Nairobi, Kenya

02 March 2022

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at the Opening of the High-Level Segment of the Resumed Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly [as delivered]

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,

As we gather here at the UN Environment Assembly, I would like to begin by thanking President Uhuru Kenyatta.

I would also like to thank the government of Kenya for hosting this crucial meeting and underscoring the importance of the state of the environment.

We are faced with a triple planetary crisis. The state of the world’s environment is at risk.

Our entire world is facing unprecedented challenges: conflict, poverty, inequality, debt, COVID-19, climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

These challenges are widening the divide between the developed and developing worlds.

Governments and people are faced with hard choices to make between the economy and the environment.

Between social benefits and fiscal stability.

These are false dichotomies.

And they are not choices leaders should make.

You cannot have one without the other.

And we know we cannot—and must not—choose between better food, air, and biodiversity.

Between education, housing, infrastructure, social protection and the promotion of all girls and women.

We need to do all of it at the same time.

And together for everyone.

This is what the 2030 Agenda is all about.

It continues to be the framing around which we must achieve the SDGs and invest in the recovery.

The theme of this year’s UN Environment Assembly is “Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.

One thing we know for certain is that protecting nature is at the core of achieving the 2030 Agenda and the goals of the Paris Agreement.

If we are to ensure food and water security for all people around the world, we need to prevent ecosystem collapse.

COP26 underscored the need to keep the 1.5C degree goal within reach.

We know climate impacts are the greatest dividers: they hit vulnerable communities everywhere; and they disproportionately impact the ability of developing countries to prosper and thrive.

Protecting our ecosystems will help us keep closing the emissions gap by 2030 – a gap that is unfortunately widening, not shrinking.

So will the phase out of coal.

The latest IPCC report has once again given a “code red” for the planet.

Climate change is already causing drought, heat, hunger, and disaster forcing millions of people from their homes.

Failure to curb pollution from fossil fuels will condemn the world to a future that is both universally dangerous and deeply unequal.

Yet the report tells us that we still have a chance to choose and it shows us that adaptation works if properly scaled up.

The commitment in Glasgow at COP26 to double adaptation finance is a welcome first step – but it must be delivered urgently and scaled-up dramatically for vulnerable communities around the world.

We have the knowledge, the technology, and the resources to make the transition to a world that is more just, more equal and more sustainable.

It will require developed countries to deliver on their commitments to provide finance to the developing world, least of which is the unmet promise of US$ 100 billion.

The amount that Earth ultimately warms is not yet written in stone.

Humanity can’t afford to wait one more day to act.

We have no time to waste by juggling false dichotomies.

Our health, our economies, and our future depend on our ability to make nature a priority.

I urge you to make the most of this UN Environment Assembly and go into “emergency mode”.

Progress on a legally binding global agreement on plastic pollution is a chance to truly make a difference, one that shows again the value of multilateralism. 

Africa has been a leader on this front.

34 out of 54 countries have already put in place legislation on single used plastics bags and I encourage more countries to follow suit.

Today, no area of the planet is left untouched by plastic pollution, from deep sea sediment to Mount Everest.

The planet deserves a truly multilateral solution to this scourge that affects us all.

An agreement that speaks from source to sea.

One that has incentives for all stakeholders—including the private sector.

You have a great responsibility, and I commend you.

The timing of this year’s Assembly is noteworthy.

2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1972 Conference on the Human Environment.

Fifty years since the world came together in Stockholm and launched what many now regard as the modern environmental movement.

Fifty years since the United Nations Environment Programme first took root.

There have been many success stories along the road.

The Montreal Protocol will have led to the prevention of an estimated two million cases of skin cancer each year and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Continuous efforts are expanding the protection of our oceans.

Such as the recent announcement of Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador and Colombia of the creation of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor initiative which creates a fishing-free corridor covering more than 500,000 km2 in one of the world’s most important migratory routes for sea turtles, whales, sharks and rays.

And later this year Kenya and Portugal will host the UN Ocean Conference.

2021 marked the end of the production of leaded petrol. A triumph for public health…20 years in the making.

But—make no mistake—much more needs to be done.

We have the system in place. And it needs to be operating at full capacity.

So—as we reflect on the past fifty years—let us use it as an opportunity to catalyse action.

As we begin this year’s Assembly in earnest, I would like to recall the maxim Only One Earth.

This is the tagline that defined the 1972 Stockholm Conference.

And it will return this summer as Sweden hosts the Stockholm Plus Fifty Conference.

Let’s repair the growing divide between developed and developing, between haves and haves not.

Let Only One Earth guide you this week as you work through difficult resolutions.

Because what you achieve here this week can change the world.

And we only have one.

I wish you a productive and fruitful session.

Thank you.