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UNEP celebrates 50 years of solving the world's environmental challenges

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UNEP celebrates 50 years of solving the world's environmental challenges

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) turns 50 this year, calling for more action on conservation.
From Africa Renewal: 
4 March 2022
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On a chilly December day in 1972, the United Nations General Assembly passed what is formally known as UN-Resolution 2997.

It would be the last step in the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – an organisation conceived to spearhead a global effort to minimize humanity's footprint on the planet.

During the next five decades, UNEP would take on some of the world's most pressing environmental problems, from climate change to species loss, to pollution.

With leaders gathering in Nairobi, Kenya this week to celebrate UNEP's 50th anniversary, here is a closer look at some of history’s environmental milestones – all driven by science and multilateralism.

Photo: Unsplash/Marita Kavelashvili

For five decades, UNEP and partners have supported the global effort to protect the world's forests, many of which are under threat from farming, mining and illegal logging. (Forest cover the size of Portugal disappears every year.) More than 100 world leaders recently promised to end deforestation by 2030, vowing to marshal almost $20 billion in public and private funding to support the cause.

Full story: Inside the global effort to save the world’s forests

Photo: Unsplash/NASA

With a continent-sized hole forming in the ozone layer above Antarctica, UNEP led an unprecedented global effort to save the planet's primary protection from the sun. Today, the ozone layer is slowly mending, sparing 2 million people annually from skin cancer. The breach is expected to close by the 2060s.

Full story: Rebuilding the ozone layer

Photo: Unsplash/David Clode

With pollution threatening the future of the world’s oceans, UNEP launched its Regional Seas Programme in 1974. At the time, it was an unprecedented effort to unite countries in a common environmental cause — and one that would shape future treaties, like the Paris climate change agreement. Today, 150 countries are part of the programme, which is helping to prevent pollution, protect marine animals and chart the effects of climate change on the oceans.

Full story: How the world is helping to safeguard its oceans and seas

Photo: Reuters Connect

As climate change makes many places hotter and drier, greenspaces are descending into desert. Some 3.2 billion people are affected by land degradation, many of them already poor and marginalized. UNEP and partners have spent decades working revive fertile land overtaken by the sands, including an ambitious effort to build a “green wall” across Africa.

Full story: From Chile to China: The global battle against desertification

Photo: Shutterstock

UNEP has united more than 450 financial institutions in a global campaign to fund the transition to a greener, more sustainable world. In the past year alone, member banks have provided loans to 113 million vulnerable people and advised 15,000 companies on how to adapt to a changing climate. The push, led by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, comes at a crucial time: it will take $100 trillion through 2050 to help the global economy transition away from fossil fuels.

Full story: Why financial institutions are banking on sustainability

Photo: Unsplash/James Baltz

The way the world produces food exacts a heavy toll on the planet. Almost 70 per cent of the water humans use goes to farming and the food sector is responsible for one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Despite all those resources, the world is facing a dual crisis of hunger and obesity. To help change that, UNEP is working around the world to make sure food systems are easier on the planet and healthier for people.

Full story: Why the global fight to tackle food waste has only just begun

Photo: UNEP/Paul Quayle

When leaded petrol was invented in the 1920s it was hailed as a miracle fuel that would power a new generation of cars, planes and motorcycles. The problem: it was highly toxic and wherever it went, cancer, heart disease and stroke followed. But thanks to a two-decade-long campaign led by UNEP, the world would eventually wean itself off of leaded fuel, saving an estimated 1.2 million lives a year.

Full story: Inside the 20-year campaign to rid the world of leaded fuel

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