘Healthy Planet, Healthy People,’ is considered as the most comprehensive assessment of the global environment. It covers a range of topics, issues and potential solutions.
The document gives a thorough analysis of what will happen if we continue with business as usual, and what actions needs to be taken to put our planet on the right course. The report aims to help policymakers and the society at large to achieve the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and internationally agreed environmental goals and implement multilateral environmental agreements.
The GEO report warns that millions of people could die prematurely from water and air pollution by 2050 unless urgent action is taken. It says, “Either we drastically scale up environmental protection or cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa could see millions of premature deaths by mid-century.”
The report also notes that pollutants in our freshwater systems will see anti-microbial resistance becoming a major cause of death by 2050.
The decisions of the world’s top environmental body will set the global agenda, notably ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit in September.
Script: K V Venkatasubramanian, Senior Journalist