UN Environment Assembly opens at critical time for the planet


The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) will begin on 26 February in Nairobi, Kenya, where Heads of State and more than 5,000 representatives from government, civil society and the private sector are expected to tackle some of the planet’s most-pressing environmental challenges.

UNEA is the world’s top decision-making body on matters related to the environment and includes all 193 UN Member States.

This year’s session, the sixth since the Assembly’s launch in 2014, will see countries consider some 19 resolutions aimed at everything from halting desertification to countering air pollution. The resolutions are part of a broader push at UNEA to accelerate the global campaign against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste.

“UNEA-6 will place particular focus on how stronger multilateralism can help us to do this,” said UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Inger Andersen earlier this month. “It will drive united, inclusive and multilateral action that addresses every strand of the triple planetary crisis as one indivisible challenge.”

The Assembly comes at what Andersen called a “critical” time for the planet. Climate change is intensifying, 1 million species are heading towards extinction, and pollution remains one of the world’s leading causes of premature death.

Government ministers, business leaders, scientists and environmental activists from around the world will explore solutions to the triple planetary crisis during five days of talks, including high-level discussions on financing and technology. UNEA will also devote a day to highlighting the importance of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, a series of global accords on the environment.

The United Nations Environment Assembly will run from 26 February to 1 March 2024 in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Alongside high-level discussions on the state of the planet, it will feature 33 side events and several associated events. All official UNEA meetings will be broadcast in the six official UN languages on UN Web TV. The session can also be followed on the UNEA-6 website and UNEP’s social media channels, including YouTube, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

Government leaders are expected to debate 19 draft resolutions. Those include calls for countries to improve air quality, address climate change, limit chemical pollution, counter desertification and end biodiversity loss. UNEA resolutions are not legally binding but are considered an important first step on the path to global environmental accords and national policymaking.

Many of the discussions at UNEA-6 are expected to focus on how the triple planetary crisis is entrenching poverty and widening the divide between rich and poor. Leaders plan to use the Assembly to renew calls for progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, a global blueprint for protecting the planet and promoting prosperity. Just 15 per cent of the goals, which come due in 2030, are on track.

“We must find practical ways to advance the human right to a healthy environment, which is crucial for sustainable development,” said Leila Benali, Morocco’s energy transition minister and the president of UNEA-6. “We know that when we protect the natural world, public health improves. When we focus on sustainable solutions to the climate crisis, our economies get stronger.”

This year marks UNEA’s 10th anniversary. Past sessions have played an instrumental role in shaping global environmental policy. In 2022, UNEA ended with countries agreeing to launch negotiations on a legally binding global instrument to end plastic pollution.

That was one in a recent string of ambitious international agreements on the environment. Last September, countries and businesses inked a landmark pact to prevent pollution from chemicals and waste. Two months later, at the UN Climate Change Conference, countries vowed for the first time to transition away from the fossil fuels that are superheating the Earth and driving climate change.

Observers say the true test of UNEA-6 will be whether it can build on those successes and unite the world for critical push against climate change, nature loss and pollution.

“UNEA-6 won’t solve the world’s problems overnight,” said Andersen. “What it will do is unite nations under the banner of environmental action, focus minds and energies on key solutions and guide the work of UNEP in this critical period for people and planet.”

The sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) will be held from 26 February to 1 March 2024 at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, under the theme: Effective, inclusive and sustainable multilateral actions to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Through its resolutions and calls to action, the Assembly provides leadership and catalyzes intergovernmental action on the environment.