Our Burning Planet


UN gathering ‘delivers extra boost’ to help protect environment

UN gathering ‘delivers extra boost’ to help protect environment
The sixth United Nations Environment Assembly (Unea-6) concluded on Friday, 1 March in Nairobi, Kenya, adopting 15 resolutions. The resolutions included commitments to strengthening water policies and combating land degradation and desertification. (Photos: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images | Media24 | Ashraf Hendricks)

The sixth session of the UN Environment Assembly adopted 15 resolutions, including one proposed by Ukraine seeking environmental assistance and recovery in areas under armed conflict. The resolutions, however, failed to make mention of a legally binding treaty to combat plastic pollution.

The sixth United Nations Environment Assembly (Unea-6) concluded on Friday, 1 March in Nairobi, Kenya, adopting 15 resolutions, two decisions and a ministerial declaration to ensure the protection of the planet through various environmental measures.

The 15 resolutions included commitments to strengthening water policies, combating land degradation and desertification, managing chemical waste, promoting sustainable lifestyles, combating sand and dust storms, fostering multilateralism to address global environmental challenges, and pursuing a resilient circular sugar cane agro-industry.

“I am proud to say this was a successful assembly, where we advanced on our core mandate: the legitimate human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, everywhere,” said Leila Benali, Unea-6 president and Morocco’s minister of energy transition and sustainable development.  

“As governments, we need to push for more and reinvented partnerships with key stakeholders to implement these mandates. We need to continue to partner with civil society, continue to guide and empower our creative youth, and also with the private sector and philanthropies.”

‘Great urgency’

The resolutions come as the world underwent its hottest year on record in 2023, and research on biodiversity showed that two million species of plants, insects and vertebrates in Europe could disappear from the planet; this being twice the rate forecast by the UN in 2019.


The sun rises behind the skyline of Johannesburg, South Africa, on 5 December 2023, as another day starts during an ongoing heat wave. South Africa recorded the highest temperatures on record at Augrabies Falls National Park where temperatures reached 46.7 degrees Celsius, and 46.6 degrees Celsius at Vioolsdrift. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

un boost environment

A boy stands in a water fountain as he cools off at a shopping mall during a heat wave on 23 June 2023 in Beijing, China. Authorities issued a red alert for high temperatures, the highest in the country’s four-tier system, as China’s capital and other parts of northern China saw scorching temperatures hovering around 40 degrees Celsius. (Photo: Kevin Frayer / Getty Images)

According to the research, published in the journal Plos One, agricultural practices and associated habitat loss, pollution, overharvesting and development are among the foremost threats to biodiversity.

Collectively, the Unea-6 resolutions call for integrated approaches, synergies among governance, more robust and ambitious efforts where natural elements are concerned, and a significant reduction of biodiversity loss.

The ministerial declaration emphasises the urgency with which the resolutions needed to be implemented. 

“We acknowledge with a sense of great urgency the threats posed to sustainable development by global environmental challenges and crises including climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, as well as desertification, land and soil degradation, drought and deforestation, and their impacts on human health and the environment, which are further aggravated by persistent levels of poverty, inequality and food insecurity,” read the declaration. 

The resolutions, however, failed to make mention of a legally binding treaty to combat plastic pollution. The last environmental assembly, Unea 5.2 saw the adoption of the first UN draft treaty on ending plastic pollution.

The legalities of the treaty, currently under negotiation, were expected to be concluded at Unea-6. However, this is now expected to be concluded at the upcoming fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Ottawa, Canada in April. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Plastic waste draft treaty is here and South Africa should embrace it 

Unea-6 also adopted a resolution proposed by Ukraine that encourages states and the United Nations Environmental Programme (Unep) to make provision for environmental assistance and recovery in areas experiencing armed conflict, as well as technical guidance on data collection of environmental damage. 

The draft resolution set the scene: “Aware that armed conflicts can impede the delivery of essential services and undermine effective environmental management, and that environmental degradation in situations of armed conflict and post-conflict, can impact human health, wellbeing and livelihoods, with people in all vulnerable situations….

“Acknowledging the important role that effective, inclusive and sustainable environmental assistance can play in conflict recovery and sustainable development in areas affected by armed conflicts…” 

It called on states to adhere to international law to protect the environment in conflict zones and encouraged them to consider “how to increase the effectiveness of environmental assistance and recovery in areas affected by armed conflicts”.

The draft resolution comes at a time when there are ongoing wars in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Such conflicts have come with a cost to the environment, over and above the cost of lives and infrastructure.

The Guardian has reported that the first two months of the war in Gaza led to greater emissions than the yearly carbon footprint of more than 20 climate-vulnerable countries. 

climate change combat

Smoke rises from Israeli air raids on 13 October in Gaza City. (Photo: Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images)

Inger Andersen, Unep’s executive director, said: “Unep will now take forward the responsibilities you have entrusted to us in these new resolutions. In addition to keeping the environment under review. In addition to fulfilling our obligation to serve as an authoritative advocate for action across the triple planetary crisis.

“The world needs action. The world needs speed. The world needs real, lasting change. Unea-6 has delivered an extra boost to help us deliver this change and to ensure every person on this planet enjoys the right to a safe and healthy environment.” DM

Absa OBP

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