UN Environment Assembly Concludes With Renewed Commitments to Tackle Climate, Biodiversity and Pollution
The sixth UN Environment Assembly was held in Nairobi

The sixth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNAE-6) ended last Friday in Nairobi, Kenya with the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration affirming member states’ commitment to slowing climate change, protecting biodiversity, and creating a pollution-free world.

The assembly, which attracted over 5,600 delegates from 190 countries, also adopted 15 resolutions covering a range of issues including chemicals, waste, metals and minerals and protecting the environment during and after conflicts.

“As governments, we need to push for more and reinvent partnerships with key stakeholders to implement these mandates. We need to continue to partner with civil society, continue to guide and empower our creative youth, and also with the private sector and philanthropies,” said Leila Benali, UNEA-6 President and the Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development of Morocco. 

Benali noted that the resolutions called for enlightened leadership and urged scaling up means of implementation, enhancing national capacity to implement action plans and policies, and strengthening the science-policy interface.

Evidence of the extent of environmental degradation and its impact on individuals keeps rising. Along with updated estimates of air pollution-related deaths at 8.3 million annually, a host of recent studies have also linked excessive levels of air pollution with health issues ranging from increased neo-natal mortality to Alzheimer’s.  Most recently, one Nature study linked spikes in air pollution with increased risk of deaths by suicide. 

Leila Benali, UNEA-6 President and the Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development of Morocco.

A slew of UN reports released during the assembly last week also presented a grim picture of the immediate future. Data from the 2024 Global Resource Outlook warned that without urgent action to reduce global consumption and production, extraction of natural resources could rise by 60 % from 2020 levels. This would worsen climate and pollution impacts, with consequently greater  risks to biodiversity and human health, the report said. 

It also blamed the high levels of material consumption in upper-middle and high-income countries for the problem. The report said that the rich countries use six times more resources and generate 10 times  climate impacts than low-income ones. 

The Global Waste Management Outlook 2024 showed that without a seismic shift away from ‘take-make-dispose’ societies towards circular economy and zero-waste approaches, the world’s waste pile could grow by two-thirds by 2050, and its cost to health, economies and the environment could double.  It reiterated that only a drastic reduction in waste generation will secure a liveable and affordable future, and ways to convert waste into a reusable resource would have to be employed.

Another UNEP report on Used Heavy Duty Vehicles and the Environment launched during a Climate and Clean Air Conference held ahead of UNEA, sounded the alarm on the rise of emissions from these heavy polluters, and their negative climate and health impacts.

Resolutions on improving response

The assembly also held its first Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA) Day that was dedicated to the international agreements addressing the most pressing environmental issues. UNEA-6 welcomed youth to host their own environmental summit, which called for greater inter-generational equity.

“The President has gavelled resolutions that address desertification, land restoration and more. We also have a ministerial declaration that affirms the international community’s strong intent to slow climate change, restore nature and land, and create a pollution-free world,” Inger Andersen, UN Evironmental Programme Executive Director, said.

“UNEP will now take forward the responsibilities you have entrusted to us in these new resolutions. In addition to keeping the environment under review. In addition to fulfilling our obligation to serve as an authoritative advocate for action across the triple planetary crisis,” Andersen added.

“In our quest to confront the monumental environmental challenges of our time—climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution—there is but one path forward: teamwork. We share one Earth, bask under the same sun, and we must recognize that there is no backup plan. There’s no other planet waiting for us to escape to,” said Abdullah Bin Ali Amri, Oman’s chair of the Environment Authority and president-elect of the next UNEA, which will be held in December 2025 in Nairobi.

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