/ 28 February 2024

Political leadership and will is needed to fight climate crisis, says Unep head

Inger Anderson
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Executive Director Inger Andersen at the opening of Unea-6 in Nairobi, Kenya. (UNEP/K.Worth)

UN Environmental Programme (Unep) executive director Inger Andersen has urged political leaders to step up and start having serious conversations on the global climate crisis.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of the sixth UN Environmental Assembly (Unea-6) in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Andersen said political decision-makers tended to take a myopic view when it came to the climate crisis.

“Political decision-making is a function of leadership [but] there is a lot of short-termism in many corners, so it doesn’t matter if it’s not my turn anymore,” Andersen said.

“I hope countries are stepping into leadership. It is not easy with biodiversity and climate change but leaning in and trying to take leadership [is what is needed].”

The world’s top environmental bodies are meeting at Unea-6 this week to discuss resolutions to tackle the triple planetary crises of climate change; nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste.

One of the main themes delegates are discussing is nature-based solutions, which Andersen believes are the most sustainable measures to deal with the climate crisis.

“Working with nature; rather than against it; needs to be part of the solution and we don’t want greenwashing but, at the same time, nature-based solutions are really the solution to tackling the climate crisis,” she said.

Experts at the conference have been sharing their input on which nature-based solutions could be used to ensure that communities can adapt to the pace of climate change.

Andersen — who has previously expressed fear that scientific knowledge and political will are not keeping up with the scale of biodiversity loss — said she believed citizen awareness was important to raise the alarm and get politicians to act.

“There needs to be awareness where [citizens] take [concerns] to a local or national level so that it can form part of the political conversation and that will enforce and put environmental regulation on the books in many countries,” she said.

The Unep head said she looked forward to the outcomes of this week’s assembly, even though discussions would continue in order to form multilateral agreements between states.

“I’m very pleased that air pollution is part of the conversation at Unea and I hope that the assembly adopts a strong resolution that will enforce and create awareness — but it begins with people demanding it,” said Andersen.

As part of Unep’s initiative to educate communities on the triple climate crisis, the 2024 Global Resources Outlook Report will be released this week to show how demand for resources is expected to continue increasing in coming decades.

This means that, without urgent and concerted action, by 2060, resource extraction could rise by 60% from 2020 levels — leading to increased damage and risks.