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What nations should do to restore biodiversity and reverse pollution

Opinion
 Locals go about their duties at the highly polluted Ngong River in Nairobi on January 25, 2024. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The 6th Session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) opens on February 26th to March 1st 2024, in Nairobi, known as United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON).UNON is the only UN headquarters in the global South, although the UN has offices globally. The other three are in New York, Geneva and Vienna.

The theme of the 6th UNEA is “Effective, inclusive, and sustainable multilateral actions to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution,” aiming to accelerate actions to mitigate climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, which are urgent existential crises that we must address now to survive and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Member states have made commitments in international agreements but have failed to honour. The consequences have been devastating such as droughts, flooding, and pollution, being felt globally.The poorest and most vulnerable countries like Kenya are the hardest hit by climate emergencies such as the rising high temperatures and the heat we are experiencing in Nairobi and all over due to actions of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, pollution and destroyers of biodiversity.

They are also threatening thousands of species with extinction, including over 3.2 billion people severely affected by land degradation. The UN’s scientific data shows millions of people are dying yearly from exposure to pollution and chemicals.  This is why everything is an emergency and yet member states are bickering about whether or not climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution are real priorities amid increasing inequality, high cost of living, conflict, and insecurity, hunger, discrimination, disease and conflict.

Climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste are real priorities that must be tackled to address, what member states perceive as priorities, ironically caused by the same inaction. For example, if we address climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, we shall increase food production, and ensure food security and good nutrition thereby ending hunger, eliminating diseases, and enhancing wellness and well-being.

Growing indigenous trees will clean the air, enhance sustainability, generate wealth, increase natural resources by protecting our water catchment areas, and end conflicts and insecurity. Conflicts and insecurity are mainly caused by competition for natural resources. Multilateralism should meaningfully and genuinely provide solutions to these three challenges, and we are hopeful that the over 20 resolutions lined up for the 6th Session of UNEA, will be adopted and implemented to forestall climate change catastrophe.

The meeting’s agenda includes receiving the report of the Committee of Permanent Representatives, which has been meeting ahead of the summit, discussions on the international environmental policy and governance issues, contributions to the meetings of the high-level political forum on sustainable development, and implementation of the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, engagement with stakeholders, and implementation and cooperation on multilateral environmental agreements.

The high-level segment, where heads of State/governments or their relevant ministers make their statements is expected as usual to present an evaluation of actions by and the priorities of member states, more of a showcase undertaking.

Then member states will adopt the resolutions, decisions, and outcome document of the session with grandiose promises to implement them. There will be no genuine evaluation of actions or inaction by member states that have continued to undermine mitigation efforts nor will there be incrimination or retribution for those countries that continue to threaten our very extinction by pollution, use of toxic chemicals, killing our biodiversity, and emitting greenhouse gases.

The side and high-level events at UNEA 6 will demonstrate the incredible negative consequences of climate change, losses of biodiversity, and the negative effects of pollution and chemicals and recommend actions by member states. We can only hope these will shock delegations into immediate action.It is an unacceptable tragedy that with only six years remaining before expiry of the SDGs in 2030, only 15 per cent are on course. Urgent actions are required on the remaining 85 per cent of SDGs.

We can support action on climate change, restoration of biodiversity, and reduction of pollution by using clean renewable energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal, using energy-efficient electric appliances, walking, biking, or taking public transport, and reducing the use of plastics, reusing, repairing, and recycling, growing indigenous trees, and eating more vegetables to reduce greenhouse gases, responsible production, and consumption, cleaning up our environment and speaking up to leaders, and neighbours.

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