Why Nairobi deserves to be made the world's environmental capital

President William Ruto opens the UNEA-6 summit in Gigiri, Nairobi County. [PCS]

The 6th Session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) ended on March 1, 2024 recalling the previous arrangements to restore biodiversity such as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, adopted by the United Nations (UN) Biodiversity Conference Montreal, Canada, 7-19 December 2022 during the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

This framework sought to accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and build on the Convention’s previous strategic plans, setting out an ambitious pathway to reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050.

It aims to catalyse and galvanise transformative action by governments, subnational and local authorities, and all of society, to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, achieve the outcomes it sets out by fully implementing the three objectives of the convention in a balanced manner.

The framework promotes coherence, complementarity, and cooperation between the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Protocols, other biodiversity-related conventions, and other relevant multilateral agreements and international institutions, respecting their mandates, and creating opportunities for cooperation and partnerships among diverse actors to enhance implementation of the framework.

Colombia will host the next UN Biodiversity Conference from 21 October to 1 November 2024 encompassing the Sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP 16), the first since the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework as governments review its implementation.

Parties are expected to show the alignment of their National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) with the Framework and determine whether they have taken concrete actions to halt and reverse loss of nature, including protecting 30 per cent of the planet and restoring 30 per cent of degraded ecosystems.

Although we remain optimistic, with only 15 per cent of SDGs on course to achievement by 2030, it is easier to demonstrate that member states have failed to match their declarations to their ambitions for nature. Specific arrangements to curb climate change, address biodiversity loss and end pollution have been put in place through various agreements and UN frameworks/plans. The greatest challenges are member states’ failure to live up to their promises.

Every year there is at least one important UN meeting to address climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and toxic chemicals, too many words said but little follow-up action. It is time to focus on actions, by member states and their citizens, especially corporations and companies whose profiteering is ruinous to our environment, biodiversity, and life on earth.

Member states must be held accountable for their failures including lack of action against those of their corporate citizens, that most threaten our existence.

On 2 March 2022, member states endorsed a historic resolution at the UNEA-5 in Nairobi for an international legally binding agreement by 2024 to end plastic pollution addressing the full lifecycle of plastic, including its production, design, and disposal. Much progress has been made in drafting the treaty.

President William Ruto during his address to UNEA-6 asked member states to allow Nairobi to host the Treaty’s Secretariat, reminding them that the historic agreement at the Rio+20 conference, called for consolidation of UNEP headquarters functions in Nairobi to avoid further fragmentation of global environmental governance and disenfranchisement of UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), the only UN Headquarters in the global south.

Perhaps it is for this reason that member states continue to chip at its functions denying the UN Office in Nairobi much-needed resources and gravitas to be the Environment Capital of the world.

Of the four headquarters of the UN, UNON is the least resourced with few UN meetings and events taking place here. Yet, Kenya has generously granted UNON more than 140 acres of land and space, the largest free space donated by any member state to the UN.

President Ruto is right, all the environment-related functions and environment governance of the UN should be based in Nairobi. Member states must provide adequate investments to make Nairobi the Environment Capital of the World and stop short-changing UNON.