In a move to tackle the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, the sixth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) adopted 15 resolutions, two decisions, and a Ministerial Declaration. UNEA-6 highlighted the importance of cooperation among multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) to address global environmental challenges.

UNEA-6 convened in Nairobi, Kenya, from 26 February to 1 March 2024, under the theme, ‘Effective, inclusive and sustainable multilateral actions to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.’ It was preceded by the sixth session of the Open-ended Committee of Permanent Representatives (OECPR-6), from 19-23 February 2024, where delegates negotiated the resolutions and decisions, which were then forwarded to UNEA for final negotiations and adoption.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) summary report of the meeting notes that resolutions covered a range of topics, including the environmental aspects of minerals and metals, the sound management of chemicals and wastes, highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), sustainable lifestyles, sand and dust storms, land degradation, and environmental assistance and recovery in areas affected by armed conflict. However, the ENB analysis highlights that the resolutions were “weak from the beginning,” and efforts to reach consensus watered them down even further, leading to outcomes described my many as “underwhelming at best.”

“It was not unexpected that UNEA had a difficult time breaking new ground,” ENB writes. UNEA-5.2, widely hailed as “a true celebration of multilateralism,” launched negotiations on a new legally binding instrument on combating plastic pollution and on a science-policy panel (SPP) to contribute further to the sound management of chemicals and waste and to prevent pollution. Since UNEA-5.2, countries also adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), the Global Framework on Chemicals (GFC), and the Agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), known as the high seas treaty.

Many MEAs are due to hold meetings in 2024, including the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) of all three Rio Conventions. Yet, according to ENB, “there appears to be a growing distrust among Member States and stakeholders, and overall disappointment with multilateral processes.” Therefore, going forward, “weaving a stronger MEA tapestry” will be crucial and could be a role for the UN’s highest environmental decision-making body to step into.

Other events that took place prior to or alongside UNEA-6 include the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum, the Youth Environment Assembly, meetings of the International Resource Panel (IRP), the Climate and Clean Air Conference, the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment (UN-SPBF), the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, and the Cities and Regions Summit, as well as dozens of side events. [ENB Coverage of UNEA-6]