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UNEA reached decision on plastic pollution and celebrated UNEP's 50th anniversary


The United Nations Environment Assembly decided to initiate negotiations on a global agreement to end plastic pollution at its meeting in Nairobi on 2 March. In conjunction with the Environment Assembly, the United Nations Environment Programme celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding.

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) adopted 14 resolutions, making it the most successful Environment Assembly to date. The Member States decided to begin negotiations on a global agreement to end plastic pollution and to establish an international scientific policy panel on the sound management of chemicals and waste, which can improve international cooperation and contribute to increased knowledge in this area. UNEA’s decision to initiate negotiations on a global agreement to end plastic pollution is an important step that can contribute to the climate transition and protect the oceans, the environment and biodiversity. Other resolutions concerned issues such as nature-based solutions, circular economy, biodiversity and health.

UNEA also adopted a Ministerial Declaration that stresses the need for an inclusive and sustainable post-COVID-19 recovery and the urgent need to manage the three planetary crises – climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

Minister for Climate and the Environment Annika Strandhäll took part in UNEA and, in addition to the official programme, met with UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen and Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Keriako Tobiko, as well as ministers from a number of other countries. During these meetings, they discussed preparations ahead of the UN conference Stockholm+50 on 2–3 June, which Sweden will co-host with Kenya. Ms Strandhäll also spoke with young people participating in Youth Environment Assembly, which took place in the days leading up to UNEA, or in the Youth Task Force for Stockholm+50.

Together with the World Economic Forum and the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, Sweden also arranged a side event during UNEA on the transition to sustainable global value chains, with the aim of gathering input for Stockholm+50. Unsustainable production and consumption cause many of the world’s environmental, climate and health problems, and the transition to greater sustainability is a complex issue that also concerns entrepreneurship and innovation.

UNEP’s 50th anniversary

UNEA was followed by the UNEP@50 event, where the countries of the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of UNEP as an initiative of the 1972 Stockholm Conference. Ms Strandhäll attended the event in person and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson took part virtually.

Over the five decades since 1972, UNEP has worked for global progress in the areas of climate, the natural environment, and chemicals and pollution. When UNEP was founded, the ozone layer was one of the most important issues, and efforts by UNEP ultimately contributed to the adoption of a global solution in 1987 – the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. UNEP launched the Regional Seas Programme in 1974. It was an early attempt to unify countries and strengthen international cooperation on marine issues.

The decision to establish UNEP’s headquarters in Nairobi was taken by the UN in 1972, and the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) remains the only UN headquarters in the southern hemisphere.

UNEP is also host organisation for a number of secretariats for global and regional environmental conventions, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

The Stockholm Conference

The Stockholm Conference
The first UN Conference on the Human Environment was held on 5–16 June 1972. Known as the Stockholm Conference, it was attended by representatives of 114 countries. The most important document of the Conference was the Stockholm Declaration, which contained 26 principles. The ‘no harm’ principle (Principle 21), is a fundamental principal of international environmental law. Some other concrete results were the initiation of the formation of UNEP and designation of 5 June as World Environment Day.

About UNEA

UNEA is the governing body of UNEP. It is the only forum where all environmental and climate issues are regularly discussed collectively at global level. This year’s theme was ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’. UNEA normally meets every other year. Last year, however, the meeting was shortened and held digitally due to the pandemic. It was resumed this year under the name UNEA-5.2.