Nature and its services are the greatest resources local and regional governments have to mitigate the current climate emergency and support a more resilient and sustainable urban future. That, in essence, was the silver thread of the second edition of the UNEA Cities and Regions Summit, held virtually on 23 February 2022.
“We now have a deeper understanding that cities must grow with the natural world, not against it,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “The grey in our cities is impacting human and environmental health; bringing the green back is a critical challenge. Local and subnational governments play a critical role and a central role in making these shifts.”
The Summit is part of the biennial United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), the largest gathering of the global environment community held since 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya, at the seat of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This year’s Summit builds on the initial Cities and Regions Summit held at the 4th UNEA in 2019, which became the main channel for local and regional governments to engage with UNEP, national governments and other stakeholders.
In addition to nature as the highlighted theme, another major outcome of the 5th UNEA was the adoption of a historic decision to kick-off negotiations for a global deal on plastics deal.
Evolved as one of the major outcomes of the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, and replacing the original UNEP Governing Council meetings, the UNEA sessions typically consist of 2 tracks. Through the decision-making track, Ministers of Environment adopt decisions that are previously negotiated by the Committee of the Permanent Representatives. The high-level dialogue track enables interactions with a broad diversity of stakeholders.
Engagement of local and regional governments at the UNEA sessions are coordinated by the Local Authorities Major Group, where ICLEI leads as one of the co-organizing partners, pursuant to ICLEI’s collaboration with UNEP since 1990.
Due to travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the 5th session of UNEA was held in two parts. UNEA5.1 was held virtually throughout February 2021 and concluded with the adoption of UNEPs Medium-Term Strategy as the main outcome.
UNEA5.2 was designed in a hybrid format. In the first weeks of February, the Global Forum of Major Groups and Stakeholders was convened along with technical negotiations of the Committee of the Permanent Representatives. The final drafting sessions and Ministerial adoption were held between 28 February and 2 March, followed by special dialogues on 3-4 March to commemorate UNEP’s 50th Anniversary.
“Local and regional governments are concerned we are not moving fast enough. The severity and emergency of the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution require whole-of-government and whole-of-society responses to guarantee the right of a healthy, clean and sustainable environment,” reads the Opening Statement of the Local Authorities Major Group. It then continues by welcoming and commending “UNEP Medium-Term Strategy towards 2025 which has increased references to multilevel cooperation. The 2nd edition of UNEA Cities and Regions Summit … is a successful model of practical implementation of multilevel and multistakeholder collaboration.”
The Outcome Document of the 2nd UNEA Cities and Regions Summit was presented during the UNEA5.2 Closing Plenary on 2 March 2022 via a pre-recorded video of Anna König Jerlymyr, Mayor of Stockholm, Sweden.
Both the LAMG UNEA5.2 Opening Statement and 2nd UNEA Cities and Regions Summit are important inputs in the 2022 global advocacy agenda for local and regional governments, including the special 50th Anniversary of Stockholm Conference, a historic moment that introduced a major momentum on global environmental governance, to be held in Stockholm on 2-3 June 2022.