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Nairobi UNEP 14 May 1995

THE EARTH TIMES

APRIL 30 – MAY 14

OVERSEER

UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME

Unep: Policy conscience for the globe

BY ASHALI VARMA

NAIROBI, Kenya- Few .international institutions possess the daunting mandate of “the United Nations Environment Programme. It is charged with monitoring atmosphere and climate change, depletion of  the ozone layer, fresh water resources, wildlife conservation, oceans and coastal areas, deforestation and desertification, biological diversity,  biotechnology, health and chemical safety.

Unep must perform all this work within a budget of $130 million for 1994-1995, with 303 professionals and 580 general staff worldwide. The scenario for Unep has changed a great deal from when it was established on December 15, 1972, in response to the report of the Secretary General on the UN Conference on the Human Environment, June 5-16, 1972, held in Stockholm. .

Now 23 years later, with so much more known about the environment, concern about the ozone layer and climate change has intensified. Today, rain forests can actually be seen disappearing on the map, with the help of satellite photos.

In keeping with the times Unep’s mandate has broadened. The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, where 127 world leaders met to make a commitment to save the world for present and future generations; added the Biodiversity Convention and the· Climate Change Convention to  Unep’s agenda.

Unep, say diplomats, is the environmental conscience of the UN. Its mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by. informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their  quality of life without compromising future generations.

It works to win the cooperation and participation of governments, industry, scientific and professional communities, youth, women and NGOs in achieving sustainable development.

Unep’s programs are financed by the Environment Fund, made up of voluntary contributions and supplemented by trust fund and a small allocation from the UN. Though Unep does run projects of its own, its agenda falls into three categories environmental assessment (dubbed “Earthwatch”), environmental management and supporting measures.

Amedeo Buonajuti, chief of the office of  the executive director said, “Our power is  really in our convening power. We develop policies that can be implemented in the field.” According to him one of the most significant achievements of the organization was when Unep brought to world attention the story of ozone depletion. Together with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) the scientific community and industry, Unep helped to establish the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in March 1985.

In 1987, governments from around the world agreed to address this serious problem by signing the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. According to Elizabeth Dowdeswell, executive director of Unep, “It was a signal agreement that set a precedent for further international cooperation in dealing with global environmental issues.”

“It is a major success to start from basic research, create policy, and then make governments do something about it,” said Buonajuti.

An Italian brought up in Kenya, Buonajut has a world vision on the environment and Unep’s role. He said, “I would like to see all the environment ministers working hand in  hand with Unep, which would lead to global unity on the environment” He added, “My personal vision for Unep in the 21st Century is as a policy organization, using its convening powers to make legal agreements work and to be the authoritative voice on the environment.”

As the acting head of the Ozone secretariat in Unep, Nairobi, Nelson Sabogal, a scientist from Colombia said, “We deal with 150 countries that are participants of the Montreal Protocol and we provide them with all the scientific, technological, economic an environmental impact information.” In addition, Unep also provides information to universities and NGOs and works closely with the World Meteorological Organization, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization on an exchange of information and publications.

“Countries which are not part of the Montreal Protocol are not allowed to trade in ozone depleting substances,” said Sabogal.  “Industrialized countries donate money to the Multilateral Fund, established in 1992, to implement the Montreal Protocol.  The fund, which is $510 million for 1994 to 1996, is used by developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya and other to phase out ozone depletion substances in their industries which deal with aerosol and refrigeration products,” said Sabogal.

Harvey Croze, assistant executive director of Unep for Environment Assessment said, “In reviewing our programs over the last 20 years, we now hear a voice from our constituency that something new is needed, like policy relevant information and the critical linkages between cause and effect.”  He feels that not only does Unep have to develop guidelines for countries on a more individual basis but it also has to develop a system of checking the impact of its policies, “One of our missions for 1996/97 is to provide a one-stop-shop on environment and sustainable development.”

Unep already has a set-up called the Global Resource Information Database, (GRIDS) launched in 1991, which uses computer technology to process and analyze data on environmental geographic information systems which can be used by planners.  It can be used to study global issues or local ones.  “One of the cries of Agenda 21 was to enhance the availability of existing information.” said Croze, “and if we can get cooperative networks built up with the help of donors, we can get better assessments and the basic information exchange of who is doing what where.  This also involves a closer coordination with other UN agencies.”

Speaking about change and restructuring, Beverly Miller of Unep, who is now a part of the Task force on Unep’s restructuring exercise said, “Last year Unep had a meeting with ministers of governments and the committee of permanent representatives.  As a result it was decided that there is a need to reconnect humanity with nature and the vehicle that can do this is Unep.

The thrust of this was to approach new challenges facing the environment by taking an issue-oriented approach.”

Unep will focus on four major areas:

• Sustainable management and use of natural resources:-Unep proposes to undertake a number of programs like caring for biological diversity, land resources and fresh water and marine resources via a structured supply of information to governments. This would enable countries to decide on policy and a course of action.

• Sustainable production and consumption:-Unep will assess trends in industrial production patterns and identify strategies for cleaner technologies and work toward an international consensus on these issues.

• A better environment for human health and well-being:- Unep plans to reduce the impact of toxic chemicals and waste on the environment by facilitating a country’s access to data on chemicals and hazardous waste.

• Globalization and the environment: This would include reviewing the relationship between trade and the environment and strengthening the existing instruments, like environmental impact assessment and resource accounting. “

Unep also plans to have a program on international law which would provide the framework for facilitating the implementation of Agenda 21.