In March, discussions on environmental challenges and solutions and climate action take center stage. Many of the events take place in Africa, highlighting the continent’s role in and its contribution to sustainable development and climate action, among other issues.

The highlight of the month is the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) convening in Nairobi, Kenya, from 11-15 March 2019. The biennial high-level gathering will meet on the theme, ‘Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production,’ which covers three of the most “environmental” SDGs – SDG 14 (life below water), SDG 15 (life on land) and SDG 13 (climate action) – as well as SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), among other Goals. UNEA-4 has three focal areas: (1) tackling the environmental challenges related to poverty and natural resources management, including sustainable food systems, food security and halting biodiversity loss; (2) introducing life-cycle approaches to resource efficiency, energy, chemicals and waste management; and (3) ensuring sustainable business development at a time of rapid technological change.

A number of key reports are expected to be launched during the Assembly, including the Sixth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6), almost seven years after the publication of its fifth edition, the Global Chemicals Outlook II and International Resource Panel’s ‘Global Resources Outlook 2019: Natural Resources for the Future We Want.’

UNEA-4 will be preceded by the fourth meeting of the Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives (OECPR) to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), from 4-8 March, and the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum, from 7-8 March. Both events will prepare participants for the Assembly. Other related events include the Science, Policy and Business Forum, from 9-10 March, which will promote “opportunities for green investment, driven by advances in science and technology, empowering policies and innovative financing.” The Sustainable Innovation Expo, held from 10-15 March, will showcase the latest developments in science, innovation and technology to support the theme of the Assembly by focusing on eco-innovation and sustainable financing.

Another major event taking place in parallel to the penultimate day of UNEA-4 is the third edition of the One Planet Summit, to be co-chaired by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and France’s President Emmanuel Macron. The Summit aims to stimulate “high-level conversations and coalition building for climate and environmental action in Africa,” and is the first in a series of many climate events this year leading up to the UN 2019 Climate Summit (also called the Climate Action Summit) in September and the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the UNFCCC.

On the heels of the One Planet Summit, Africa Climate Week 2019 will convene in Accra, Ghana, from 18-22 March. The first of the three Regional Climate Weeks of 2019, it is expected to serve as a “critical stepping stone” to the Climate Action Summit. At the end of the month, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) will convene a high-level meeting on “climate and sustainable development for all,” which is also expected to make a “major contribution” to the Climate Action Summit. The focus on climate will carry into the first days of April, which kicks off with the Climate and SDGs Synergies Conference. This conference is being convened by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the UNFCCC to explore synergies between the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

From 18-20 March, Nairobi will host another key event: the second substantive session of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group working towards a Global Pact for the Environment. The meeting is taking place shortly after January’s first substantive session, which on the one hand revealed “a lack of agreement on the contribution that such a unifying instrument would make to international environmental law,” and “preparedness to work on consolidating principles, as well as a desire for further discussion on the relative merits of binding and non-binding options,” on the other.

‘Better Data, Better Lives’ is the theme of the UN Statistical Commission (UNSC) session that is taking place this week at UN Headquarters in New York, US. Our reporting on preparations for this meeting indicates that it will “begin the process of opening the first review ‘window’ on the SDG indicator framework, while also celebrating the Commission’s 50th anniversary.”

Events during March will also commemorate women’s history month, and bring a global focus on two related themes during the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women: Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and Women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development.

Elena Kosolapova, Faye Leone and Lynn Wagner