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Tackle global environmental concerns

By Achim Steiner | May 23rd 2016
Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

NAIROBI: Today, world leaders will gather in Nairobi to set the global environmental agenda. At the second United Nations Environment Assembly (Unea), representatives from 193 governments, from civil society and from the private sector will gather at the UN Environment Programme (Unep) headquarters in Gigiri to address the critical environmental and sustainability challenges facing the world today.

From sustaining life under water to improving air quality above, Unea attendees will be working to further every environmental aspect of the Global Goals for sustainable development adopted in New York last September.

For Nairobi, the convening of Unea 2 marks another milestone for the capital of Kenya, which does dual duty as the environment capital of the world.

The first Unea in 2014 was a great success, attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and many global environmental leaders. But our friendship goes back much further. Nairobi has now graciously hosted Unep’s headquarters in Gigiri for 43 years.

It has long been a mutually beneficial relationship. Kenya is on the frontlines of sustainable development. From addressing climate change to adopting inclusive green economy strategies, Kenya offers leadership and a willingness to push forward sustainable development initiatives.

The country’s challenges and successes have provided Unep insight into the effectiveness and impact of environmental issues and solutions to address them.

Kenya benefits greatly from the relationship as well. The majority of Unep’s 800+ employees, many of whom are Kenyan, are based at our headquarters in Kenya.

Indeed, our last Deputy Executive Director was current Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Amina Mohamed.

Unep brings in thousands of dignitaries, diplomats and delegates every year, injecting vital resources into Kenya’s economy. In fact, over 1,400 participants are expected at this year’s Unea alone.

And beyond Unea, Unep and Kenya have over the years collaborated across a broad range of sectors, ranging from water and forests to the green economy and finance.

Unep was the first United Nations agency to be headquartered in the Global South. Our presence in Nairobi means that the multilateral system has a first-hand view of the environmental issues that affect countries in the developing world and how international policy can be cognizant of the realities and priorities of developing nations. These are the exact issues that will be debated at Unea.

Take, for example, the link between health and the environment. In 2012, 8.2 million deaths came as a result of indoor and outdoor air pollution. Developing countries feel this impact harder than developed countries.

In Kenya, many must use cook stoves that release pollutants indoors, which can lead to health problems, particularly for women. Anyone who has experienced traffic in Nairobi will have experienced the choking exhaust coming from some vehicles.

At Unea, ministers and environmental leaders will discuss the initiatives we can take at an international level to assist countries in eliminating this global problem.

Renewable energy will also be discussed. Around 600 million people in Africa lack access to grid electricity. As a world leader in geothermal and green energy, at Unea, Kenya can share its experience of this renewable energy source with other Great Rift Valley countries looking to implement their own geothermal initiatives.

Other environmental issues of regional importance will be dealt with - from the illegal wildlife trade to waste management to, of course, climate change.

But Unea is not only about high-level dialogues. It’s important that everyone is engaged on these issues, because these issues affect everyone.

Kenyans are uniquely placed to be involved because the discussions are happening right here. I encourage everyone to join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #UNEA2.

What are the environmental issues important to you? What initiatives is your community taking to promote sustainability?

Now is the time to raise your voice for it to be heard by all those attending the world’s “Parliament for the Environment” from May 23-27.

As Kenya and Unep welcome the world to Nairobi, I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to the Government and people of Kenya.

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