Leaders prepare to deliver ‘strong political message’ at UN Environment Assembly


The highest-level international body on the environment will convene virtually from 22 to 23 February.

Leaders will gather in two weeks to set the agenda for tackling the world’s most urgent environmental issues over the next two years.

“We decision makers on the environment have a role to play in getting back on track. We need to ensure that actions to stem climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are further stepped up,” Sveinung Rotevatn, minister of the environment and climate of Norway and president of the UN Environment assembly (UNEA), said on Wednesday.

Rotevatn said that UNEA “should use its political voice to demonstrate our shared commitment,” noting that “the fundamental question is whether we have enough common ground to agree on a short and concise message”.

Echoing his comments, Swiss ambassador for the environment Franz Perrez said that the meeting should give a “strong signal that even in times of pandemics, ministers are committed to meet together, to work together for the protection of the global environment”.

NGOs will also be expecting discussions to move towards more accountability, said Patri Patrizia Heidegger, director of global policies and sustainability at the European Environment Bureau.

“UNEA5 should address and discuss how we can make sure that we can hold those to account that destroy and pollute our ecosystems, and how we can advance with legally binding measures to hold companies liable for environmental harm across the value chain,” she said, urging as well for stronger protection for environmental defenders “who are threatened and even killed when calling out harmful practices”.

The conference will focus on strengthening efforts to tackle the three crises the planet is facing: climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, said Joyce Msuya, deputy executive director of the UN Environment Programme, which is headed by UNEA.

An expert-led assessment on the efforts to eradicate marine plastic litter and microplastics will be among the topics discussed. The group has concluded that the current international framework on plastic pollution is insufficient, prompting member states to urge for a new global treaty. UNEA is expected to consider endorsing this option.

Supporting activities will also take place ahead of the session, including a youth environment assembly, which already has more than 5000 registrations, and a UN science policy business forum for the environment.

This meeting will be the first of two rounds, with the second one taking place next February in Nairobi.