Supporting a marathon effort for multilateralism at UNEA-6

View of the dais during the opening plenary at UNEA-6

Nearly 6,000 delegates gathered in Nairobi recently for the sixth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6). Heads of state, ministers, civil society representatives, Indigenous Peoples, international organisations, scientists and the private sector participated in the meeting, dedicated to the theme of “Effective, inclusive and sustainable multilateral actions to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution”.

The meeting, described as a “marathon effort”, adopted 15 resolutions on critical issues such as Promoting sustainable lifestyles, Environmental aspects of minerals and metals, Environmental assistance and recovery in areas affected by armed conflict, Land degradation and restoration, and Strengthening efforts to tackle climate change, marine biodiversity loss and pollution in the ocean.  UNEA-6 also provided a platform to bring together, showcase and consider opportunities to work more closely together on many Multilateral Environment Agreements active across the scope of the triple planetary crisis of nature loss, climate change, and pollution and waste.

A team from the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) was on the ground. Our delegates supported the intergovernmental process, organised and moderated events, prepared briefing materials, and engaged in discussions across UNEA from the resolutions to Ministerial events and side events. Here, we share their thoughts on the week.

Priorities and needs clearly articulated

“The negotiations were not always easy, with disagreement on many issues. However, what was clear was the will and commitment by the 190 Member States to work constructively with each other to find common ground. This was truly multilateralism in action. There were many late nights, and discussions extended beyond their allocated time in some cases, but even then there was a spirit of togetherness and collective ambition that couldn’t be dulled by the late hours and sometimes frayed tempers.

“During the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum, which took place on the weekend prior to UNEA-6, stakeholders had the opportunity to discuss their views of the resolutions with each other as well as with Member States, and provide their perspectives on how to address global environmental challenges. Member States were also very clear during the negotiations that the resolutions needed to be inclusive, ensuring that the voices of stakeholders, including Indigenous Peoples, youth, women and farmers, were considered in the implementation of resolutions.  

“UNEA-6 has started important conversations, not all of which have resulted in resolutions being adopted. But these have provided clear articulations of priorities and needs by Member States, stakeholders and regions for which solutions can be explored."

- Melissa de Kock, Deputy Director

Nature-based solutions for systemic, economy-wide change

“The deliberations at UNEA-6 sent clear signals that the environmental and social integrity of nature-based solutions (NbS) are not only essential to scaling action, but also in preventing greenwashing and green grabbing.

“Indigenous Peoples, stewards of a third of the world’s biodiversity, shared not only their beliefs, values and commitment to work with nature: they want a seat at the table in the design, planning and in accessing finance for NbS. A shift from consultation to co-creation with major groups and stakeholders was evident at UNEA-6 as children and youth major groups harnessed this multilateral forum to engage, influence and work for a just balance between the needs of present and future generations.

“This gathering was an important moment in bringing the Intergovernmental Consultations on Nature-based Solutions to life and moving from the text towards effective, inclusive and sustainable actions that support the implementation of NbS. To that end, I moderated a great side event organised by Costa Rica and Nigeria where representatives from Cameroon, South Korea, the United Kingdom and major groups and stakeholders discussed how to take forward the eight recommendations that came from the consultations.

“The discussions at this event and throughout the week brought home the critical importance of connecting our dependence on nature to its impact on policy priorities like jobs, health and clean water. And herein lies the appeal of nature-based solutions, ie to work with nature to address the critical societal challenges we face. We need to link nature, economy and society in multilateral decision-making to ensure that we communicate environmental limits and act to reimagine, redesign and reform societies and economies within planetary boundaries."

- Dr Najma Mohamed, Head of Nature-based Solutions

Celebrating multilateralism and the strengthening of ties

“Global challenges require multilateral responses. UNEA-6 highlighted the urgent need for effective multilateralism and demonstrated that urgent action for peace, development and sustainability must go hand-in-hand. It also demonstrated the important connections and opportunities for greater collaboration across the multilateral system on environmental governance.  

