The inaugural UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) concluded its five-day deliberations in Nairobi on Friday with 16 decisions and resolutions that encourage international action on major environmental issues ranging from air pollution and the illegal trade in wildlife, to plastic debris in the oceans, chemicals and waste.
“The air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil that grows our food are part of a delicate ecosystem that is increasingly under pressure,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the closing session late Friday. “We need to act decisively to change humanity’s relationship with our planet.”
Record participation from UN Member States:
The international community participated in the Assembly in record numbers—with high-level delegations from 160 UN Member and Observer States and stakeholders from multiple sectors present.
Focus of the meetings:
The High-Level Segment, which began on Thursday, focused on, among other things:
– The Sustainable Development Goals;
– The Post-2015 Development Agenda, including Sustainable Consumption and Production.
Air Pollution a Priority
Air pollution, responsible for 7 million deaths annually—according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO)—was identified as a top issue that requires immediate action by the international community.
“Poor air quality is a growing challenge, especially in cities and urban centres, compromising the lives of millions worldwide. Action to reduce air quality will save lives and provide co-benefits for the climate, ecosystem services, biodiversity and food security,” said Mr. Steiner.
The delegates unanimously agreed to encourage Governments to set standards and policies across multiple sectors to reduce emissions and manage the negative impacts of air pollution on health, the economy and overall sustainable development.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) was mandated to step up its support to Governments through capacity building, the provision of data and assessments and periodic reporting on progress made. The decision on air pollution is expected to strengthen existing work by UNEP in areas related to transport emissions, indoor air pollution, chemicals and sustainable consumption and production through programmes such as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles.
Illegal Trade in Wildlife
The UNEA called for reinforced actions and enhanced international coordination to counter the illegal trade in wildlife, which poses threats to the environment and sustainable development. The resolution strongly encourages Governments to implement their commitments to fight the illegal trade through, among other things, targeted actions to eradicate supply, transit and demand for illegal wildlife products. It promotes zero-tolerance policies and the development of sustainable and alternative livelihoods for communities adversely affected by the illegal trade.
According to a report by UNEP and INTERPOL titled The Environmental Crime Crisis, released during UNEA, global environmental crime is worth up to US$213 billion each year and is helping to finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups and threatening the security and sustainable development of many nations.
Marine Plastic Debris and Microplastics
A resolution on marine plastic debris and microplastics noted with concern the impacts of such materials on the marine environment, fisheries, tourism and development—calling for strengthened action, in particular by addressing such materials at the source. The resolution called for the strengthening of information exchange mechanisms, requesting UNEP to present scientific assessments on microplastics for consideration by the next session of the Assembly. Governments were urged to collaborate through relevant Regional Seas Conventions and River Commissions with a view to adopting action plans in their regions.
According to new reports launched by UNEP and partners at UNEA, there is growing concern over the threat that widespread plastic waste poses to marine life, with conservative estimates of the overall financial damage of plastics to marine ecosystems standing at US$13 billion each year (to find out more please read our DREFF Blog on the topic of marine litter and our use of plastics available here).
The UN Environment Assembly emphasized the sound management of chemicals and waste as an essential and integral cross-cutting element of sustainable development and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Chemicals are an integral part of everyday life, with over 100,000 different substances in use. While chemicals are major contributors to national economies, they require sound management throughout their life cycle. Otherwise, in addition to the benefits, they also pose significant risks to human health and the environment and result in significant costs to national economies.
Environmental effects of the unsustainable use of chemicals and hazardous waste range from effects on sensitive species and ecosystems, to large-scale issues such as eutrophication of water bodies and stratospheric ozone depletion.
Sustainable Development Agenda
UNEA reaffirmed the commitment of Member States to the full implementation of the Rio+20 outcome document, The Future We Want—in particular the section on the environmental pillar in the context of sustainable development and paragraph 88 on strengthening and upgrading UNEP.
The Assembly also called on Member States to accelerate and support efforts for the promotion of sustainable production and consumption patterns, including through resource efficiency and sustainable lifestyles.
For further information about UNEA please visit: www.unep.org/unea
[Press release edited by GFDD, and taken from the UNEP website available here]