Photo: Delegates gather for the 3rd UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi. Credit: UN Environment. - Photo: 2017

UN Environment Assembly Galvanises Nations to Act on Taming Pollution

By Justus Wanzala

NAIROBI (IDN) – Amid a cacophony of voices, interests and expectations, the third high level United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), held in Nairobi from December 4-6, had a common denominator – a sense of strong desire and willingness among delegations for action to ensure a pollution-free world.

Some walked the talk. Indeed, in a bid to support the war against pollution, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Norway, Republic of Korea, Sweden and Switzerland committed 35 million dollars to the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), a partnership of five UN agencies to support countries in greening their economies and tackling environmental challenges, while promoting better jobs and stable economic growth.

The five agencies are UN Environment Programme (UNEP), International Labour Organisation (ILO), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

Jochen Flasbarth, head of the German delegation and State Secretary at Germany’s Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMU), said that in order to move towards a sustainable and pollution-free future, there is need for a broad alliance of all stakeholders – “one that transcends the traditional divides between industry and environmentalists.”

A resolve to transform economies into a vehicle for sustainable development was echoed by all delegates at the conference.

Erik Solheim, United Nations Undersecretary General and Executive Director of UNEP, said that as the PAGE partnership grows and helps more nations green their economies, leaders are set to increasingly champion sustainable growth that reduces emissions and reliance on finite resources.

It was widely agreed that the huge challenges posed by pollution means that it can no longer be business as usual. A recent report released by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health indicates that welfare losses due to pollution are estimated at over 4.6 trillion dollars each year, equivalent to 6.2 percent of global economic output.

Furthermore, according to UNEP, overall environmental degradation causes nearly one in four of all deaths worldwide, or 12.6 million people a year, as well as widespread destruction of key ecosystems. Air pollution alone is thought to claim 6.5 million lives annually.

“Making our planet free of pollution could be a new engine of growth, a net generator of green jobs, a new investment opportunity for the finance sector, and a vital strategy for addressing persistent poverty,” said Asad Naqvi, acting head of the Advisory Services Unit at PAGE.

In interview with IDN, Naqvi said that funding of projects using the 35 million dollars committed to PAGE will begin in January 2018 and in Africa will address key issues such as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially those related to economic growth, employment and job creation and addressing climate change.

He added that they will also support private finance (banking, insurance and stock exchanges) to fund national sustainable development efforts. PAGE is already supporting the Senegalese government’s vision for transforming into a green economy (growth and jobs), specifically through supporting the country’s national development plan and the national Strategy for Sustainable Development.

In Ghana, said Naqvi, funds will also be channelled into measures for achieving specific SDGs. PAGE is enabling the government to deliver on the inclusive green economy objectives of its shared growth development agenda, as well as deliver on national climate change policy and nationally determined contributions (NDCs) as agreed at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.

In South Africa, PAGE will support green industry and green trade as well as policy coherence, while in Mauritius and Burkina Faso it will support green finance issues.

Naqvi said the five UN agencies working as partners provide unique advantage to PAGE by offering an integrated set of policy support, capacity building and skills development. “For example, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) brings specialised expertise in skills development and green jobs, the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) on industrial policy development, greening of small and medium term enterprises, and technology transfer, and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on green trade and green finance and macroeconomic reforms,” he told IDN.

According to Naqvi, the criteria that will be used to apportion funding to targeted countries will be based on the requirements for countries to join PAGE. These include demonstrated high-level support and commitment of key ministries, evidence of inter-ministerial coordination, written expression of interest and a clear demand for technical assistance.

Naqvi also noted that PAGE is committed to using the 35 million dollars to tackle pollution through green economy measures that incorporate community initiatives, because communities play an important role by helping in the development of inclusive policies.

PAGE’s work will be led and guided by governments, through multi-ministerial coordination and in coordination with civil society, including labour and employer unions.

Representatives from the seven countries that committed the funding for creating pollution-free economies noted that markets are increasingly responsive to a pollution-free world, with green investors obtaining more value for their money.

The Nairobi conference ended with representatives from United Nations member states, private sector and civil societies agreeing to the ministerial declaration on ‘Towards a Pollution-Free Planet’.

Edgar Gutierrez, president of this year’s UNEA, called for the political will of all member states to work together to combat pollution globally. “There’s no room to make any more mistakes when it comes to conserving the environment and tackling the menace that is pollution in the world today,” he said.

Among the resolutions in the ministerial declarations is the reaffirmation that efforts to combat pollution should be guided by the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 December 2017]

Photo: Delegates gather for the 3rd UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi. Credit: UN Environment.

IDN is the flagship agency of International Press Syndicate. –

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