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The UN Environment Assembly: Towards A Story-Filled Planet

- We must inspire people into action and not depress them into inaction -

On the 5th-7th of September, Jorge Laguna-Celis, Director of the UN Environment Governance Affairs Office, visited Brussels to brief and exchange views with key EU stakeholders in Brussels about the upcoming UN Environment Assembly. EU officials, businesses, government representatives, civil society and media received briefings on the Assembly, which will take place in Nairobi from 4-6 December 2017. The meetings served as preparatory sessions on the Assembly inviting the stakeholders to engage in this process and help push the agenda forward.

The UN Environment Assembly is the highest-level decision-making body on the environment and meets every second year. It has the universal membership of all 193 UN Member States, as well as the full engagement of UN organisations, specialized agencies, intergovernmental organisations, civil society and the private sector. In its third edition, this year’s Assembly will focus on the overarching theme of pollution and how to move “towards a pollution-free planet”.

The expected outcomes of the Environment Assembly include a political declaration on pollution; resolutions and decisions adopted by Member States to address the specific dimensions of pollution; voluntary commitments by Governments, private sector and civil society entities to clean up the planet; and the Clean Planet Pledge, which is a collection of individual commitments to tackle pollution.

According to Laguna, the Assembly is the most transparent process at the UN due to the “open spaces for everyone”. The Member States are able to publish resolutions on the matters they find most pressing. NGOs have to opportunity to comment on the proposed resolutions of Member States and host side events, and all sectors of society are able to make voluntary commitments to beat pollution through an online platform.

 

“Stories. Stories. Stories.”

Important emphasis is being placed on raising visibility for the Assembly, in particular in the media. Hence Jorge specifically requested the journalists to track and tell the stories that their readers want to hear. He wants them to inspire people into action rather than to “depress them into inaction”. In other words: positivity is key! He also stated that it is important to acknowledge the achievements made by nations. India – perceived as an unlikely ally to the environment, was mentioned and called “a driving force in energy, diet change and citizen action”.

 

Even Presidents Can’t Trump State Action

With the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement and the ensuing uncertainty of the future, Jorge Laguna reassured his various audiences that the US is still involved and is in fact heading the campaign against lead in paint.

 

#BeatPollution But #BeRealistic

As Laguna said, the “lack of political will and the risk of losing a realistic sense of what can be achieved” are the biggest obstacles to the success of the UN Environment Assembly. However, it offers the opportunity for a more inclusive process of tackling pollution without ignoring the fact that the “people depend on the Member States, and the Member States depend on the people”.

 

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