United Nations Environment Assembly
The United Nations Environment Assembly was created after Rio+20, on the one hand, as a governing body of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), one of the 15 Belgian partner organisations, and on the other hand, as a political platform bringing together environment ministers in order to set priorities for the global environmental agenda. UNEA has a universal membership of all 193 UN Member States. It meets twice a year in Nairobi, where both the UNEP headquarters and the UN’s headquarters in Africa are located.
The overall theme of the fourth session of UNEA in 2019 was “Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production”. UNEP skillfully summarised this theme as “Think Beyond. Live Within.”.
Participation reached a record level with 5000 participants from 179 countries, 6 heads of state or government and 157 ministers. In the margins of UNEA, France and Kenya co-hosted the first regional “One Planet Summit” focusing on Africa, and including the role of energy transition and biological diversity in the fight against climate change in the agenda.
UNEA-4 addressed themes related to climate, biodiversity, desertification, pollution and other environmental problems, allowing to pursue a more coherent approach in the outcome documents. The circular economy theme was broadly addressed during UNEA-4, a theme that allowed the EU to assert its pioneering role and that provided an opportunity for Belgium to highlight its achievements.
The ministerial declaration contains ambitious statements on, among other things, circular economy as a means of achieving sustainable consumption and production and maintaining a target for a reduced use of single-use plastics. It was the first time that such a single use plastics target was adopted on a global scale. Moreover, the declaration launched the development of new global frameworks for the protection of biodiversity and for the sound management of harmful substances and waste after 2020.
Two resolutions tabled by the EU were adopted: one on sustainable consumption and production and one on harmful substances and waste.
In addition, some programmatic and procedural decisions were taken with regard to the functioning of UNEP.
The fifth session of UNEA is in full preparation and will take place in February 2021. The theme “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” calls for strengthened action worldwide to protect and restore nature. A key element in this regard is the opportunity offered by upgrading “Nature Based Solutions” for sustainable development in all its dimensions.
At the international level, a definition of “Nature Based Solutions” is still missing, but the EU uses this internal description: solutions that are inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience. Such solutions bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions. Hence, nature-based solutions must benefit biodiversity and support the delivery of a range of ecosystem services.
For Belgium, it is important that UNEA fulfils its role as a platform focusing on global environmental challenges, while involving economic and social actors and delivering messages that are understandable and easy to communicate to a wide audience. The theme should focus on acute problems that need to be addressed and build on the momentum of other global, international processes. The outcome of UNEA should be action- and solution-oriented and inspire the international community to take action and generate an effective change on the ground. The theme should be consistent with UNEP's core mandate and with the strength of the organisation, but at the same time relevant to the wider UN system.