Environmental Issues affecting the World

By Alice Odingo, SI UN Representative to UN Environment, Women Major Group (WMG) Alternate Facilitating Committee member and NGO Major Group Organizing Partner, Global South.

There are many definitions of the term environment. One such definition is “The external physical, biological and socio-economic conditions influencing the growth and development of crops and animals (organisms) in an area.” (Obara 1988). Environment in this case is seen in its totality, encompassing both the biophysical factors and the human issues. This article is meant to raise awareness on current environmental issues, their impacts on women and girls and how we can all take action to make the world better, now and in future.

In the international scene, environmental issues became prominent in the 1972, after the Stockholm Conference, which led to the establishment of United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in 1973, now called UN Environment after the Rio de Janeiro Conference in 2012. Since then, there have been a number of conferences leading to several multi-lateral environmental agreements touching on different aspects of the environment, from ozone layer, to climate change, to wildlife conservation and to marine life, amongst others. Amongst the outstanding conferences is the Millennium Development Summit which materialised into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and for the first time recognised and integrated gender issues into the global development Agenda. This was a deviation from the World Conferences such as the Beijing Conference, and the Nairobi Conference amongst others – efforts which expanded space for women at various levels to let their voices be heard and participate in various decision-making processes.

In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 targets and once again the gender issues, particularly women and girls affairs, took centre stage (SDG 5). All the SDGs are linked to the environment and it is not possible to achieve the SDGs without taking care of climate change, whose impacts have gender differentials. As Soroptimists, we are very concerned about the achievement of the gender targets specified in the SDGs. Countries will be reporting to the High Level Political Forum on the progress made towards the attainment of the targets and Gender will be one of the selected goals during the 2017 Voluntary National Reviews.

At the UN Environment in Nairobi, 2017 is an important year as the third UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 3) will take place 4 – 6 December, where decisions will be made on different issues related to the environment that continue to shape our future. The theme for UNEA 3 is ‘Pollution Free Planet: Delivering a Deal to Detoxify the World’. The theme has been preceded by three main campaigns by UN Environment: a) Clean Ocean Campaign, b) Breathe Life Campaign and c) Wildlife Campaign. The first two touched on pollution. These campaigns are essential not only for women and girls, but for humanity in general. The impacts of human activities on our ecosystem and human health are discussed hereafter.

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