The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) marked its 50-year anniversary Thursday at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Activists have criticized the organization as being slow to address global threats to the environment, such as pollution and climate change. But at the U.N.’s Environment Assembly this week over 100 nations pledged to negotiate a binding treaty to reduce plastic pollution.
UNEP’s chief, Inger Andersen, said Thursday the agency has contributed to saving the planet from harm and destruction.
“We saved millions of lives and protected nature,” she said. “We showed environmental multilateralism does deliver. That is a lesson that should inspire us today. Friends, there are other major achievements, the launch of the scientific body, the IPCC, the phase-out of lead and petrol and just yesterday, the resolution starting the pathway to a global plastic pollution deal to end plastic pollution for good.”
The resolution calls for two years of negotiations toward a comprehensive, international treaty on how to handle the growing problem of plastic waste.
The UNEP was formed in Stockholm in 1972 and has been a key player in safeguarding the world’s plant species, wildlife, and climate.
The organization says its mandate is to bring the world together in tackling environmental threats.
Addressing leaders, delegates and environmental activists at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, praised its work.
“Progressively, over the last 50 years, UNEP has led the world to understand the centrality of the environment in human existence to appreciate the increased threats to the environment and also the existential threat that exists to our planet. They have also helped us galvanize collective global action to protect our environment,” he said.
Wanjira Mathai, the vice-president and regional director at the World Resources Institute, said enforcing agreed-upon environment policies and laws has been a challenge.
“I think enforcement is usually our biggest challenge because we make commitments but we don’t always follow through with enforcement. That’s the biggest opportunity for us, is to see them through,” he said.
Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi says implementing environmental laws and the agreement requires greater funding.
“Botswana continues to walk in the path provided by multilateral environmental agreements that she is a party to. However, with limited resources fulfilling these commitments continues to remain a challenge but we stand committed as Botswana, do not doubt it,” he said.
Andersen said her organization needs the support of all countries to achieve and deliver a stable climate and rich nature that benefits all.