The 5th session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 5.2) took place in person, and online from 28th February – 2nd March 2022, in Nairobi Kenya. The session themed Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals was physically attended by about 3,000 participants. Established in 2012, UNEA is the highest-level meeting on the state of the environment, with member states deliberating on critical environment issues. It is also the highest decision-making organ of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
UNEA 5.2 came hot on the heels of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP 26), held in November 2021, with the globe facing nature and biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution threatening the world. Some of the key topics discussed at UNEA 5.2 included how to address plastic pollution, prudent management of chemicals and waste, green recovery and how to protect nature and biodiversity.
Participants at UNEA 5.2 were drawn from member states and included government officials, representatives from the UN, Non-Governmental Organizations and (NGOs) International Government Organizations (IGOs) among others. BirdLife International, was well represented at the event with the assembly comes in the wake of the highly successful 1Planet1Right Campaign which saw the right to a healthy environment adopted by the UN Human Rights Council as a human right.
For Ludmilla Duarte Souza and Luma Santana de Souza Dorea from Brazil, and Peter Okeyo Orimba from Kenya, – all students at the University of Nairobi (UoN), participation at UNEA 5.2 through BirdLife was an eye-opening experience. Ludmilla and Peter are undertaking a PhD in Environmental Policy, while Luma is undertaking a PhD in International Environmental Law. The trio took part in the meeting as observers, participating in deliberations, and developing written content. Additionally, Peter was involved in the pre-UNEA 5.2 sessions, under the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum, where he assisted in developing joint global statements for the main sessions.
BirdLife Africa is developing relationships with various universities to share knowledge and expose African students to the real world of conservation and policy ”, said Ken Mwathe, Policy and Communications Coordinator at the BirdLife International Africa office. “UNEA is an excellent forum where environmental policy and law students can experience international policy making in action. We are delighted that the University of Nairobi students used the opportunity we offered to learn so much ”, he further added.
“The partnership with Birdlife International that enabled our PhD Environmental policy and law students to attend UNEA 5.2 was extremely beneficial. It gave them practical exposure to international environmental diplomacy in the west to solve the triple planetary crisis. I hope we will build on the partnership for the benefit of both institutions and the environment ”, noted Collins Odote, Law Professor at the University of Nairobi.
For Ludmilla, this experience provided insight into the different approaches to addressing critical environmental problems, and the rise of young environmental activists while for Luma, this involvement enabled her to access different opinions and contexts of environmental issues in different countries. On his part of him, Peter noted that this experience will be instrumental in informing policy for the sustainable extractive sector within Kenya’s Nairobi Metropolitan region.
With the world facing a nature and climate crises, the trio acknowledged that involving young people in the decision-making process is very important. In addition, there is need to change our relationship with the environment, embrace sustainable practices and include the marginalized and those bearing the greatest brunt of climate change.
At the end of the UNEA 5.2 global event, I had one certainty: the solution for the sustainable development of the planet will only be achieved if we let historically marginalized peoples – such as indigenous peoples, women farmers, tribal communities, young activists – point and lead the way.
Ludmilla Duarte Souza
“Global Environmental Governance is the only way out for effective governance of emerging environmental issues, and we need to strengthen the collective action to address the nature and climate crises.”
Peter Okeyo Orimba
“Participating at UNEA 5.2 and seeing the active participation of young environmentalists sharing lessons during the UN event in Kenya, was a great experience. This new generation of eco-activists wants to work together with politicians, businessmen and scientists to seek sustainable solutions that also reduce the planet’s socioeconomic inequalities. This for me, means there is a ray of hope for achieving sustainable development, white at the same time thinking about the future generation. “
Luma Santana de Souza Dorea