World pledges to protect polluted, degraded planet

Mazino Dickson

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After five days of talks at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, ministers from more than 170 United Nations Member States delivered a bold blueprint for change that would lay the groundwork for a radical shift to a more sustainable future.

This plan would ensure innovation will be harnessed to tackle environmental challenges, the use of throwaway plastics will be significantly reduced, and development will no longer cost the earth.

It was agreed that the plan was  needed to speed up moves towards a new model of development in order to respect the vision laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

They expressed worry that the planet is increasingly polluted, rapidly warming and dangerously depleted, the ministers pledged to address environmental challenges through advancing innovative solutions and adopting sustainable consumption and production patterns.

“We reaffirm that poverty eradication, changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are the overarching objectives of, and essential requirements for, sustainable development,” the ministers said in a final declaration.

“We will improve national resource management strategies with integrated full lifecycle approaches and analysis to achieve resource-efficient and low-carbon economies,” they said.

More than 4,700 delegates, including environment ministers, scientists, academics, business leaders and civil society representatives, met in Nairobi for the Assembly, the world’s top environmental body whose decisions will set the global agenda, notably ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit in September.

Marine litter

Another resolution called on Member States and other actors to address the problem of marine litter by looking at the full life-cycle of products and increasing resource-efficiency.

During the summit, Antigua and Barbuda, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago joined UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign, bringing the number of countries now involved in the world’s largest alliance for combatting marine plastic pollution to 60, including 20 from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The need to act swiftly to tackle existential environmental challenges was underscored by the publication of a series of comprehensive reports during the Assembly.

Among the most devastating was an update on the changing Arctic, which found that even if the world were to cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, winter temperatures in the Arctic would rise 3-5°C by 2050 and 5-9°C by 2080, devastating the region and unleashing sea level rises worldwide.

Protesting for justice

As delegates prepared to leave Nairobi , hundreds of thousands of students in around 100 countries took to the streets as part of a global protest movement inspired by Swedish student Greta Thunberg.

Speaking during the Environment Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron said young people were right to protest and that the world needed their anger to drive faster, more forceful action.

“We believe that what we need, given the situation we live in, are real laws, rules that are binding and adopted internationally. Our biosphere faces total devastation. Humanity itself is threatened. We cannot simply respond with some nice-sounding principles without any real impact,” President Macron said.

President Kenyatta also said that the world needed to act now to address record levels of environmental degradation, food insecurity, poverty and unemployment.

“Current global statistics are indeed quite sobering and projections for the future generations are dire and demand urgent action from governments, communities, businesses and individuals,” he said.