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: Impact of Livestock Farming on Climate Change
With a constantly growing global population and with climate change threatening to limit the arable land available, the need to reevaluate food systems has never been more pressing. With the popularization and development of fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, and genetically engineered organisms, livestock farming (e.g. cattle, sheep, poultry, pigs, etc.) has become much more affordable, which has caused a sharp increase in the demand for these products. It is projected that by 2050, the consumption of meat and dairy will increase by 76% and 64%, respectively. However, this poses serious environmental consequences, as meat and dairy production uses 83% of farmland and produces nearly 60% of the agriculture industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. The increasing demand for livestock products creates complications for the environment in terms of land use, resource consumption, and farmland emissions. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has suggested productivity improvements on farms, carbon sequestration, and better integration of livestock in the bioeconomy to help address the growing concerns of livestock and climate change. However, no concrete framework for addressing these challenges has been developed. If left unresolved, the consequences of livestock farming pose a threat to the environment, food systems, and economic and human security and prosperity, and present a barrier towards a more sustainable planet.
Topic B: Environmental Damage in Post-Conflict Areas
With over 20% of the world’s population (nearly 1.5 billion people) living in post-conflict areas, the international community cannot afford to overlook the disastrous effects that environmental destruction caused by conflict have on a country’s economy, government, health, and well-being. Modern military tactics now go beyond the conventional battlefield to encompass the exploitation and destruction of the land being fought on. In fact, over the last 60 years, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found that at least 40% of all internal conflicts have involved the exploitation of high-value or scarce natural resources (including water). Whether through the pollution of water wells, burning of crops, or slaughter of animals, environmental damage has become a tactic of war. Environmental casualties of war can cause public health crises in the form of degraded water, sanitation, and hygiene systems or inadequate access to essential resources like water and food. The UNEA has assisted some states with the creation and implementation of environmental assessment and remediation projects (for example, by providing purification filters where groundwater wells have been polluted), but more action is needed from the committee to ensure that environmental well-being is considered an essential part of the peacebuilding process.