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Looking back at 2023’s top events for the environment

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PART 2

Protect freshwater sources
March

UNEP and several partners  launched the  Freshwater Challenge, which aims to safeguard and revive 300,000 km of rivers and 350 million hectares of wetlands around the world by 2030. That would make it  the largest  wetland and river restoration effort in history. Some 43 nations joined the push in 2023, including many at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), whose presidency cited the Freshwater Challenge as a key outcome of the summit. Sources of freshwater are under increasing pressure from climate change, pollution and other stressors.  One-third  of the world’s wetlands have been lost over the past 50 years, while rivers and lakes are the most degraded  ecosystems in the world.

International Day of Zero Waste
April

Countries around the world celebrated the first  International Day of Zero Waste, a global call for humanity to better manage waste and build more circular economies.

The day was led by UNEP and UN Habitat with support from Türkiye, and featured an address from UN Secretary General António Guterres. “Humanity is treating our planet like a garbage dump,”    he warned. “It’s time to fight back and launch a war on waste.”

More than  2 billion tons  of municipal solid waste is generated annually, of which 45 percent is mismanaged. Up to  4 billion people  lack access to controlled waste disposal facilities.

World Environment Day
June

UNEP-led  World Environment Day, celebrated on June 5, showcased to the world the scale of the plastic pollution crisis while highlighting a bevy of potential solutions. Several governments made firm commitments on the day, with host Côte d’Ivoire unveiling a new environmental code to fight plastic pollution and the Kyrgyz Republic announcing it will begin to transition away from some plastic products. The day  grabbed the globe’s attention; it was the top-trending hashtag on Twitter and related content was seen more than 300 million times across social media.

Historic “high seas” treaty
June

The United Nations formally adopted  a pact  that extends for the first time environmental protections to two-thirds of the ocean that lie beyond national jurisdictions.

The so-called “high seas treaty” offers an updated framework to  The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea  that came into force in 1994. The world’s oceans, which play a vital role in everything from the global economy to regulating the climate, are labouring under climate change,  biodiversity loss and pollution.

“You have pumped new life and hope to give the ocean a fighting chance,”,António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, told countries as the measure was adopted.

Global plastics
September

The  Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution, hosted by UNEP, released a zero draft of a legally binding global instrument to end plastic pollution. The draft, which covers the full lifecycle of plastic, was reviewed during the  third session  (INC-3) in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2023. The talks in Nairobi followed a  second session  in Paris, France in June 2023. The INC sessions mark a key step in the effort to finalize a planet-wide agreement by the end of 2024.

Every year, humanity produces around 430 million metric tons of plastic–about the same weight as 71 million African elephants–and much of that is contained in single-use products that quickly become waste, polluting land, sea and air.

Landmark chemicals accord takes
September

The world agreed to the  Global Framework on Chemicals, a historic deal to protect people and the environment from chemical pollution, which causes an    estimated 2 million deaths  a year. The agreement includes 28 targets which, among other things, call for the phasing out of highly hazardous pesticides and a crackdown on the trafficking of illegal chemicals.

The adoption of the new framework recognizes pollution and waste as the global crisis that it is, putting it on par with climate change and nature loss, which already have frameworks in place. UNEP will manage a dedicated trust fund in support of the framework. Germany has committed 20 million euros to the fund, with France, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland also contributing.

(To be continue)

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