World leaders gather at UNEP to ramp up solutions for sustainable economies

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A past session of the UN Environment Assembly. PHOTO/COURTESY

  • Over 4,700 people gather to consider new policies, technologies and innovative solutions for achieving sustainable consumption and production.
  • Outcomes from the meeting will set the global environmental agenda and boost chances of success in the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda.
  • The event will see the launch of new science on the state of the environment and solutions to challenges.

By PATRICK MAYOYO

World leaders that include heads of state, ministers, business leaders, senior UN officials and civil society representatives are gathering in Nairobi for a meeting of the world’s top body on the environment, where they will take decisions that move global societies to a more sustainable path.

The fourth UN Environment Assembly runs from 11-15 March under the theme Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production.

It is the biggest gathering in the Assembly’s short history, with attendance almost double the last event in December 2017. Prominent world leaders will attend, including the Presidents of France and Kenya, Emmanuel Macron and Uhuru Kenyatta, and CEOs from major corporations.

Bold decisions and outcomes are expected as the delegates negotiate late into the night over five days.  Resolutions are on the table to push harder for sustainable consumption and production patterns, commit to the protection of the marine environment from plastic pollution, reduce food waste, and advance technological innovation that combats climate change, and reduces resource use and biodiversity loss.

The Assembly’s status as the only UN body outside the General Assembly where all member states convene, and its power to bring together all sectors, means that the global environmental agenda is defined here.

Decisions have a profound impact on the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as paving the way towards the UN Climate Change Summit 2019 and impacting the overall UN agenda.

Ahead of the meeting, UN Environment’s Acting Executive Director, Joyce Msuya, appealed to nations to step up and start delivering real change.

“Time is running short. We are past pledging and politicking. We are past commitments with little accountability. What’s at stake is life, and society, as the majority of us know it and enjoy it today,” she wrote in a policy letter.

As delegates come to Nairobi for the Assembly, UN Environment is deeply saddened by the news of the Ethiopian Airlines accident. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected. We are following developments closely.

UN Environment background report for the Assembly, which serves as a basis for defining problems and laying out new action areas, makes a strong case for urgent action. The report puts the value of lost ecosystem services between 1995 and 2011 at $4 trillion to $20 trillion; shows how agricultural practices are putting increasing pressure on the environment, costing an estimated $3 trillion per year, and estimates pollution-related costs at $4.6 trillion annually.

“As never before, the time to act is now,” said President of the UN Environment Assembly and Minister of Environment of Estonia, Siim Kiisler. “We know we can build more sustainable, prosperous and inclusive societies with sustainable consumption and production patterns that address our environmental challenges and leave no one behind. But we will need to create the enabling conditions for this to happen. And we will need to do things differently.”

The Assembly will also see new research launched by UN Environment, including the latest edition of the world’s only comprehensive global scan of the environment: Global Environment Outlook 6, which was produced by 252 scientists and experts from over 70 countries. The International Resource Panel’s Global Resources Outlook, meanwhile, takes stock of material extraction, including the future outlook and recommendations on how to use natural resources more sustainably.

“It’s clear that we need to transform the way our economies work, and the way we value the things that we consume,” said Msuya. “The goal is to break the link between growth and increased resource use, and end our throwaway culture.”

The Assembly is not just about the resolutions and science. Side events and exhibits provide the opportunity for attendees to form partnerships and make deals that benefit people and the environment.

The Sustainable Innovation Expo acts as an innovation hub, with over 40 environmental technologies and innovations on display.

The One Planet Summit – co-organized by the governments of France and Kenya, and the World Bank – is also being held around the edges of the Assembly, focusing on Africa’s environmental challenges.

The UN Science-Policy-Business Forum, convened in advance of the UN Environment Assembly, launched initiatives on using big data, machine learning, and green technology startups, to solve major environmental problems.

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