Push to upgrade UNEP gains momentum

February 9, 2012 7:34 am
UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi/FILE

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 9 – When global leaders meet in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June this year to discuss environmental matters, key among the issues to be discussed could be a proposal to change the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to World Environment Organisation.

This according to the proponents will see UNEP, which is headquartered in Kenya gain more strength and powers to perform its role.

If the proposal which currently has backing from at least 110 countries including Kenya sails through, it would mean that UNEP would have more authority and influence to even push for accountability by governments in terms of implementing global treaties.

“You may find it absolutely astonishing but when the environment ministers from around the world meet in Gigiri on 20th-22nd of February, (for the 12th special session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum) they will make decisions that will have to go to New York to the UN General assembly. If the General Assembly and the governments there decide that the decision was wrong, they can throw that decision in the bin quite literally,” UNEP Spokesperson Nick Nuttall told Capital News in an exclusive interview.

“So we need to build a voice, ability to influence the development track of this planet and the ability to implement.”

This is not the first time that calls to strengthen UNEP have been made. Last year, President Mwai Kibaki during a UN General Assembly debate in New York called for the transformation of UNEP into a specialised UN agency as recommended by the African Union to boost its capacity to respond to environmental challenges.

“It is my hope that the Rio Summit will endorse this position and upgrade UNEP accordingly,” Kibaki had told the assembly last year.

But the process is equally political with countries like the United States, which is a top emitter of green house gases that cause climate change opposing the idea.

“There are some governments from around the world who have signaled at the moment that they would like to strengthen UNEP but not to a World Environment Organisation and the US has signaled that that is their position but there are four or five months to go to Rio+20 in June and there is a lot of discussion, a lot of negotiation and we will have to see if we have any surprises in Rio in June,” Nuttall said.

He added that the biggest mistake the Brazil conference would make was to let the status quo remain.

The Rio +20 Conference will be the 20th annual conference of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development and this year’s summit aims to reignite the commitment of world leaders to the cause and is also a recognition of the significance of the 1992 Earth Summit.

The first Earth Summit in 1992 led to outcomes like the signing of climate change convention, convention on biological diversity and Agenda 21 document which was a comprehensive plan of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organisations within the UN system and governments.

Sustainable development is measured in three pillars- economic growth, human development and environmental protection.

However, Nuttall noted that little has been achieved for those 20 years which he attributed to the scale of environmental change globally.

This insignificant progress has led critics to argue that the Rio +20 conference will be nothing more than a PR exercise and a celebration of 20th birthday. This is especially so after the 2011annual conference ended in disagreement.

“I sympathise with those who are worried about Rio +20. We should not be worried about it because nothing is in the bag yet and we don’t want it to just be a talk fest and a get together, it has been more where governments cooperate,” Nuttall noted.

Other key issues in the Zero draft titled ‘The future we Want’ and which contains all the proposals for discussion at the conference (published last month) are coming up with a new indicator of wealth other than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to bring more inclusive things like environmental sustainability.

There is also a proposal for the conference to come up with Sustainable Development Goals similar to the Millenium Development Goals that will stir real progress towards sustainable development.

“We live in a world where we talk about MDG’s and that’s about rich countries helping poor countries in terms of health, environment and water but actually if you look at what is really going on in the world its also the consumption rates of the wealthier countries that also need to be managed and there needs to be goals for that,” Nuttall said.

“So with the sustainable development goals you are actually bringing the world together, you are no longer saying it is simply an issue of assisting the developing countries it’s about in a sense the richer, wealthier countries shouldering their responsibility for environmental change,” he stated.


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