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Reflections on UNEA 6

Written by Emily Echevarria, Director of Climate Action
March 19, 2024

Photo by Emily Echevarria

The 6th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly convened in late February on the theme of “Effective, inclusive, and sustainable multilateral action to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution” at the United Nations Office in Nairobi. As a youth representative for the Parliament of the World’s Religions at UNEA 6, here are my key takeaways from the week:

Faith Actors at UNEA 6

UNEP’s Faith for Earth Coalition was well represented, with a networking event Monday night that gathered faith-based representatives at the UNON campus and stressed the importance of our role in the UNEA process. As of this month, there are 87 faith-based organizations accredited to UNEP  – a triumphant success of the Faith for Earth Coalition, which launched in 2017 with only 4 organizations! 

During the week, discussions were led by Faith for Earth partners, such as the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa’s Why Faith Matters Matter in Multilaterism to Combat Climate Change Impacts, Biodiversity Loss, and Plastic Pollution; the African Council of Religious Leaders’ event on the power of women and youth of faith; and the Parliament of the World’s Religions online event on the Right to a Healthy Environment. 

Tuesday saw the launch of the much anticipated “Al-Mizan: A Covenant for the Earth” to a packed room on the UNON campus. This landmark document, drafted by leading Islamic eco-theologians and practitioners from around the world, presents a comprehensive Islamic outlook on ecological and moral responsibility and urges collective action to combat climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and protection of our planet. You can read more about it here. 

If you are a Faith-Based Organization and want to get involved with UNEP, consider applying for accreditation and joining the Faith for Earth Coalition! If you are a youth faith-based actor, consider joining the Faith for Earth Youth Network and/or Youth Council. 

Youth Involvement at UNEA 6

Just prior to the start of UNEA 6, more than 450 youth representatives gathered in Nairobi for the Global Youth Environment Assembly. The Assembly called for UNEA to codify the Global Youth Environment Assembly, to formalize intergenerational equity in UNEP, and urged representatives to think of the rights of future generations in regards to the planet. It resulted in the Global Youth Declaration on Environment.

Key Discussions

This session of the United Nations Environment Assembly resulted in the adoption of 15 resolutions, two decisions, and a ministerial declaration. 

The Year of Democracy: HE Leila Benali, President of the Sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly and Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development of the Kingdom of Morocco, stated in her opening remarks that this session of UNEA comes with 3 major inflection points: that we are in the midst of several major world conflicts, that this is a major year for elections, with over 50% of the world voting in an election; and that there is a desperate need to restore trust in multilateralism and in humanity. 

The Parliament of the World’s Religions agrees– that’s why we are curating a new series, Focus24: Faith, Democracy, and Our Common Future, which will feature several dedicated conversations and community-building sessions throughout the year centered on the implications of the major elections we face. 

The Right to a Healthy Environment: While the Right to a Healthy Environment is not explicitly mentioned in any of the resolutions coming out of UNEA 6, it ran throughout the event through the theme of multilateralism. In a panel discussion, which you can watch here, we discussed how R2HE played a role in UNEA 6 and what the future holds

Conflict: UNEA 6 held many discussions around the impacts of climate on the environment, but was largely silent on the issue of Palestine and Israel. While the United States and Russia continued hostile comments regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine (see “General Statements” here), the Assembly largely avoided directly mentioning the atrocities taking place in Gaza. The representative of Colombia is the only person to speak directly to this conflict in a high-level setting, and Palestine was left out of the discussions on the resolution on conflict. When representatives of UNEP were asked to comment on Gaza directly in a side event, they gave a noncommittal response about the question being difficult to answer and UNEP struggling to enforce its resolutions. 

Future, future generations, summit of future: In a side event led by the Baha’i International Community and the Coalition for the UN We Need, the role of civil society in helping to imagine a more modern United Nations was discussed – particularly in regards to the upcoming Summit of the Future to be held this September. The Parliament strongly encourages individuals and organizations to get involved in the Summit of the Future by advocating for the rights of future generations through changes such as Repurposing the Trusteeship Council

Overall Impressions

Yes, there were many wins to be celebrated at UNEA 6. The increased role of youth in these multilateral discussions, the increased presence of faith-based organizations, the record number of delegates (almost 6,000), and the focus on multilateralism are successes, of course, but dull in my eyes under the lack of ambition presented in the final resolutions. Throughout the intense negotiations, many resolutions were left on the drawing table far longer than was expected, with the ambitious initial language dwindling more and more each day, until the final drafts were lackluster. See the full list of resolutions here.

Gone are the days where we could expect the United Nations to produce groundbreaking policies like the Paris Agreement, and yet it is more crucial than ever that we take immediate and extreme actions to protect our planet.