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The Fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.1)

Written by Dr. Kusumita P. Pedersen
March 8, 2021

The Parliament of the World’s Religions Climate Action Program is accredited by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and works with the UNEA and UNEP in a number of key ways, including in-person participation in the March 2019 Faith for Earth Dialogue in Nairobi, production of the Sustainable Development Goals Report, and publication of the book Faith for Earth—A Call for Action, launched at the Faith for Nature Global Conference in Iceland in October 2020. Most recently, Climate Action representatives attended the first session of the fifth UNEA.

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, meeting biennially to set priorities for global policies and develop international environmental law. For its fifth assembly, UNEA organizers decided to have two sessions, adopting a streamlined agenda and holding the first session virtually. “UNEA 5.1” took place on February 22and 23, 2021, with the hope of reconvening in person in Nairobi for “UNEA 5.2” from February 28 to March 2, 2022. About 12,000 people attended UNEA 5.1, almost all remotely demonstrating the capacity of online events. Although there were frequent “technical difficulties,” participants coped with them in good humor.

The overall theme of UNEA 5.1 was “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.” During the high-level Leadership Dialogues that were a large part of the proceedings, His Excellency Mr. Guomundur Ingi Guobrandsson, Iceland Minister for Environment and Natural Resources called on the international community and the decision-makers meeting during UNEA to adopt a resolution to support UNEP’s Faith for Earth Initiative. His Excellency reiterated the important role faith-based organizations are playing in restoring nature and adopting nature-based solutions. The 193 countries attending UNEA 5.1 adopted UNEP’s Mid-Term Strategy for 2022-25 (“mid-term” refers to the 2015-2030 time frame for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals). Stressing an “inclusive multilateralism” the document says, “UNEP will continue to promote faith-based organizations and communities as custodians of far-reaching, value-based perspectives on sustainability that speak to billions of people around the world.”

In the week before UNEA 5.1, UNEP published its first synthesis report, titled Making Peace with Nature. At the report’s launch, UN Secretary-General António Guterres declared, “For too long we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on Nature. The result is three interlinked planetary crises  – climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution – that threaten our viability as a species. And they are caused by unsustainable production and consumption…it is time to reset our relationship with Nature.”

Guterres added that “governments are spending more to exploit Nature than to protect it” and called for a “global coalition on climate change” that includes the whole of society. Bringing together the findings of a number of global environmental assessments and framed by economics and the Sustainable Development Goals, the report provides a scientific blueprint for tackling this three-fold planetary emergency.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said, “Our will to act must match the science in the report.”  (For a copy of the report and supporting content, go to:

UNEA-5.1 was preceded by the three-day UN Science and Business Policy Forum, attended by 5,000 people; a Youth Assembly; and the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum (GMGSF), a meeting which, along with the other groups, gives civil society –  including faith-based organizations –  an opportunity to provide input to the UNEA. The GMGSF presented during the Leadership Dialogue and also submitted a statement, “Building Forward Better: Action is Urgently Necessary,” to the Fifth Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives, which prepared the UNEA in the days running up to its sessions. (See: )