The sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, UNEA6, took place in Nairobi, Kenya, from 26 February to 1 March 2024. If, back in 2019, UNEA-4 meant the “coming of age” of life-cycle approaches, the relevance of holistically considering consumption and production systems across the life cycle seems to have come to life in UNEA-6.

In the words of Dr. Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of the Industry and Economy Division “we may have reached a point, long desired in fact, where the environment is seen as material not only to human health and well-being, but also to the larger economy and its proper functioning”. And one may add that the ongoing negotiations for a legally binding instrument to address plastic pollution across the “full life cycle” are (finally) landing the notion that this encompasses the whole economy. Yes, the life cycle of plastics starts with the extraction of oil and gas; what seems obvious to life-cycle practitioners requires for many to come to terms with the need to radically change the way we run the economy. And change can be daunting.

Llorenç Milà i Canals, head of the Life Cycle Initiative’s secretariat, presents the SCP-HAT to an engaged audience in UNEA6’s Digital Accelerator Lab.

And yet, the world’s ministers of environment “emphasize the importance of advancing integrated, science-based approaches, informed by the best available science” through UNEA-6 ministerial declaration (UNEP/EA.6/HLS/L.1), and committed to address the challenges we all face with science- and knowledge-based actions. Further, paragraph 16 of the ministerial declaration calls for “life cycle assessment of the environmental and sustainable development impacts of specific technologies to make informed decisions

Indeed, a life-cycle approach allows us to address the key drivers of economic activity head-on, considering the multiple environmental crises in an integrated way to avoid unintended consequences and trade-offs. This is already taken onboard e.g. by the Global Framework on Chemicals –For a Planet Free of Harm from Chemicals and Waste, when it acknowledges the chemical footprint approach to identify priority chemicals of concern to reduce their impact.

The importance of considering the full life cycle was also highlighted for the metals and minerals industry (Resolution UNEP/EA.6/L.8 on environmental aspects of minerals and metals) as well as for chemicals and waste (UNEP/EA.6/L.12, on the sound management of chemicals and waste).

Against this backdrop, the Life Cycle Initiative was honoured to collaborate with the International Resource Panel (IRP) and the One Planet Network in a side event discussing Sustainable Management of Natural Resources to tackle the Triple Planetary Crisis. The baby of these three organisations, the Sustainable Consumption and Production Hotspot Analysis Tool (SCP-HAT), which was launched 5 years ago in UNEA-4, was also graduated with honors in the Digital Accelerator Lab space. Participants were awed by the wealth of data that can be explored through the SCP-HAT, and by how the tool makes the facts exposed in the recently launched Global Resources Outlook 2024 come to life at the country scale.

Overall, there is great excitement surrounding the prospect of future actions and decisions by Member States being increasingly shaped by science-based approaches and knowledge. In this regard, the Life Cycle Initiative looks forward to supporting life-cycle thinking and exploring how projects such as SCP-HAT could actively contribute to this effort.