Nairobi: The world has laid the groundwork for a radical shift to a more sustainable future, where innovation will be harnessed to tackle environmental challenges, the use of throwaway plastics will be significantly reduced and development will no longer cost the earth.
After five days of talks at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly in this Kenyan capital, ministers from more than 170 UN member states on Friday delivered a bold blueprint for change, saying the world needed to speed up moves towards a new model of development in order to respect the vision laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
Noting that they were deeply concerned by mounting evidence that the planet is increasingly polluted, rapidly warming and dangerously depleted, the ministers pledged to address environmental challenges through advancing innovative solutions and adopting sustainable consumption and production patterns.
"We reaffirm that poverty eradication, changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are the overarching objectives of, and essential requirements for, sustainable development," the ministers said in a final declaration.
"We will improve national resource management strategies with integrated full lifecycle approaches and analysis to achieve resource-efficient and low-carbon economies," they said.
More than 4,700 delegates, including environment ministers, scientists, academics, business leaders and civil society representatives, met in Nairobi for the UN Assembly, the world's top environmental body whose decisions will set the global agenda, notably ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit in September.
As well as pledging to promote sustainable food systems by encouraging resilient agricultural practices, tackle poverty through sustainable management of natural resources, and promote the use and sharing of environmental data, ministers said they would significantly reduce single-use plastic products.
"We will address the damage to our ecosystems caused by the unsustainable use and disposal of plastic products, including by significantly reducing single-use plastic products by 2030, and we will work with the private sector to find affordable and environmentally friendly products," they said.
To address critical knowledge gaps, the ministers promised to work towards producing comparable international environmental data while improving national monitoring systems and technologies.
They also expressed support for UN Environment's efforts to develop a global environmental data strategy by 2025.
"The world is at a crossroads but today we have chosen the way forward," said Siim Kiisler, President of the Fourth UN Environment Assembly and Estonia's environment minister.
"We have decided to do things differently. From reducing our dependence on single-use plastics to placing sustainability at the heart of all future development, we will transform the way we live. We have the innovative solutions we need. Now we must adopt the policies that allow us to implement them."
The Assembly started on a sombre note after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, which claimed the lives of all 157 people on board, including UN officials and other delegates who were travelling to the meeting.
A minute's silence was held for the victims at the opening ceremony, where officials also paid tribute to their colleagues' work.
At the close of the Assembly, delegates adopted a series of non-binding resolutions, covering the logistics of shifting to a business-unusual model of development.
These included a recognition that a more circular global economy, in which goods can be reused or repurposed and kept in circulation for as long as possible, can significantly contribute to sustainable consumption and production.
Other resolutions said member states could transform their economies through sustainable public procurement and urged countries to support measures to address food waste and develop and share best practices on energy-efficient and safe cold chain solutions.
Resolutions also addressed using incentives, including financial measures, to promote sustainable consumption while encouraging member states to end incentives for unsustainable consumption and production where appropriate.
"Our planet has reached its limits and we need to act now. We are delighted that the world has responded here in Nairobi with firm commitments to build a future where sustainability will be the overarching objective in everything we do,a said UN Environment's Acting Executive Director Joyce Msuya.