Heads of state, government ministers, business leaders, senior UN officials and grassroots activists are gathering in Nairobi this week for the fourth UN Environment Assembly – the world’s top body on the environment.
This year’s theme is “Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production.”
The assembly is expected to draw the largest gathering in the group’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.
Resolutions on the table will address sustainable consumption and production patterns, protection of the marine environment from plastic pollution, food waste, and technological innovation that combats climate change, and reduces resource use and biodiversity loss.
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.
UN Environment’s Acting Executive Director, Joyce Msuya of Tanzania, 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.
“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.”
This year, it is reported that India will be leading two global resolutions at the assembly: one on nitrogen pollution and the other on the use of plastics. It will be a historic event as India has not pushed for such important resolutions at the UN in recent times.
India is the third region to have assessed the environmental implications of nitrogen pollution after the U.S. and the European Union. In 2017, India completed this assessment under the leadership of N. Raghuram, the current chairman of the International Nitrogen Initiative.
Agriculture has been the main source of nitrogen pollution as cereals like rice and wheat use only one-third of the nitrogen applied through fertilizers discharging the rest into the surrounding environment.
Pakistan may raise the issue of Indian air strikes at the assembly calling it ‘eco-terrorism.’ The air strikes carried on February 26 have allegedly damaged around 15 pine trees.
The UN Environment’s report highlights five major issues of emerging global concern: synthetic biology, permafrost peatlands, ecological connectivity, the nitrogen fix, and maladaptation to climate change. If not addressed urgently, these issues can accelerate climate change and compromise ecosystem resilience—having detrimental impacts on our economy.
The meeting opened with a statement by organizers on the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302. It was a terrible loss for the United Nations, for our member states and for the environmental community.
“The environmental community is in mourning today. Many of those that lost their lives were en-route to provide support and participate in the UN Environment Assembly. We lost UN staff, youth delegates travelling to the Assembly, seasoned scientists, members of academia and other partners.
“We join the Secretary-General in expressing our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all the victims who perished in this tragedy.
“The entire UN Environment Assembly will honor them in our efforts this week.”