Solve different: UN’s fourth Environmental Assembly on sustainable consumption and production

Did you know that the United Nations Office at Nairobi is one of the four major UN office sites in the world? Actually, it is the UN’s headquarters in whole of Africa! And this is where we’ve been last March, participating in the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4). Located just outside the Karura Forest, and built with lots of open and green spaces, we had gathered here to discuss the urgent steps ahead of us all toward sustainable consumption and production! To create a roadmap on how we humans must act within our planetary boundaries to achieve Agenda 2030.

About UNEA

In case you are not aware, the UNEA is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment. This year, different issues under the general moto “Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production” were addressed. Among them: 

  • environmental challenges related to poverty and natural resources management, including sustainable food systems, food security and halting biodiversity loss;
  • life-cycle approaches to resource efficiency, energy, chemicals and waste management;
  • innovative sustainable business development at a time of rapid technological change.

The meeting attracted many people; we were together with another 5,000 participants from 179 countries, including five Heads of State and Government, and 157 ministers and deputy ministers. During the week, everyone had the opportunity to share their research and experiences aimed to address environmental challenges, both through innovative homemade and scientifically sound ideas, that protect the life on land, seas, and the planet.  

“Your trash, my cash”

We actively participated in five sessions or side events during this week. The first one was called “Your trash my cash”, organized by us together with Women Major Group. Here, participants from different continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe) shared skills and good practices on sustainable consumption and production in sectors such as Energy, Water, Chemicals and Waste. These experiences were successful in creating decent and safe jobs for people in all their diversity, promoting gender equality and women’s leadership.

The second session, which also happened on March 11, was about female empowerment in Environmental Governance. We brought up reasons why is it important to foment gender equality on those spaces. Besides, there was a discussion about the UNEA 4 resolution named “Promote gender equality, and the human rights and empowerment of women and girls in environmental governance”, which invites the Member States to recognize, support, and prioritize actions with that purpose. 

That was a long Monday! Still on the same day, we shared some of the WECF experiences on sustainable water and waste management in Eastern European countries (more specifically Georgia and the Balkan region) at the session “Don’t waste it! Innovative solutions and business models for wastewater reuse”. We shared the examples of some of our projects, such as Ecosan, Greywater filters, and constructed wetlands. The goal of the event was to bring together relevant stakeholders for sharing best practices, experiences, and solutions for wastewater reuse. Interestingly, many participants reported alternative financing mechanisms and business models for wastewater, as well as innovative solutions for wastewater reuse.

Innovative solutions to pollution


On the second day of the conference, we participated in a session designed to report the outcomes from the Ministerial Conference “Innovative Solutions to Pollution in South East and Southern Europe”, held in December 2018. This side event was organized by the Governments of the Republic of Serbia and Republic of Italy, with UN Environment Programme support. Together with our Policy Officer Bistra Mihaylova, the list of panelists included high members of Minister/Secretary of Environment and Ambassador of different countries (Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Italy). 

The discussion focused on the importance of regional cooperation in South East Europe, and panelists were encouraged to present best practices and national priorities and actions addressing pollution. On behalf of WECF and the Civil Society Organisations, we presented a declaration on how to better address the pollution on a regional scale, and how governmental institutions and the UN can assist us. Summing up, air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, and chemical and waste pollution were the main topics.

Bloody good sanitation

Last, but not least, we were also present at the session “Dialogue on healthy and sustainable menstrual hygiene management in a plastic free world”, organized by Women Major Group and Children and Youth Major Group, and held on March 13. Here, approximately 30 participants shared their good practices and skills, and it became clear how girls and women can have a better understanding of menstrual health when unsanitary/non-biodegradable menstrual waste is reduced. 

Not surprisingly, it was mentioned that, in some countries, women are still using homemade alternatives, such as old fabric pieces or dried leaves. In fact, 100 million women live in houses without toilet facilities and young females miss up to 20% of classes a year due to poor sanitary conditions in schools. Presenters from India, Nigeria, Kenya, Germany, and Belgium shared their successful experiences implementing activities to improve this situation, and we discussed about the barriers for a healthier menstrual management, the legislations on plastics and other toxins present in disposable sanitary pads, and the gender dimensions of the issue. 

If on the one hand, the atmosphere was friendly and gentle among the participants, almost like a leap of faith on our arduous work, the closing statements of the conference once again carried the weight of a tragedy. On March 15, 49 people were killed by terror attacks in New Zealand mosques. It feels like the universe was trying to show us that not everyone is so engaged in making this world a better place. And with that mix of emotions, it was time to come back home. Happy to see so many good examples and initiatives from all over the world, but also worried after facing our reality. 

Tragic loss of lives

Despite our enthusiasm, this year’s bi-annual meeting of UNEA began with tragic news of the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash reached us on the UN campus. The plane was flying in direction to Nairobi, and the accident left 157 people dead, some of them colleagues on their way to the conference, many of whom where youth.

Photo credit: IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis