Build back better, build back greener – Act#ForNature

A Blog by Mary Muia, SI UN Representative Nairobi Centre.

 The 5th UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5), is to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, in February 2021 with the theme ‘Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’.

As part of the preparations for UNEA-5, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UNEA Presidency, and partners from Major Groups and Stakeholders (MGS), organised The Act #For Nature Forum on the Sunday 7-12 June 2020. The Act #ForNature Global Online Forum brought together citizens, government and non-governmental organisations, businesses and scientific institutions from around the globe to engage in a series of open and inclusive discussions across a diverse range of topics from healthy ecosystems and marine plastics to global food systems, youth and more.

The forum was anticipated to build on the momentum created by World Environment Day on 5 June, a day that recognises that global change requires a global community; inspires positive change; and calls for collective, worldwide environmental action. The  main aim of the forum is to pave the way for a successful UNEA-5, by building a compelling case for transformational change for nature and people in the context of post COVID-19 world.

I participated as a delegate in the one-week long forum that presented a learning opportunity to know more about UNEA-5, how to engage with the preparatory process and exchange views with Major Groups and Stakeholders from all over the world. The forum focused on the following objectives:

  • Increase the relevance of UNEA 5 by allowing relevant stakeholders globally to engage actively and meaningful with the UNEA 5 preparatory process and the UNEA and CPR Bureaus;
  • Strengthen the inter-action and information flow between UNEA and CPR Bureaus and Major Groups and Stakeholders;
  • Enrich the UNEA and CPR Bureau retreats with input and expertise from non-state actors, represented by the nine Major Groups and other Stakeholders;
  • Give a space to Major Groups and Stakeholders to discuss the UNEA theme, and to develop their input and positions, including in the light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, with a view to maximise the outcome of UNEA 5 and to prioritise MGS actions and inputs to UNEA 5, and build the capacity and knowledge base of civil society organisations and relevant stakeholders regionally and globally;
  • Increase the number of civil society organizations and other stakeholders that engage with UNEP, including through formal accreditation.

There were a series of exciting event and key to my interest was by the various event speakers in the following topics:

  • A webinar on a ‘Capacity Building for UNEA-5′ for Major Groups and Stakeholders conducted by the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future.
  • Virtual Youth Environment Assembly was held by the Major Group Children and Youth to mainstream voices from Children and Youth to prepare for UNEA-5.
  • The Act #forNature Forum  organised by the Norwegian UNEA Presidency, UNEP, and ForUM Norway and which was held virtually in Oslo, Norway, 7 to 10 June 2020,
  • International Major Groups and Stakeholders (MGS) Consultation 
  • Townhalls on the various UNEA sub-themes, which were open to the general public.

A summary of the messages from the various speakers included:

Build back better, build back greener:

The need to build back better from COVID-19 was a key message throughout the consultation. In her opening speech, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Inger Andersen, emphasised that even if we now see some temporary improvements in the environment due to the lockdown, climate change and environmental degradation are not temporary problems, and need to be tackled long term. We have to build back better, build back greener, and the road map is the UN Environmental Assembly, The Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development goals. If we have learnt anything from COVID-19, is it that we can work together. Let us now use this opportunity to go green, and let us make change happen together, Andersen appealed.

No just and sustainable future without civil society:

A consequence of the restrictions to slow the spread of the pandemic, is that many international processes to ensure progress towards a sustainable future are postponed and slowed. The restrictions are also shrinking the space for social leaders and civil society to participate, get information and raise their voices.  If the global post pandemic recovery is going to be just and sustainable, it is crucial that stakeholders and civil society are involved. That was the message from the chair of Major Groups at UN Environment Programme, Dr. Mohamed Abdelraouf live from Kairo.

Human development has to advance together with nature, and we now need a green recovery. Conversations are vital to move to action. We must act together to handle the global environmental problems the world is facing, said Dr. Mohamed Abdelraouf, Chair of Major Groups at UN Environment Programme.

‘There is no going back to business as usual’

The urgent need to create a new normal was another key message throughout the day. Hadia Sheerazi, student at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy and a representative of United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth, was one of the speakers who emphasized the importance of not going back to business as usual. She also called for a better inclusion of youth in the recovery process. There is no going back to business as usual. Business as usual was not working. The global pandemic is a clear call for us to look deep down and find the best of us. It is time to build the future we, the youth will inherit. Youth are not just a stakeholder group. We are the future, Sheerazi said, live from New York.

Civil society urges decision makers to take ambitious action:

As an outcome of the consultation, civil society and stakeholder groups will formulate demands to the decision makers responsible for taking the world closer to the Sustainable Goals, Paris Agreement and the Environmental Assembly.

On Tuesday, the environmental ministers un the UNEA Buereau recieved the input from civil society and stakeholders. In his opening remarks, Sveinung Rotevatn, UNEA5 President and Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment, said that the key messages and priorities from the day`s conversations would be vital inputs for him and the UNEA Bureau. When it comes to the role as stakeholders, this is very important. Stakeholders are all important voices which we need to be heard. Each group has important insights to provide, and UNEA Bureau need continuous reality checks from different parts of the world, the president of the fifth environmental assembly stated. In the closing session, civil society and stakeholders gathered to discuss the strategic road forward. They all demand ambitious action for a just, inclusive and sustainable world, with decent and green jobs, sustainable industries and a society in harmony with nature.

Relevancy to SI advocacy

A Guide for Major Groups and Stakeholders’ engagement towards UNEA-5, in various languages, prepared by Stakeholder Forum, can be found here:


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