For 50 years, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has offered the world a way forward “based on a vision for a better, healthier Earth built on the pillars of international cooperation,” Secretary-General António Guterres told a landmark special session on Thursday, commemorating the agency’s golden anniversary.
“The planet was already showing signs of buckling under the weight of humanity” back in 1972 when the agency was founded, he explained to the event in Nairobi via video message.
“In the following decades, UNEP and its partners would work with Member States to combat air pollution, restore the ozone layer, protect the world's seas, promote a green and inclusive economy and raise the alarm about biodiversity loss and climate change”.
Delivering for all
Mr. Guterres lauded UNEP as illustrating that multilateralism works and can deliver solutions for people and the planet.
UNEP's science, policy work, coordination and advocacy has helped to right environmental wrongs around the world and raise awareness of the critical role that the environment plays in sustainable development.
“That work has never been more important,” attested the UN chief.
Stop ‘suicidal war against nature’
Pointing to climate disruption, biodiversity and habitat loss, and pollution and waste that threatens societies and life on Earth, he observed that “humanity continues to wage a suicidal war against nature.”
To address this, the top UN Official set out four targets, beginning with the need to protect the most vulnerable, ‘who now number in the billions.”
“We need scaled up international cooperation to provide the financial and technical assistance that vulnerable countries and communities need for greater resilience,” he said, urging donors and multilateral development banks to “more than double the share for climate adaptation to at least 50 per cent of climate finance by 2024”.
Secondly, the UN chief underscored that the world must cut global emissions by 45 per cent this decade to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
“This means no new coal. And no coal finance,” he spelled out.
During the UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow last year, Mr. Guterres was heartened by South Africa’s announcement of a renewable energy partnership.
He urged all countries that have pledged to get out of coal and that need technological and financial support to undertake equivalent coalitions.
“Coal needs to be phased out in OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries by 2030 and by 2040 everywhere else,” he argued, adding that “every sector in every country needs to decarbonize this decade, especially the energy and transportation sectors”.
Paving a path forward
Halting the “extinction crisis,” with an “ambitious and actionable post-2020 biodiversity framework to put us on a path of living in harmony with nature,” was the Secretary-General’s third point.
And his fourth was to “drastically” reduce chemical, plastic and solid waste pollution.
“That means tackling the drivers of environmental degradation, especially poverty and unsustainable consumption and production,” the top UN official said.
While encouraged by the UN Environment Assembly’s moves to establish an intergovernmental committee that would negotiate a legally binding global agreement on plastic pollution, he upheld that financial and accounting systems must also be transformed to reflect the true cost of economic activities, including their impact on nature and the environment.
Follow the science
“In all we do, we need to follow science and engage in multilateral action to make peace with nature,” said the UN chief, hailing UNEP for supporting science and facilitating multilateral action and partnership.
He thanked Kenya for hosting UNEP's headquarters over the last 50 years – making Nairobi the global hub for the environment.
Warning that “we are nearing a point of no return’, the Secretary-General urged everyone to “grasp the opportunities of working together under an active, open and networked multilateralism,” flagging that “all countries have a crucial role to play in protecting people and the planet.”