UN states meet in Kenya to shape global environmental policy in the face of looming crises

The world’s top decision-making body on the environment is meeting in Kenya’s capital this week to discuss how countries can work together to tackle environmental crises like climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity.

The meeting in Nairobi is the sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, and governments, civil society groups, scientists and the private sector are attending.

At the opening plenary at the U.N. Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi on Monday, Leila Benali, the president of this year’s assembly, urged members to work toward making “a tangible difference to people’s lives.”

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“It is up to us to deliver a clean greener and safer future for all people,” she said.

Kenya’s environment minister, Soipan Tuya, described this year’s assembly as “an opportunity to inject optimism and restore faith” in the global environmental governance system.

At the gathering, member states discuss a raft of draft resolutions on a range of issues that the assembly adopts upon consensus. If a proposal is adopted, it sets the stage for countries to implement what’s been agreed on.

 crane operator walks next to the waste footing in the Drina river near Visegrad, Bosnia

A crane operator walks next to the waste footing in the Drina river in Bosnia on  Jan. 10, 2024. The United Nations Environment Assembly is meeting in Nairobi on Feb. 26, 2024, to discuss how countries can work together to tackle environmental crises. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut, File)

“None of us live on an island. We live on planet Earth, and we are all connected,” Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, which is leading the process, told The Associated Press ahead of the talks. “The only way we can solve some of these problems is by talking together.”

In the last round of talks in 2022, also in Nairobi, governments adopted 14 resolutions, including to create a legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution globally. Andersen described it then as the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

For this year’s talks, countries will discuss 19 draft resolutions, including on how best to restore degraded lands, combat dust storms and reduce the environmental impact of metal and mineral mining.

But with countries having different priorities, it’s often hard to get consensus on the draft resolutions. However, Andersen said, there’s generally “a forward movement” on all draft resolutions for this year’s assembly, known as UNEA-6.

With this meeting’s focus on multilateralism, UNEP wants to build on past agreements it led between governments, such as the Minamata Convention to put controls on mercury and the Montreal Protocol to heal the hole in the ozone layer, Andersen said.

Björn Beeler, international coordinator for the International Pollutants Elimination Network, thinks there will be slow progress on more complex issues such as financing around chemicals and waste.

Beeler also expects strong opposition on a draft resolution that wants to phase out the use of highly hazardous pesticides. The draft resolution, which was submitted by Ethiopia and is co-sponsored by Uruguay, aims to create a global alliance of U.N. bodies like UNEP, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization.

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“If this does go through, it would be very significant because it would be the first time ever to see global movement on highly hazardous pesticides,” said Beeler, who is attending the talks.

UNEP anticipates more than 7,000 attendees at the talks, which will end on Friday.

“What we should expect at UNEA-6 is decision makers looking into the horizon, being aware of what is it that’s coming to us that could potentially damage our planet, and taking preemptive action to prevent this,” said Andersen.

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