A Sting Exclusive live from Brussels: Solheim’s consequential visit leading the world and the UN

Erik Solheim in Brussels 20-22 June 2018

Mr Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of UN Environment and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN Environment, 2018).

This article was exclusively written for The Sting by the Head of UN Environment at the end of his impactful visit in Brussels which was concluded earlier today. The opinions belong to the distinguished writer and global UN leader. 

“In Europe we see the kind of vision, innovation and partnerships that will drive progress for people and planet. We cannot achieve the development challenges of our time without the leadership of the European Union, and I’m delighted that the partnership between UN Environment and the European Commission is moving from strength to strength.

During my visit to Brussels, we moved forward of key priority areas– the health of our oceans; what it will take for Europe to drive a circular economy; and the nexus between climate, peace and security.We adopted the Oceans Roadmap 2.0 which will allow us to work more closely on our joint ambition – to have healthy and productive oceans and protect our marine ecosystems. Marine pollution is such a big challenge because it is very difficult to actually tackle its root causes, being pollution from land that flows into our oceans and rivers. Addressing marine pollution therefore means taking action upstream.

We are also going to work with existing governance systems such as the Regional Seas Conventions and fisheries bodies to share what’s working in parts of Europe and how this can inform sound policy decisions around the world. We need to work closely to make sure fishing is more sustainable. Healthy oceans create healthy ecosystems, and therefore can have a huge, cascading impact on other equally important environmental targets.

For example, when we tackle the amount of chemical pesticides being used in agriculture, it’s not only good for our oceans, where much of these harmful chemicals find their way too, but we also promote farming that is in harmony with nature. So biodiversity, land and soil thrives. This is the kind of world we can achieve by taking a circular approach and I believe the European Union can drive the world towards this. It can spur investment, boost growth, create jobs and be the next wave of economic opportunity for the region.

What is clear is that it’s not possible to operate in environmental silos anymore. We can’t act on one front and remain silent on other.

I was privileged to be able to participate in discussions on the nexus between climate, peace and security. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, perhaps summed it up perfectly when she said that “the environment is our first line of defense”. We cannot have peace and security without accounting for the role of climate in making these objectives harder and harder to achieve every year.

This message is very clear in the recent Report on the Sustainable Development Agenda which says climate change and conflict are forcing growing numbers of people to go hungry, flee their homes and lose critical access to water.

To tackle this, I offered a three point agenda for the world. One, it’s all about water. We must address this challenge in all its dimensions, from water scarce countries and cities, to rising sea levels in coastal areas. Two, create a Marshall Plan for solar energy in the Sahel region, and three, assist Africa in rapid and sustainable urbanization, one that puts the least stress on its natural resources.’’

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