UNEA overview for World Environment Day

June 4, 2016

Our regional advisor in Africa, Sam Mwangi, attended the recent United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. The Assembly, which represents the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, issued a global call to action to address the critical environmental challenges facing the world today.

Here are Sam’s key bullet points from the meetings, published to coincide with World Environment Day on 5 June 2016.

  • Healthy environments are necessary for healthy people. Environmental health is essentially a function of humans working with nature to ensure sustainability, and these deliberate actions need to be building a world in which the needs of BOTH are met and can thrive.
  • A report released at the UNEA-2 stated ecosystem degradation and pollution causes 25% of all deaths of children under five, and causes up to 234 times as many premature deaths as occur in conflicts annually.
  • Poverty, especially in the developing world, is recognised as possibly the biggest threat to environmental protection. The complexity of the problem is underlined by the reality that in many instances, poverty causes greater rate of degradation, which further increases the rate of poverty in natural resource dependent communities.
  • During the Science Policy Forum, questions raised included how to bring together scientific, policy and citizen’s voices to ensure that emergent environmental issues are highlighted and effectively addressed. The discussions drew on the first edition of the UNEP 2016 Frontiers Report series, which focused on six emerging issues:

    • the role of the financial sector in advancing environmental sustainability
    • the close linkages between zoonotic disease emergence and ecosystem health
    • microplastics in the food chain
    • unavoidable loss and damage to ecosystems due to climate change
    • toxin accumulation in crops as influenced by climate variability
    • illegal trade in live animals.
  • Environmental health goals are severely challenged by:

    • toxic substances: due to increased production of consumer goods, and associated waste, the number of damaging substances released into the ecosystems are on the rise
    • loss of natural capital: humans derive a wide range of benefits from ecosystem services – none more than life itself - but humans have been overexploiting this natural capital to the point where normal services may never be resumed again
    • conflicts: are commonly caused by resource depletion issues - deforestation, soil erosion, water supply and access, desertification, flooding and pollution. Most of the conflicts occur in developing countries, and often tend to exacerbate poverty and alienate minority groups.
    • degradation: conservative estimates have approximated the economic impact of degradation of natural systems at about US$5 trillion per year, and its estimated that about 60% of the world’s ecosystem services are degraded.
    • loss of species: data indicates that the extinction rate is about 1000 times the background rate, and may increase to 10000 times that rate in the next 100 years, and up to 30% of mammal, bird, and amphibian species are threatened with extinction due to human actions. These losses are irreversible.
  • The role of business was unclear, and in some instances it was pointed out that private sector fees in lieu of environmental exploitation were not assigned to environmental actions. This misalignment has meant a gross under-investment in environmental management. Sustainability goals for the private sector should include

    • Water provisioning
    • Waste management
    • Energy sufficiency
    • Continued production of raw material