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Everything, everywhere, all as one — UN Environment Assembly aims for a sustainable future

Everything, everywhere, all as one — UN Environment Assembly aims for a sustainable future
Traffic on a polluted day in Karachi, Pakistan, on 6 December 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Rehan Khan)

We are facing a triple planetary crisis: the crises of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. The best solutions to deploy are those that hit a number of challenges at once.

The world does not have an environmental to-do list. It has an environmental must-do list – for 2024 and for decades into the future.

We must slow and adapt to climate change, protect and restore nature and biodiversity, reverse land degradation and desertification, and end pollution and waste. Get it right, and we can build a future that works for the many, not just the few – a principle that is at the heart of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Nations at all stages of development have committed to work towards this sustainable future under dozens of multilateral environmental agreements. In times of geopolitical crisis and shifting political landscapes, this is no mean feat. Action on the environment is a powerful force for unity.

There are global deals that set agreed goals and targets, such as the Paris Agreement, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the Global Framework on Chemicals. Many businesses and investors are promising to align their models and capital with low-carbon and nature-positive aspirations.

International banks and organisations of all shades and stripes are making environmental action a core part of their objectives. The scientific community is increasingly moving from sounding the alarm to signposting solutions.

However, progress on turning commitments into transformative action must accelerate rapidly. Last year was the warmest on record, with resultant heatwaves, storms and droughts causing havoc. Millions of people died from pollution of the air, land and water. Rainforests continued to shrink and populations of species crucial to ecosystem health dwindled.

Every day, every week, every month this continues, humanity digs itself into a deeper hole that will take longer to climb out from.

However, it isn’t just about working harder; it’s about working smarter. With so many agreements in play, there is a growing risk of fragmentation. This is a challenge we need to address by ensuring that work on each commitment dovetails with and amplifies the work of the others.

After all, we are essentially facing one single global challenge, what we at the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) call the triple planetary crisis: namely the crisis of climate change; the crisis of nature and biodiversity loss; and the crisis of pollution and waste.

The core drivers of every environmental challenge are often the same: unsustainable consumption and production chief among them. The best solutions to deploy are those that hit many challenges at once.

This is where the United Nations Environment Assembly (Unea) comes in. The assembly, the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, unites nations every two years to look not just at isolated issues, but everything, everywhere, all as one.

The sixth gathering of the assembly will take place from 26 February 2024 in Nairobi, Kenya, at the home of Unep – which hosts the secretariats of more than two dozen agreements, regional conventions and scientific panels. This year, we are inviting the multilateral environmental agreements, nations and indeed every actor to come together and find new ways of working together towards a common goal.

I am not saying this will be simple. There are dozens of bodies, covering hundreds of goals and targets. The Paris Agreement targets limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C or 1.5°C.

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework foresees the protection, restoration and sustainable management of Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas and inland waters.

Nations are aiming for land degradation neutrality under the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

The Montreal Protocol continues to protect the ozone layer and is contributing to climate action.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Too damn hot — what to expect as global climate crisis heats up in 2024

We have other agreements to do everything from protecting species to shielding people and the planet from harmful chemicals and waste. A new instrument to end plastic pollution is also in the final stages. Meanwhile, nations will step up at Unea-6 with new resolutions aimed at tackling the triple planetary crisis.

With so much going on, it sometimes feels like we are all in one boat aiming for the same port, operating dozens of different wheelhouses connected to different rudders. We are not taking the fastest, most direct route to the destination.

At Unea-6, everyone must strive to find new ways to coordinate the wheelhouses. To learn from each other and apply lessons of the past to the future. And to start delivering on the many commitments that will make the planet, and humanity, whole and healthy. DM

Inger Andersen is Under-Secretary of the United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Deon de Wet-Roos says:

    I find the optimism regarding the UN fascinating. The UN can do nothing about climate change and nothing will change until people change their behavior. This means NOTHING will change. The UN is one of the most ineffective biased bodies or relics from a by-gone era. It could not prevent the invasion of the Ukraine and cannot get parties in the Israel-Palestine conflict to work on a plan going forward. It has become the poster boy for human failure. It is also the place where politicians apply their trade where their trade is to seem important, use big words and essentially learn to live a meaningless life and pass it on to the rest of the world. If anything, the UN could provide information in abundance on global warming and why millions if not billions are going to perish in the coming years. Those that are religious among you need worry about going to hell, it is coming for you.

  • Ben Harper says:


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