IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. - Photo: 2019

UN Environment Assembly Spells Out ‘The Future We Want’

By Justus Wanzala

NAIROBI (IDN) – Global gross domestic product has doubled since 1970, enabling immense progress, and lifting of billions of people out of poverty. At the same time, this economic growth has been fueled by a relentless demand for natural resources. At no point in time nor at any level of income, has our demand for natural resources wavered, notes the Global Resources Outlook 2019.

“Our consume and throwaway models of consumption have had devastating impacts on our planet,” says the report presented during the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya, March 11-15.

This report finds that 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress are caused by resource extraction and processing. These same activities contribute to about half of global greenhouse gas emissions.

While rolling out a grim canvas, the report holds out hope that through a combination of resource efficiency, climate mitigation, carbon removal, and biodiversity protection policies, it is “feasible and possible to grow our economies, increase our wellbeing and remain within our planetary boundaries. But action must begin now”. While the report highlights some progress, it is clear that much more needs to be done.

One of these is the mineral resource governance that would enable sustainable management of metal and mineral resources, thus contributing significantly to achieving Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed called for action on unsustainable resource use. “As member states have stated during vibrant debates, alongside civil society, businesses, the science community and other stakeholders here in Nairobi, it is yet possible to increase our well-being, and at the same time maintain economic growth through a clever mix of climate mitigation, resource efficiency and biodiversity protection policies,” she said.

The UN Environment Assembly underlined the need for sharing of knowledge and experiences on regulatory approaches, implementation practices, technologies and strategies for the sustainable management of metal and mineral resources, including over the whole life of the mine and the post mining stage.

It also encouraged governments, businesses, non-governmental organisations, academia and international institutions to promote awareness of how the extractive industries can contribute to the sustainable development of countries and the wellbeing of their populations. It at the same time encouraged players in the sector to minimise negative impacts of mining activities on human health and the environment.

Still, it called for players in the mining sector to observe due diligence and best practices to address broader environmental, human rights, labour, and conflict-related risks in mining, including the continuous increase of transparency and the fight against corruption.

Moreover, the Assembly advocated for capacity-building mechanisms for sustainable management of metal and mineral resources including the management of major hazards as well as to address mine closure requirements and the remediation of contaminated sites, including abandoned mines.

At the same time, it observed that public and private partnerships are key to promote sustainable management of metal and mineral resources, research, development and technological innovations, to sustainably manage metal and mineral resources. It noted that they are equally important for sustainable mining and sourcing of raw materials in order to move towards decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation through approaches including, but not limited to, resource efficiency and circular economy.

Meanwhile, mining stakeholders have called on African nations to adapt a unified mineral and energy resources classification system that is in line with the Africa Mining Vision unveiled in 2009 and a public reporting code to facilitate informed decision making on mineral resource development.

According to Senior Industry Advisor in the Department of Trade and Industry of the African Union Commission, Frank Mugyenyi, Africa is losing over 100 billion dollars annually due to lack of an accountable system.

Mugyenyi said the mining industry loses billions of dollars yearly due to lack of a resource classification system. “All along minerals in Africa have benefited foreign private sector, while Africa has had artisanal mining that faces stiff competition from large scale foreign firms. The African Union should support African countries to sustainably exploit resources,” he told IDN.

Bob Ocitti from the Petroleum Authority of Uganda noted that mining activities are degrading land and polluting the environment in Africa, thus alternative ways to handle waste and undertake value addition to mineral products must be explored. “We can’t run away from seeking solutions because two thirds of our economies depend on mining,” he warned.

Ocitti stated that local empowerment which is apparently neglected by mining companies and governments should be embraced. “Mining companies should not use social corporate responsibilities to hide their activities from communities. Instances of companies striking agreements with local leaders without the knowledge of communities brews conflicts,” noted Ocitti.

Not only such positive suggestions, but also an array of key resolutions marked the Assembly that attracted over 4,700 participants including heads of state, ministers, business leaders, United Nations officials and civil society representatives from over 170 countries.

The ministerial declaration of Environment Ministers from around the world reaffirmed  that “poverty eradication, changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production and protecting and managing the natural resource base of   economic and social development are the overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development”.

They said they recognize that innovative approaches  and solutions are necessary to move our world closer to the vision set out in ‘The future we want’ and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Likewise, the ministers pledged to promote sustainable food systems through supporting resilient agricultural practices, tackling poverty using sustainable management of natural resources and sharing of environmental data.

“We will address the damage to our ecosystems caused by the unsustainable use and disposal of plastic products, including by significantly reducing single-use plastic products by 2030, and we will work with the private sector to find affordable and environmentally friendly products,” they said.

They also promised to tackle the challenge of knowledge gaps by taking measures tos produce comparable international environmental data and improve national monitoring systems and technologies. They at the same time pledged to support UNEP in developing a global environmental data strategy by 2025.

In a move that acknowledges a shift from mere talk to action, United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Acting Executive Director, Joyce Msuya lauded member states for their dedication in aligning global economic systems towards more sustainable trajectories that tackle environmental challenges.

“Our planet has reached its limits and we need to act now. We are delighted that the world has responded here in Nairobi with firm commitments to build a future where sustainability will be the overarching objective in everything we do,” she said.

Delegates equally resolved that Member States and other actors should address challenge of marine litter by exploring the full life-cycle of products and increasing resource-efficiency.

Addressing existential environmental challenges was given prominence as indicated in the various publications released during the Assembly. These included one on the changing Arctic, which showed that even if global emissions were reduced as per the Paris Agreement, winter temperatures in the Arctic would rise 3-5°C by 2050 and 5-9°C by 2080, thus affecting the region and causingg sea level rises worldwide.

Still, another report, Global Linkages – A graphic look at the changing Arctic, noted that rapidly thawing permafrost could accelerate climate change further and impact on efforts to meet the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting the rise in global temperature to 2°C.

The sixth Global Environmental Outlook, also releaased during the meeting on its part noted that millions of people could lose lives prematurely due to water and air pollution by 2050 if concrete measures are not put in place. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 March 2019]

Photo source: UNEP.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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