“In this regard, the space given at UNEA-6 for the profile and dialogue between the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) was extremely useful, with a full day devoted to discussing how to enhance the synergies between MEAs, and many events and dialogues across the Ministerial segment and more widely in dedicated MEA spaces at UNEA. Two resolutions were adopted specifically related to MEAs and enhancing collaboration and cooperation between them, as well as between and within countries in their implementation. This is aimed at improving efficiency, reducing unnecessary overlap and avoiding duplication of efforts.

“The high-level dialogue on strengthening cooperation between UNEA, UNEP and MEAs highlighted challenges at the national level with cross-government communications and coordination. Finance and other incentives for collaboration were also raised as barriers to progress. Many speakers discussed opportunities for integrated action to implement the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the Global Framework on Chemicals with other MEAs, and experiences from synergies across the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm cluster of chemicals conventions were drawn on frequently.

“UNEA also provided an opportunity to showcase progress across the MEAs. This included announcements on the venue and theme for the 2024 UN Biodiversity Conference in Colombia. Also an event that I moderated highlighting the contributions of the Convention on Migratory Species to address the triple planetary crisis, and which showcased the incredible reach of the recently released State of the World’s Migratory Species Report."

- Neville Ash, Director

Regional ocean governance is key to tackling the triple planetary crisis

“Member states collectively stressed their determination to act decisively and urgently to improve the health, productivity, sustainable use, and resilience of the ocean and its ecosystems, recognising that the ocean is fundamental to life on our planet and to our future.

“UNEA-6 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the UNEP Regional Seas Programme - an action-oriented programme which brings together governments, scientific communities and civil societies to address the degradation of the ocean and seas at a regional level. The importance of the Regional Seas Programme and regional seas conventions and action plans in assisting countries and regions manage the marine and coastal environment was widely recognised. Looking forward, Member States were encouraged to adopt, ratify or implement the regional seas conventions, protocols and action plans for the protection and conservation of the marine and coastal environment, whilst UNEP was requested to further support regional seas conventions and action plans.

“As the world seeks to reverse, respond and adapt to biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution, joined-up planning and action between countries is vital, especially in the ocean due to its interconnected nature, whereby species routinely cross national boundaries and where activities in one State or region could have an impact on other States and regions. Supporting the negotiations, UNEP-WCMC provided official briefing materials on the new legally binding international instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, where cooperation and coordination by States across territorial and sectoral boundaries is vital.

“To my delight, a hard-fought resolution on strengthening ocean governance to tackle the triple planetary crisis made it through in the early hours right at the end of the week."

- Dr Chris McOwen, Lead Marine Scientist

Momentum builds around sustainable food systems

“I followed discussions around trade, consumption and sustainable lifestyles pertaining to food systems, and was pleased to see a huge range of delegates engage - from small island nations to the likes of China and the US, to all kinds of public and private sector organisations. It was similarly encouraging to see such different entities be respectful and pragmatic on ways forward, with the majority of the debate at UNEA-6 side events focused on larger systems and policies relating to production and consumption. In this spirit, the final resolution on sustainable lifestyles reaffirmed countries’ commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, recognised the importance of non-state organisations and individuals and emphasised the need to eradicate poverty.

“Throughout the week, there was a heavy focus on the importance of healthy soil to increase nutritional value of our food, build resistance to extreme weather events and provide ecosystem services beyond food systems. Land use change was repeatedly acknowledged as the biggest driver of biodiversity loss. Protecting and restoring biodiversity will require us to build economic incentives for farmers to grow diverse crops; we need more research on this and to prioritise diversifying these value chains.

“There are many synergies between TRADE Hub priorities and discussions held at UNEA-6. I recommend a deep dive into the Planetary Welcare principles developed by our Head of Policy Thiago Kanashiro Uehara that underpin our vision and echo sentiments of the unjust agricultural production and trade systems currently in place."

- Jemima Brennen, Associate Communications Officer, Nature Economy and TRADE Hub team

Main image: IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis

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