Governments Set Stage for Action on Environmental Aspects of Humanitarian Crises and Risks to Human Health

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Gathering in Lead-up to Second UN Environment Assembly Marks Progress on Implementing Environmental Dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Nairobi, 19 February 2016 – Governments and other key actors today set the stage for key decisions on the implementation of the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including addressing the environmental aspects of global humanitarian crises and human health risks. On the final day of a week-long Open Ended Meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), environment ministers, high-level government delegates and representatives of major groups set an ambitious agenda for the second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2), which will be held at UNEP’s Nairobi headquarters from May 23 to 27.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “At the United Nations Environment Assembly, every nation has a seat at the table. Since its first meeting in 2014, UNEA has become the world's de facto Parliament for the Environment.

“When Ministers gather here in Nairobi in May for UNEA-2, the decisions they take will again set the global environmental agenda. Keeping the global environment under review through science and policy dialogue enables governments to build the international agreements that will result in improvements for both the environment and human development.”

UNEA-2 embodies the new understanding of the environment as a global issue central to a better, more-just future for all. The unprecedented level of engagement at this week’s gathering shows just how seriously the world is taking the issue. Over 400 people attended the meeting, including 14 ministers and over 120 Member State delegations, plus 29 representatives from international organizations and 41 from Major Groups and Stakeholders.

Two of the key focal issues under discussion—humanitarian crises and human health—highlight just how important a healthy, well-managed environment is to wellbeing and security of people and planet.

A wealth of statistics and research point to strong links between the use of natural resources and conflict, including:

  • Since 1990, 18 conflicts have been at least partially financed by the exploitation of natural resources;

  • Over the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all intrastate conflicts have had a link to natural resources, be it minerals, timber, oil, land or water;

  • A country with a 25 per cent share of natural resources in Gross Domestic Product has a 23 per cent probability of a civil conflict;

  • Over 90 per cent of major armed conflicts between 1950 and 2000 occurred within countries containing biodiversity hotspots, and more than 80 per cent directly within hotspot areas.

Equally, research by the World Health Organization (WHO) and others shows that a poorly-managed environment leads to human health issues, which have wide-ranging negative impacts on sustainable development:

  • 23 per cent of all premature deaths around the world can be attributed to environmental factors. Among children, that figure rises to 36 per cent;

  • Almost 7 million people die annually from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution from power generation, cookstoves, transportation, industrial furnaces, wildfires and other causes;

  • Exposure to lead can result in learning disabilities, increased antisocial behaviour, reduced fertility and increased risk of renal and cardiovascular disease later in life. A recent study showed that childhood exposure to lead creates economic losses of $977 billion dollars a year through lowering intellectual ability in low- and middle-income countries.

One specific area of health and environment focus at the meeting was how to address lead in batteries. UNEP, through the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, has been heavily involved in the near complete phase out of lead in petrol, and is working to eradicate its use in paint.

However, batteries remain large consumers of lead, rising from 65 per cent of all lead use in 1992 to over 80 per cent in 2011, due largely to rapid motorization in emerging economies. Poorly recycled lead batteries can cause contamination—as happened in Senegal in early 2008, when 35 people died from lead poisoning as the result of informal recycling of lead batteries.

At the meeting, Member States demonstrated they are ready to deliver on the promises of the 2030 Agenda by agreeing firm and collective action on environmental challenges, such as the above, at UNEA-2.

In a closing statement, the delegates made key commitments, including:

  • Taking coordinated and accelerated action at all levels to implement the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda;

  • Supporting the development of a new sustainable and equitable economic model that aims to eradicate poverty;

  • Addressing the environmental dimension of the world’s current humanitarian crises, including the root causes of conflict and displacement and the damage done to the environment through the illegal exploitation and trade of natural resources in conflict-affected areas;

  • Accelerating efforts to implement the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10 YFP);

  • Strengthening UNEP at a regional level and calling on the organization to expand new partnerships—including with the private sector—to mobilize resources to implement the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda.

Mr. Steiner also announced that UNEA-2 will be enriched by 26 side events, 8 exhibitions, 2 symposia (on financing sustainable development and the environmental dimension of humanitarian crises) and 1 business dialogue, ensuring that the global community will come together to find collective solutions to challenges affecting the whole planet.

For more information, please contact:

Shereen Zorba, Head of News and Media, UNEP, +254 788 526 000,