In the first decades after the formation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945, concern for the environment was neither a serious issue nor part of the global agenda. It was not until the 1960s that oil spills and maritime pollution spurred debate about protecting the environment; subsequent research proved that the environment was indeed deteriorating at an alarming rate. Around that time, the United Nations recognized the environment as another global issue that needed to be addressed. In 1972, at the UN Conference on the Human Environment (also known as the Stockholm Convention), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) became the United Nation’s environmental conscience. As environmental issues have become more and more important in multilateral discussions, the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) was created in 2012 as a biannual forum for world leaders to discuss these issues in person.
Topic A: Mitigating the Effects of Pollution on Marine Life
Over 90% of the habitable space on the planet is occupied by oceans. However, with 60% of the world’s major marine ecosystems currently being degraded or used unsustainably, there is an immense need to reevaluate the effects of human activity on oceans. Pollution of our oceans has caused the decline of biodiversity and weakened the resilience of ecosystems. The use of plastics and oil may be beneficial to human efficiency, but these materials are detrimental to marine life when they enter oceans. Fertilizer and chemical runoff from land creates dead zones in water that cannot support aquatic organisms. However, the effects of human activity on oceans are not limited to direct water pollution. Acidification caused by rising carbon emissions changes the very chemistry of the oceans and permanently affects the behavior of organisms. In 2019, the UNEA passed UNEP/EA.4/Res.6, titled “Marine plastic litter and microplastics,” which placed a strong emphasis on the importance of reducing marine plastic litter to protect ocean biodiversity and ecosystems. Despite this, a concrete framework that encompasses waste and resource management strategies, carbon emission reduction, and enforced implementation of international regulations is yet to be made. The reduction of ocean pollution is a critical topic that needs to be addressed by the UNEA to ensure the preservation of marine life.
Topic B: The Effects of Hazardous Electronic Waste on the Environment
In today’s world, the electronics industry has revolutionized the way humans innovate, communicate, and advance in many fields. In a rapidly industrializing global scene, the consumption of electronic devices is constantly rising. However, with this digital world comes the rise of electronic waste, or e-waste. E-waste is made up of various forms of electronic equipment that have ceased to be of value to their users or producers. It contains toxic substances such as lead and arsenic that are toxic to human health and the environment as well as recoverable precious materials that can be reused sustainably. According to the UN E-Waste Coalition—which the UNEA is a member of—if current trends continue, global e-waste production will reach 120 million tons per year by 2050. Less than 20% of e-waste is formally recycled due to the increasing costs of waste disposal, causing most e-waste to end up in landfills and contaminate water sources and food supply systems. On top of the negative impacts on the environment, this also results in the loss of scarce and valuable raw materials that can instead be extracted for reuse. It is also important to reassess how much e-waste is generated, imported, and exported in industrializing countries. As the modern world continues on a path of industrializing and reliance on technology, the UNEA must address e-waste and prevent the environmental damage and depletion of resources it causes.