The world risks a new pandemic
MINISTERS of environment and other leaders from more than 150 nations concluded a two-day online meeting of the Fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) in which the assembly warned that the world risked new pandemics if we did not change how we safeguarded nature.
The assembly meets biennially to set priorities for global environmental policies and develop international environmental law; decisions and resolutions are then taken by member states also define the work of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Due to the pandemic, the member states agreed on a two-step approach to UNEA-5: an online session that concluded on Tuesday and an in-person meeting planned for February next year.
Attended by thousands of online participants, including more than 1 500 delegates from 153 UN member states and over 60 ministers of environment, the assembly – which was broadcast live – also agreed on key aspects of UNEP’s work. It kicked off the commemoration of UNEP’s 50th anniversary and held leadership dialogues where member states addressed how to build a resilient and inclusive post-pandemic world.
“It is increasingly evident that environmental crises are part of the journey ahead. Wildfires, hurricanes, high temperature records, unprecedented winter chills, plagues of locusts, floods and droughts have become so common place that they do not always make the headlines,” Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan President, said to the assembly.
“These increasing adverse weather and climatic occurrences sound a warning bell that calls on us to attend to the three planetary crises that threaten our collective future: the climate crisis, the biodiversity and nature crisis, and the pollution and waste crisis.”
In a political statement titled “Looking ahead to the resumed UN Environment Assembly in 2022 – Message from online UNEA-5, Nairobi 22-23 February 2021” endorsed at the close of the assembly, the member states reaffirmed UNEP’s mandate as the leading global environmental authority and called for greater and more inclusive multilateralism to tackle the environmental challenges.
The statement said the assembly wished to strengthen its support for the UN and for multilateral co-operation and it remained convinced that collective action was essential to successfully address global challenges.
It warned that human health and well-being were dependent upon nature and the solutions it provided. The statement said the assembly was aware that the world would face recurring risks of future pandemics if the current unsustainable patterns in interaction with nature were maintained.
Sveinung Rotevatn, president of UNEA-5 and Norway’s Minister for Climate and Environment, echoed the warning.
“Everyone gathered at the environment assembly today are deeply concerned about how the pandemic causes new and serious health, socio-economic and environmental challenges, and exacerbates existing ones, all over the world,” he said.
“We shall work together to identify actions which can help us address climate change, protect biodiversity, and reduce pollution, at the same time,” he said.
The assembly agreed to a new medium-term strategy, programme of work and budget for UNEP.
The new strategy – which will take UNEP from 2022-2025 – sets out a vision for its role in delivering the promises of the 2030 Agenda.
“The strategy is about transforming how UNEP operates and engages with member states, UN agencies, the private sector, civil society and youth groups, so we can go harder, faster, stronger,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.
“This strategy is about providing science and know-how to governments. The strategy is also about collective, whole-of-society action – moving us outside ministries of environment to drive action."
At an event commemorating UNEP’s 50th anniversary next year, Andersen acknowledged the importance of the moment to reflect on the past and envision the future.
“Indeed, the strides taken so far towards safeguarding the environment are testament to UNEP’s work,” Kenyatta noted.
“UNEP has had a lasting impact on how we care for the environment, nature and our livelihoods.”
In the run-up to the assembly, UNEP launched a major report, together with Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General. The report – titled “Making Peace with Nature” – provides a comprehensive blueprint for solving the triple planetary emergencies of climate change, biodiversity and pollution.
A number of events were also held in support of UNEA-5, including a global youth assembly, a science policy business forum and the launch of a global alliance on circular economy and resource efficiency.
“The last few days have been encouraging. We saw a new global effort on resource-efficient, circular economies. A push on financing emission reductions from forests.
“Governments, scientists and businesses coming together to look at big data as a tool for change. Youth raising their voices and telling us ‘nothing about us, without us’ and calling for targeted funds to enable their deeper engagement,” Andersen said. |