Meeting new challenges

OUR PLANET 10.2 - UNEP - Looking Forward


Meeting new challenges


GURO FJELLANGER

says UNEP must create a united and forceful profile in tackling complex new threats to health and the environment




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The end of the millennium represents a cross-roads in many respects. For the environment, this is a time of dynamic change where policy tools must be continuously developed and adapted to new issues and challenges. As the United Nations organ mandated to play a central role on environment matters, UNEP must also adapt and respond to new priorities and solutions.

Since UNEP's beginnings, there has been a substantive shift in environmental priorities and the policies used to address them. Although much remains to be done in the face of the traditional pollution-related problems, the policies needed to prevent and cure these are generally well understood and are increasingly being refined and implemented. In recent years, a more complex set of environmental challenges has come to the top of the agenda, including climate change, biodiversity and the sustainable management of forests, oceans, freshwater and land resources.



Policy integration

The 'new' threats to the Earth's natural resources and to human health are complex and rooted in economic structures, making it more difficult - and all the more necessary - to increase our knowledge, to reach a common understanding and establish a platform for action. Solutions to environmental challenges must increasingly be found in cross-sectoral and integrated policy approaches. They must involve ministers other than just environment ones, and actors other than governments. A wide range of stakeholders must be involved in policy formulation and implementation.

Many of today's challenges are also of a global nature, requiring international as well as national responses. The international mobility of capital and goods has made countries increasingly economically interdependent. Information, ideas and cultural values are subject to globalization, and will also be a factor in how society develops. Environmental policies must also seek to redress the fundamental global imbalance whereby the world's aggregate consumption and production is threatening its natural resource base, while a large part of its population is unable to meet primary basic needs.

UNEP has been committed to environmentally sustainable development since its inception, and has played a key role in the international negotiation of conventions and protocols, plans of action and codes of conduct in an impressive number of areas. The increase of such instruments has strengthened the United Nations' environmental profile, but has also brought an undesirable level of thematic and institutional fragmentation. I am convinced that UNEP's (and the United Nations') ability to play a key role on environmental matters in the future largely depends on the extent to which it succeeds in bringing together and creating a forceful and united profile on them.

The Secretary-General's overall process of United Nations reform - and the focus on coordination and consolidation - provide an excellent framework for the 'revitalization' efforts that have been launched by Klaus Toepfer since his arrival at UNEP. Last year I had the privilege of being a part of the Task Force set up by the Secretary-General to suggest ways of focusing and strengthening performance on environment and human settlements issues. It identified a series of organizational, administrative and practical steps to be taken over time to create a more coherent United Nations profile in these areas. These have since been put to the General Assembly for further consideration and follow-up.



Political engagement

Governments will continue to be the main actors on the national level and the contractual partners on the international level, now and in the future. Other actors representing other sectors of society will also have important roles. It will therefore be critical for UNEP to facilitate and promote political engagement and accountability and secure broad participation in the international opinion-forming and decision-making processes. The political process must continue to rely on professional analysis and on a decision-shaping process in which both government experts and the international secretariats play a full part. The processes should as far as possible be organized openly and transparently, with access for all relevant stakeholders.

I feel particularly strongly about the recommendations from the Task Force that involve the consolidation of intergovernmental processes, including the proposal to establish one global ministerial arena to take stock of the larger environmental trends and achievements, respond to emerging issues and uncover neglected areas. Looking ahead, UNEP's Governing Council should become the central meeting place for politicians, scientists, government experts, the media, the business community, non-governmental organizations and other representatives of civil society on environment matters.



Scope for coordination

It is increasingly recognized that there is scope for coordinating functions between convention secretariats, and that UNEP's future role must include, and be based on, closer links with the conventions. Where possible - and with due respect to the differences in participation - uniform standards and procedures for support functions to the conventions (i.e. scientific input, dispute settlement and enforcement routines) should be developed and offered to the secretariats. We cannot afford not to explore ways of capitalizing upon the administrative and thematic interlinkages between conventions, including the geographical co-location of convention secretariats in thematic clusters.

The Task Force recommended the establishment of an Environment Management Group within the United Nations to facilitate the coordination of environment and environment-related programmes between agencies. UNEP is not an implementing agency, although its credibility as a normative authority requires it to carry out, or take part in, pilot projects to test policy models and further policy formulation, when necessary. UNEP has a role to play in bringing together implementing agencies, financial institutions and other stakeholders involved in environment-related matters. Its part in the pursuit of sustainable development is to help set the premises, to play a catalytic role and to draw on the resources and capacities of other organizations and actors.

The 1997 Nairobi Declaration already states what UNEP can and should do. UNEP's 'comparative advantages' have been demonstrated and should continue to lie in the interface between science and research, policy and legal instruments. These aspects need further strengthening, particularly the core functions of science and research.

UNEP's 20th Governing Council in February endorsed the Task Force's main recommendations and reconfirmed the validity of the Nairobi Declaration. As we look ahead, we already have a vision for UNEP and a platform for action. We must now give it the practical and administrative tools that it needs to come into its own as the United Nations' central voice on the environment.

Guro Fjellanger is Minister of the Environment, Norway.



Complementary articles in other issues:
Jan C. van der Leun: Avoiding disaster (Ozone) 1997
Shridath Ramphal: Now the rich must adjust (The Way Ahead) 1997
Bella S. Abzug: Women's war against cancer (Chemicals) 1997
Theo Colborn: Restoring children's birthrights (Chemicals) 1997
Carlos Joly: Insuring the future (UNEP 25) 1997
Hans Jonsson: Greening the fields (Food) 1996
Tore J. Brevik: All in the mind (Culture, Values and the Environment) 1996
John Gummer: Valuing the environment (Culture, Values and the Environment) 1996


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