Atmosphere summit in Nairobi opens with somber tone

NAIROBI, Kenya 

The fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) kicked off Monday in Kenya with a somber tone in the wake of yesterday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash.

World leaders, scientists and environmentalists gathered in Nairobi at the United Nations Environment Headquarters started the day by observing several minutes of silence for the 157 people on board the plane who died Sunday, among them 22 UN delegates who were heading to the conference.

“I sincerely thank the Eastern European Group for nominating me as president and trusting and supporting me throughout the presidency. I would like to express my condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the crash,” said Siim Kiisler, UNEA president and Estonia’s environment minister, speaking during the opening plenary.

Those sentiments were echoed by many other speakers, including Kenya’s Environment Minister Keriako Tobiko and Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of the UN Environment Program.

Among the 157 victims were UN staff, interpreters and delegates who had boarded the flight headed for Nairobi.

Mithika Mwenda, secretary-general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), was among the over 4,700 delegates who attended the summit’s opening.

“The mood here is quite bad. It is a somber mood because of the number of lives that were lost — those who were coming from the UN and also those who were coming from delegations from various parts of the world. It is a sad moment, and we really sympathize with and send our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives,” he said.

At the summit, a report was released warning that urgent action is needed to tackle chemical pollution, with the size of the global chemical industry set to double by 2030.

One of the report’s authors, David Kapindula, from the Zambia Environmental Management Agency, warned that African countries and developing nations should be keen on tackling issues on chemical pollution in their countries.

“The findings of the second Global Chemicals Outlook are very important for developing countries. They highlight the uneven implementation of chemical and waste management and point to opportunities for enhanced knowledge sharing, capacity development and innovative financing,” Kapindula said.

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