At the third Global Session of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment, participants expressed a collective sense of urgency to address three planetary crises: climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. Discussions focused on ways to address these crises through a shift to sustainable consumption and production patterns.

The Forum was held online from 18-20 February 2021, in advance of the Online Session of the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5).

In a thematic track on the potential of big data and “frontier tech” to support sustainability, discussions focused on how artificial intelligence (AI) is making industry more sustainable, whether there are sufficient data for essential decision-making to reach the SDGs, and enablers of an ethical, equitable digital future. The session launched the UNEP Marine Litter Digital Hub. It also highlighted several “landmark initiatives to save the planet,” including Google Earth, the Microsoft Planetary Computer, and the Earth Observation Biodiversity Network (GEOBON).

In the thematic track on low-carbon, resource-efficient, inclusive societies, participants covered bringing nature to urban settings, saying that while cities are at the forefront of both environmental and health crises and solutions, and “action is on its way,” greater scale and pace are needed.

The track also focused on the concept of “nature-positive” food systems. Many stressed that a just, sustainable society cannot be achieved without addressing the food system, and acknowledged that multi-stakeholder collaboration on food waste, nutrient efficiency, and digitizing farming communities is key to achieving nature-positive food systems.

In the thematic track on managing and preventing pollution, a session on marine litter and microplastics highlighted the role of partnerships in promoting initiatives to address plastic pollution in oceans, seas, and rivers and to incentivize recycling. At the same time, participants recognized the need for better coordination and monitoring and evaluation.

A session on tracking and tracing e-waste underscored that the COVID-19 pandemic had revealed society’s reliance on electronic products. This, participants said, brings to the fore the importance of using a circular economy approach to address the sustainable management of e-waste. They noted the lack of sufficient data to fully understand the problem, and recognized that part of the solution will be to change consumer habits and expectations.

In a closing session on ‘Making Peace with Nature: The Defining Task of the 21st Century,’ speakers emphasized technology, partnerships, and multilateralism as the key levers to make this possible. [Earth Negotiations Bulletin summary of 2021 Science-Policy-Business Forum]