Historic United Nations Environment Assembly starts in Kenya

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Nairobi: Kenya Tuesday became the official environmental capital of the world when it welcomed over 160 countries for the historic United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA).

The event that started on Monday and ends Friday is the first such event in the world and for the first time brings all the countries that make up the United Nations to dialogue on the environment.

“We welcome you to our country and while you are around make sure that you tour our beautiful game parks and museums,” Prof. Judy Wakhungu, the cabinet secretary for the environment, said during the opening galore held at the UNEP headquarters in Gigiri.

The event marks a historic milestone in UNEP’s 43-year history and is a significant momentous for Kenya, Africa and the developing world.

“You are witnessing history in the making,” UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner told The Standard.

UNEP is the first UN agency to be hosted in the global south away from the rich global north.

Since its formation, the organisation has tremendously grown from an infant UN body that shared office space at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) to a full-fledged UN body that is housed at the magnificent Gigiri complex, a former coffee firm.

During the event, Steiner reiterated that UNEP was not moving away from Kenya.

“Very often in challenging times, questions are raised on whether we are here to stay. I confirm today that we are here to stay,” he told the gathering.

Kenya's Ambassador & Permanent Representative to the United Nations Martin Kimani also told the Standard that the country was not losing its face with the international community.

“In the recent past, two global institutions, UNAIDS IT Division and the WHO global security section have moved their headquarters to Nairobi,” he said.

Throughout the week, heads of states, top UN officials and over 90 ministers and 160 delegations from around the world will discuss various issues among them Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the post-2015 goals and illegal wildlife trade.

“This is the world’s most authoritative gathering among the UN to address environmental issues,” Steiner said. “Many of the issues to be discussed will save millions of people in the world.”

The Assembly started with an address from the outgoing UNEP Governing Council President Hassan Abdel Hilal. The first item on his agenda was the election of the first UNEA president.

As per a rotation agreement among regions   in electing officials, the UNEA president was to be elected from Asia and the Pacific regions.

Prominent Mongolian politician and minister for Environment and Green Development  Oyun Sanjaasuren,  who was wearing a greyish  top, black skirt and high heeled black shoes was elected as the first UNEA president.

“We do not have the luxury of time. We must act with urgency,” she said in her acceptance speech before the assembly.

Kenya’s cabinet Secretary for the environment Prof Judy Wakhungu was elected as one of the vice presidents.

Earlier on, Wakhungu in her speech reiterated that Kenya was committed to supporting UNEP.

“The environmental challenges that the world is facing underscores the importance of UNEP and the global environmental challenges continue to grow in number and complexity. The need to find solutions has become ever more pressing,” she said.

During the event, Kenya was praised for pioneering renewable energy.

Steiner also said that UNEP was dedicated in fighting wildlife crime and the illegal trade of charcoal and timber.  About a week ago, the giant-tusked Satao, one of Kenya's most adored elephants, was poached.

“Illegal trade in wildlife deserves UNEA attention as it is an environmental, economic and governance disaster and fuelling conflict,” he said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, first lady Margaret Kenyatta and Rachael Ruto, wife to Deputy President, are among the guests at the event.

Special guests for the assembly include Prince Albert II of Monaco, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the President of the UN General Assembly John Ashe.

Officials from the UN and Agencies expected at the event include the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) Sahle-Work Zewde, Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning Amina J Mohamed and Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Dr Mukhisa Kituyi.

The others key UN and Agencies officials at the event are Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the  Director General of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), Lakshmi Puri ,  Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, and Helen Clark, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.


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UNEA UN Gigiri