Visiting Nairobi and attending the UNEA-2 (United Nations Environmental Assembly) conference has been quite an experience for me. It is evident from the visit the amount of potential Africa holds as a global growth engine and opportunity for Kenya to be a leader in this drive. Apart from its impressive economic growth, Africa is also showing leadership in terms of renewable energy and sustainability initiatives. Kiira motor corporation, Africa’s first solar bus producer; A Ugandan governmental funded initiative. Kenya’s large investments in the clean energy sector and large international investments from Google & Wrigley are some of the examples highlighting the investment in-flow which is driving Africa and Kenyan economy at 6% p.a growth.
As a part of my visit to Africa, my experience at UNEA-2 was very interesting as I stepped from entrepreneurial/private sector background straight into the largest political/diplomatic arena in the world. It was quite daunting and frustrating at times as I was constantly hearing things ‘that we should do’ rather the strong actions ‘that are required’ to reduce our environmental damage. Prior to coming to UNEA-2 I had a very brief understanding of environmental issues facing the mankind and had a slight knowledge of clean energy initiatives & sustainable development.
The Science and Policy Forum (SPF) kicked off four days prior to the actual UNEA-2 conference by the charismatic Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner. He started off his speech highlighting that 2015 was the turning point of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in simplest form are the job description for all business. He pointed out that biggest challenge for the humans for next 50 years is to de-carbonise our economies in order to pull the climate out of its current “environmental emergency” stage. But, several major challenges exist in itself while even considering this plan as by talking de-carbonisation we are already challenging 2/3rd of the world’s economies, 150 years of progress and all the countries that have developed themselves on carbon. Therefore, I feel it is hard to encourage such countries to make environmental agenda their first priority as the driving factor behind our environmental degradation is the foundational substance of most of our economies. Mr Steiner pointed out that governments no longer have the answers and corporations which do, do not have the patents to lead the change; therefore science must work alongside in assisting the change. The SPF provided me with confidence that UN and governments have realised the importance of private sector and are willing to frame policies inclusive of the corporate sector’s interests while combating environmental change.
Towards the end of the conference, I must admit it was a rewarding experience attending UNEA-2 as it has highly raised my mental awareness of global issues affecting our very existence on this planet regardless of my initial struggles. But, I was very disappointed with the UNEP’s facility itself as I thought it would have been more inclined with the principles it preaches and urges the governments around the world. I was extremely disappointed by the amount of waste and CO2 emissions that were generated while hosting the conference. Given that UNEP is the biggest environmental body in the world on the climate front and a core driver for the SDGs, it was really sad to see them not implementing the relevant SDG’s itself. While attending the UNEA-2 it was evident that not all member states showed a full commitment of addressing all the 169 SDG targets or an urgency to address environmental issues faced by their countries. I feel this gives UNEP a perfect opportunity to lead environmental change through example by implementing the sustainable and clean energy practices within in its facility in Nairobi and showcase them for all the member states who visit the UNEP headquarters. UNEP can also promote itself as an incubator where it provides a platform for upcoming innovation to be developed and tested within the UNEP facility and opportunity for UNEP to align them with the prospective parties.
This would allow UNEP to showcase to all the member states and high level decision makers the possibility and benefits of 100% self-sufficiency and also a chance for the member states to see technology in full operational mode. It will also provide much needed support to the local entrepreneurial youth and a boost towards the growing Kenyan Economy and improving people’s lives.
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.