Senior officials call for action and solutions at UN Environment Assembly

“Your efforts are urgent,” he said in a video message to the sixth edition of the UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA-6). 

Our planet is on the brink, ecosystems are collapsing, our climate is imploding, and humanity is to blame.” 

Action now 

The UNEA is the world’s highest decision-making body on the environment and aims to help restore harmony between people and nature. 

This latest session concludes on Friday, and representatives from more than 180 countries have been negotiating resolutions on issues ranging from nature-based solutions and highly hazardous pesticides to land degradation and drought.  

Delegates’ focus has also been on Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). These regional and international accords, some of which are more than 50 years old, have helped to protect endangered species and  limit chemical pollution, among other concerns. 

UNEA role critical 

In his message on Thursday – the Assembly’s high-level segment – the Secretary-General spoke about the fallout from the environmental crises that the planet is facing, ranging from poisoned rivers to rising sea levels.

He stressed the need for action, including to accelerate the shift to renewable energy, adapt to extreme weather and to deliver climate justice, highlighting the UNEA’s vital role. 

“You have shown before that you can unite and delivermost recently with your historic decision to negotiate a plastic treaty,” he said. “I urge you to do so again – and go further.” 

A sustainable environment 

The President of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis, also addressed UNEA-6, centering his remarks on the connection between a healthy environment and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

“For years, we have known that a healthy environment is both an essential requirement for, and key enabler of, a more safe, just, and prosperous tomorrow,” he said. 

Although the goals provide a blueprint for a more just and equitable future for both people and the planet, he warned that they are “woefully off track” of their 2030 deadline.

“Given that we are confronting an environmental emergency and the consequential need to act with urgency, we must ensure that the outcome of this UNEA-6 advances the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment – that, it promotes truly multilateral responses to restore the balance with nature,” he said. 

Health under threat 

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, spoke of the “inextricable, yet fragile” bond between the health of humans, animals and the environment

If the planet were a patient “it would be admitted to intensive care”, he said. Therefore, no wonder human health is also suffering. 

For example, he said more frequent and severe weather events cause deaths and injuries,  more heatwaves contribute to more cardiovascular disease, while air pollution drives lung cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

Other species have also been affected. Climate change is leading to shifts in the behaviour, distribution, movement, range, and intensity of mosquitoes, birds and other animals that are spreading infectious diseases such as dengue and malaria to new areas. 

Furthermore, illegal wildlife trading is also increasing the risk of zoonotic spillover that can trigger a pandemic, thus highlighting the importance of primary prevention to reduce risk.  

“The threats to health from climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss are not hypothetical risks in the future. They are right here and right now, which makes health the most compelling reason for climate action,” he said. 

With the “patient” in peril, Tedros called for transforming energy, transport, food and health systems, adding that “we must transform especially ourselves, to break out of our siloed mindsets and work for effective, inclusive and sustainable multilateral action.”  

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