Nairobi, March 3 (IANS) Just hours after 175 nations endorsed a historic resolution to end plastic pollution by creating an intergovernmental committee to negotiate and finalise a legally binding agreement by 2024, the stage is now set for a special two-day session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) beginning here on Thursday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of UNEP.
The high-level event called UNEP@50 will be devoted to the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972.
The theme for the UNEP@50 event is “Strengthening UNEP for the implementation of the environmental dimension of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
For 50 years UNEP has coordinated a worldwide effort to confront the planet’s biggest environmental challenges. This global collaboration has helped repair the ozone layer, phase out leaded fuel, stop some endangered species from going extinct and more.
UNEP’s convening power and rigorous scientific research has provided a platform for countries to engage, act boldly and advance the global environmental agenda.
To mark UNEP’s 50th anniversary, a year-long series of activities and outreach events are taking place under the UNEP@50 banner. These recognise the significant progress made on the global environmental matters and address the planetary challenges to come.
Responding to marking of the special session of the UNEA, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen told IANS, “We looked back at the progress made in the last 50 years and to the opportunities ahead. When we work together, we can make change. It is possible!”
“The world needs life saving actions now and it is an opportunity for all international actors to set priorities for biodiversity, the environment and wildlife,” she said.
Since its creation, UNEP has worked closely with its 193 member states and other stakeholders to galvanise worldwide commitments and coordinated action to address many of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. It also played a leading role as the docking station for 15 multilateral environmental agreements.
In an exclusive interview with IANS, Andersen said, “We at UNEP speak of a triple planetary crisis — the crisis of climate change; the crisis of biodiversity loss; and the crisis of pollution and waste.
“Together, they pose a huge threat to human peace and prosperity. Climate change is a problem that is here, now. Nobody is safe. And it is getting worse faster.
“Concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are higher than two million years and one billion children are at extremely high risk from the impacts of climate change. In parallel, we continue to erode the natural world. Seventy-seven per cent of ice-free land surface has been modified by human activities and one million species face the threat of extinction.
“And finally on pollution and waste, 11 million tonnes of plastic flows into our oceans every year and more than 90 per cent of us live in cities where air quality does not meet World Health Organisations standards.
“The triple planetary crisis has been caused by decades of relentless and unsustainable consumption. We need urgent transformations in three areas to address the triple crisis. We must tackle the earth’s environmental emergencies and human well-being as one indivisible challenge.
“We must transform our economic and financial systems to power the shift to sustainability. We must transform our food, water and energy systems to meet growing human needs in an equitable, resilient and environmentally friendly manner.”
“This is the task at hand,” she added.
Responding to a question: Do you think the multilateral discussions and actions that UNEP facilitated for 50 years are still crucial or needs to reimagine itself for solving the planetary crisis the globe faces?
She replied: “The environmental challenges we face now know boundaries and so multilateralism has a central role to play in our ability to deliver a healthy planet and healthy people.
“If anything, Covid-19 has served as a tragic reminder of just how connected our world is. But yes, we do need to think of how multilateralism can truly deliver in a divided world.”
“UNEP is committed to the common agenda outlined by the Secretary-General which is about strengthening and accelerating multilateral cooperation — particularly around the 2030 Agenda — and making a tangible difference to people’s lives,” Andersen added.
The Fifth UN Environment Assembly concluded in Nairobi on Wednesday with 14 resolutions to strengthen actions for nature to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
The world’s ministers for the environment agreed to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee with the mandate to forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024 to end plastic pollution.
On the legally binding agreement by 2024 to end plastic pollution, Andersen said this was the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)