What happened at UNEA 3?

What happened at UNEA 3?


This year the third UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA 3) took place in Nairobi from 4 to 6 December.  Its main theme was health and pollution. More than 2 million pledges were made so far by individuals and countries of the world on action to reduce pollution in the Beat Pollution engagement campaign. See details here.

UNEA3 was accompanied by numerous events, including a Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum,  Science-Policy Business Forum, multistakeholder dialogue, and more.

HEJSupport International participated in many of these events, including the Global Major Groups and Stakeholders Forum, press-conference and a side-event on women and chemicals, a side-event on plastic pollution and solutions to address it, and a multi-stakeholder dialogue “People and Pollution”.

Governments adopted a ministerial declaration entitled, “Towards a pollution-free planet”, and 13 non-legally binding resolutions. Documents are available in 6 UN languages here.

Ministerial declaration

In the declaration governments request the UNEP Executive director to submit a plan for implementing the outcomes of UNEA 3 at the fourth session of UNEA in 2019 in consultation with the Committee of Permanent Representatives.  The declaration also states that “every day, 9 out of 10 of us breathe air that exceeds WHO guidelines for air quality and more than 17,000 people will die prematurely because of it[1]. Hundreds of children below the age of five die from contaminated water and poor hygiene daily[2]. Women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected, whether it be from cooking with dirty fuel or walking further to find safe water.  Every year we dump 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic in our oceans[3] and generate over 40 million tonnes of electronic waste annually[4]– increasing every year by 4 to 5 percent – causing severe damage to ecosystems, livelihoods and our health”.

It is important that governments consider preventable that “tens of thousands of chemicals are used in everyday objects and applied in the field without proper testing, labelling or tracking. Far too many communities either lack information about the chemicals and hazardous substances they use or are exposed to, or the capacity to manage them safely”. Governments acknowledge that “pollution disproportionately affects the poor and the vulnerable. Tackling pollution will contribute to sustainable development by fighting poverty, improving health, creating decent jobs, improving life below water and on land, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.

Governments are also determined “to prevent, mitigate and manage the pollution of air, land and soil, freshwater and oceans by, inter alia,  encouraging sustainable lifestyles and move forward to ensure more sustainable consumption and production patterns, by providing reliable sustainability information to consumers, increasing education and awareness raising, and making it easier to rethink, reuse, recycle, recover and remake any products, materials and/or services and prevent and reduce waste generation”. The declaration says the ministers will promote the adoption of policies and approaches, such as those for “the environmentally sound management of chemicals and waste, including the use of integrated lifecycle, value chains and sustainable chemistry”.


Adopted resolutions

13 non-legally binding resolutions adopted at UNEA 3 highlight issues ranging from air, water and soil pollution, to marine litter and microplastics. They also address issues of environment and health, elimination lead from paint and waste lead acid batteries.

The resolution on environment and health welcomes “the growing recognition of pollution exposure, as a key risk factor contributing to premature deaths from non-communicable diseases, that now account for seven in ten deaths globally[5]”. It expresses concern about the burden of disease from environmental risks, which according to recent estimates from WHO[6] amounts to 23% of total global deaths, and the associated costs to society.

The resolution on Eliminating Exposure to Lead Paint and Promoting Environmentally Sound Management of Waste Lead-Acid Batteries encourages governments to develop, adopt and implement legislation to eliminate lead paint, and to undertake actions throughout the value chain in order to remove the risks such paints pose, especially to vulnerable groups, including pregnant women, infants and children.

The resolution on preventing and reducing air pollution to improve air quality globally requests UNEP Executive director to support  governments in identifying, prioritizing and addressing key sources of air pollution. It also highlights the need to support countries, in particular developing countries, in raising awareness among citizens about pollution levels and their impact on human health and the environment.

The resolution on managing soil pollution to achieve Sustainable Development contains concern about the threat of soil pollution emanating from different sources, including oil spillages, unsustainable mining practices, unregulated or uncontrolled disposals and emissions of chemicals and heavy metals, wastes, and contamination from landfills. It also notes an improper use of fertilisers and pesticides in agricultural production as a sources of soil pollution. However by including the “improper use” instead of “use” governments  hereby justify the use of pesticides and fertilizers, including highly hazardous pesticides that may pose irreversible threat to human health.

The resolution on marine litter and microplastics urges all actors to step up actions to “by 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution”.  Nevertheless the language of the resolution includes such wording as “where appropriate” that significantly minimize the impact of the request (see for example par. c,d). A good thing is that the resolution contains a decision to “convene meetings of, subject to the availability of resources, an Ad Hoc Open Ended Expert Group, to further examine the barriers to, and options for, combating marine plastic litter and microplastics from all sources, especially land based sources”. The group will, inter alia “identify the range of national, regional and international response options, including actions and innovative approaches, and voluntary and legally binding governance strategies and approaches  to combat marine plastic litter and microplastics.

Chemicals in products in the NGO Statement

Despite a significant number of resolutions adopted at UNEA 3, there was no resolution specifically about chemicals in products which is a significant source of pollution. The Ministerial Declaration is the only document where the importance of minimizing risks posed by harmful chemicals in products is underlined: “Underlines the importance for human and environmental health, including biodiversity, to avoid and minimize the risks posed by harmful chemicals in products and materials, ensuring their safe use throughout their life cycle, including their environmentally sound re-use, recycling and other recovery, or disposal.”  However nor the Ministerial declaration neither the resolutions contain a request for information disclosure of what chemicals are in products.

The importance to disclose information about chemicals in products is highlighted in the statement delivered by NGO and Women’s Major Groups representatives during the closure of UNEA3. It states, that “while transparency and access to information is recognized as critical to ensure environmentally sound decisions, we are concerned that businesses still refuse to disclose information about chemicals in products they make denying consumers the right to know.”

HEJSupport International will continue to analyze the work of UNEA3 as well monitor steps in implementation of the decisions made by governments and other stakeholders to achieve a pollution free Planet.

[1] World Health Organization (WHO) – WHO releases country estimates on air pollution exposure and health impact. September 2017. Available at

[2] World Health Organization –  Global Health Observatory –

[3] Jambeck, J.R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T.R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A. et al. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347(6223), 768-771.

[4] Baldé, K., Wang, F., Kuehr, R. and Huisman, J. (2015). The Global E-waste Monitor – 2014. Bonn: United Nations University.

[5] WHO, Noncommunicable Diseases Fact Sheet, Updated June 2017,

[6] WHO report, Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks » (2016), page 86.

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Written by olgaalex