Nairobi, Kenya

22 February 2021

Secretary-General's video message to the United Nations Environment Assembly

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,

I am pleased to greet the United Nations Environment Assembly.

We meet at a time of crisis and fragility.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause turmoil worldwide.

Millions of people have been pushed into poverty, with women bearing the heaviest burden.

Inequalities among people and countries are growing.

And we face a triple environmental emergency – climate disruption, appalling biodiversity decline and a pollution epidemic that is cutting short some 9 million lives a year.

As UNEP’s own “Making Peace with Nature” report makes clear, we need a healthy planet for sustainable development.

Indeed, by taking profit of nature-based solutions, we can vastly improve human well-being and prosperity.

So, I commend the delegates gathered today for your commitment to ending our environmental ills.

This is a critical year to reset our relationship with nature.

Following this important environment assembly, UN Member States will gather to address biodiversity loss, chemical pollution, ocean health, desertification and, of course climate disruption.

All these events are opportunities to increase ambition and action.

You have a busy year ahead.

You have a great responsibility to articulate the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

Governments and people need to understand in their very DNA that all environmental, social and economic challenges are interlinked.

And they must be tackled together.

For example, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 we need to prevent ecosystem collapse that will undermine food and water security around the world.

But, as I said, we are in a state of crisis.

The oceans are filling with plastic and becoming more acidic.

The Earth is heading for catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3 degrees Celsius.

And biodiversity is declining at a perilous rate.

We have no choice but to transform how our economies and societies value nature.

We must put the health of the planet at the centre of all our plans and policies.

The economics are clear.

More than half of global Gross Domestic Product depends on nature.

Yet our natural capital has declined 40 per cent in just over two decades.

That is why the World Economic Forum lists biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse as one of the top five threats humanity will face in the coming 10 years.

The urgency for action has never been clearer.

This meeting needs to generate a global will for action – a transformation of our relationship with nature.

By the climate COP in Glasgow at the latest, we need all countries to come forward with more ambitious nationally determined contributions, with 2030 targets that are consistent with carbon neutrality by 2050.

By the biodiversity COP in Kunming, nations must show how they will reverse species and ecosystem loss with concrete targets and means of implementation.

We must also ensure a strong post-2020 framework for the sound management of chemicals and waste.

That means preventing harmful chemicals and waste from entering the environment and adopting effective, safe alternatives that safeguard the health of people and the environment.

And we must work to prevent the decline of our oceans. 

That includes ending unsustainable fishing practices, expanding marine protected areas and drastically reducing maritime pollution, including plastic.

Our action to protect the ozone layer has shown that when all stakeholders are aligned, action can succeed.

It should be an inspiration and guide for all our efforts to protect the global environment.

But we all know that words are not enough.

Commitments must be underpinned by clear and credible plans.

So, I cannot overstate the importance of your deliberations.

I know that having these meetings virtually is not easy.

In preparation for COP26 in Glasgow and other intergovernmental processes, I have directed UN officials around the world to make offices and venues available so all countries can participate in virtual negotiations.

We will support you in every way possible.

To a large degree, the viability of humanity on this planet depends on your efforts.

With leadership, determination and commitment to future generations, I am convinced we can provide a healthy planet for all humanity to not just survive, but to thrive.

I wish you a productive meeting.

Thank you.