The biggest UN meeting on the environment ended the way it started: with controversy over businesses’ role as part of the solution to a world full of pollution.

“Governments and UN institutions give their mandate away to the bigger corporations so they can develop their own rules of the game,” said former EEB director Leida Rijnhout in her closing speech to Heads of State.

She added that civil society had not been invited to participate in the ‘leadership’ talks, where banks and other businesses had seats.

It all started rather badly after NGOs asked the UN’s boss for environmental matters Erik Solheim why he insisted so strongly on having business in a meeting aiming to stop pollution globally, including many businesses that are part of the pollution problem, for example the oil, gas, fertilizer and retail corporations.

Solheim replied by saying that you had good and dirty business, as you have good and ‘dirty civil society organisations’. He even associated some NGOs with terrorist groups. He rectified this position later on, but the damage was done.

Sascha Gabizon, representing the women NGOs, also concluded that this third United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA3) set a very worrying precedent: “UNEA seems to have become a market for UNEP departments to develop funding applications with business partners.”

She also said that NGOs were faced with serious funding gaps to be able to even come to Nairobi for the meeting.

Fortunately, some good things did come from a meeting that is supposed to unite the world in protecting the environment.  UNEP launched a policy process to protect environmental defenders. Another article in METAmag zooms in on the urgency to do that. All in all, UNEA3 adopted 11 resolutions submitted by Member States and a consensus declaration to address the pollution of air, land and soil, freshwater, and oceans. Plastics in particular were targeted.

NGOs welcomed the resolutions, but warned that policy-makers need to adopt legally-binding targets and a timetable to phase out unnecessary plastic if they are serious about delivering on their promises. One promise they made is going to be easy to check: leaders decided to ban “Manels” or male only panels.