The 5th UN Environment Assembly concluded in Nairobi with 14 resolutions to strengthen actions for nature to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The Assembly is made up of the 193 UN Member States and convenes every two years to advance global environmental governance.
The world’s ministers for the environment agreed to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee with the mandate to forge an international legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said this was the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord.
“Against the backdrop of geopolitical turmoil, the UN Environment Assembly shows multilateral cooperation at its best,” said Espen Barth Eide, the President of UNEA-5 and Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment. “Plastic pollution has grown into an epidemic. With today’s resolution we are officially on track for a cure.”
Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, added: “Today, no area on the planet is left untouched by plastic pollution, from deep-sea sediment to Mount Everest. The planet deserves a multilateral solution that speaks from source to sea. A legally binding global agreement on plastic pollution will be a truly welcome first step.”
Along with putting an end to plastic pollution, a second key resolution supports the establishment of a comprehensive and ambitious science policy panel on the sound management of chemicals and waste and preventing pollution. The Ministerial Declaration recognizes humanity’s failure to date to manage chemicals and waste, a threat that is further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic through widespread use of single-use plastics and disinfectant chemicals.
In the spirit of the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, a third key resolution agreed by the Assembly focuses on nature-based solutions: actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use, and manage ecosystems. The resolution calls on UNEP to support the implementation of such solutions, which safeguard the rights of communities and Indigenous Peoples.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said: “Having a universally agreed definition of nature-based solutions is important. When countries and companies claim that their actions are supporting nature-based solutions, we can now begin to assess whether this is accurate and what it entails. This is especially true given the just-released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the need to scale-up adaptation, for which nature-based solutions will be crucial.”
Three resolutions prioritize ecosystem restoration, biodiversity protection, resource efficiency, consumption and production patterns, climate mitigation and adaptation, job creation, and poverty reduction.
A resolution on minerals and metals calls for the development of proposals to enhance their environmental sustainability along their full lifecycle.
A resolution on sustainable lake management calls on Member States to protect, conserve, and restore, as well as sustainably use lakes, while integrating lakes into national and regional development plans.
A resolution on sustainable and resilient infrastructure encourages Member States to integrate environmental considerations in all their infrastructure plans.
A concluding Ministerial Declaration recognized the risk for future pandemics and other health risks if humanity doesn’t overhaul its patterns of interaction with nature by adopting a holistic approach such as One Health.
In this context, a resolution on animal welfare calls on Member States to protect animals, protecting their habitats and meeting their welfare requirements.
Another resolution on biodiversity and health calls on Member States to reduce health risks associated with trade in live wildlife captured for the purposes of food, captive breeding, medicines, and the pet trade, through regulation and sanitary controls.
The Ministerial Declaration stressed the urgent need to halt the global decline of biodiversity and the fragmentation of habitats, unprecedented in human history and driven by changes in land and sea use, exploitation of nature, unsustainable consumption and production patterns, climate change, invasive alien species, and pollution of ocean and fresh water, air, and soil.
In this context, the Assembly adopted a resolution to accelerate actions to significantly reduce nitrogen waste from all sources, especially through agricultural practices, and saving $100 billion annually.
After COVID-19-related investments to date largely failed to advance environmental goals, the world’s environment ministers commit to promoting such an inclusive and sustainable recovery, a green and just transition, by incorporating biodiversity, climate change, and pollution concerns into all policies and tools.
Accordingly, the Assembly adopted a “resolution on the environmental dimension of a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive post COVID-19 recovery” to strengthen measures to achieve a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive global recovery.
Additional resolutions and decision from the Assembly address the date and venue for UNEA-6, the future of the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) and the equitable geographical representation and balance in the secretariat of UNEP.
The three-day UNEA-5.2 in-person and online meeting follows an online session of UNEA-5 last year. It was attended by about 3,000 in-person and 1,500 online participants from 175 UN Member States, including 79 ministers and 17 high-level officials.
The Assembly will be followed by “UNEP@50,” a two-day Special Session of the Assembly marking UNEP’s 50th anniversary where Member States are expected to address how to build a resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world, as well as to endorse a draft Political Declaration.
The UNEP Resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management was developed with the support of the GEF/UNEP project “Towards an International Nitrogen Management System,” and the GCRF South Asian Nitrogen Hub.
This piece was originally published by UNEP.