Photo: UNEP/Francis Kiguta
28 Feb 2024 Story Climate Action

UNEA-6 shines a spotlight on environmental multilateralism

In an increasingly fractured world, a series of successful global environmental accords show that it is still possible for nations to work together to help forge a sustainable future. 

That was the key message on Wednesday at the sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6), the world’s top decision-making body on the environment. 

The Assembly, which runs from 26 February to 1 March, held its first-ever day devoted to Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). These accords, some of which date back 50 years, have helped protect endangered species, limit chemical pollution, and repair the hole in the ozone layer, among other things. 

While their focus varies, the agreements are all founded on the idea that the world’s most-pressing environmental challenges transcend borders. To tackle crises such as climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste, countries must work together. 

“With a diversity of perspectives come strength,” said Leila Benali, the President of UNEA-6 and Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development for the Kingdom of Morocco. 

“Let us be guided by the spirit of multilateralism.” 

Ministers of environment and other leaders from more than 180 nations are in Nairobi, Kenya, in an attempt to find solutions to this triple planetary crisis

UN research shows that this work is becoming increasingly urgent. Global temperatures hit record highs last year, while hundreds of thousands of species are facing extinction, and millions of people are losing their lives annually to pollution. 

“The triple planetary crisis is still accelerating,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today. “We must do more. And we can only do more if we act as one.” 

Some MEAs can trace their origins back to the dawn of the global environmental movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  

That includes the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna, which since 1973 has helped to regulate the trade of more than 38,000 animals and plants. 

Perhaps one of the best-known Multilateral Environmental Agreements is the Montreal Protocol, the first treaty to achieve universal ratification. Forged in 1987, it is helping to mend and repair what was a potentially cataclysmic hole in the ozone layer.  

Another series of accords, the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, have helped to rein in pollution, including from hazardous waste. 

At the same time, other international bodies are providing policymakers with cutting-edge science on climate change and biodiversity loss, informing a bevy of global pacts and national laws and policies. 

UNEP helps to administer more than two dozen MEAs and related entities. UNEA-6 represents the first-time representatives from those bodies have come together under one roof, something Andersen described as a homecoming. 

“We are a big family. We are a growing family,” said Andersen. “Let us not just be together here but be present here. Let us exchange ideas and find ways to be more than the sum of our parts – as all great and close families do.”  


The sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-6) is being held from 26 February to 1 March 2024 at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, under the theme: Effective, inclusive and sustainable multilateral actions to tackle climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Through its resolutions and calls to action, the Assembly provides leadership and catalyzes intergovernmental action on the environment.