Our Planet News

Our Planet News


UNEP'S achievements at Habitat II

UNEP highlighted the environmental aspects of the development of human habitats at the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT II) held in Istanbul in June.

- UNEP participated in the first meeting of the Huairou Commission, an international group of women with exceptional experience in housing, habitat and urban management issues, which advised the Secretary-General of HABITAT II on women's needs. UNEP reported that it has already begun incorporating women's concerns and participation into its policies, programmes and projects, in accordance with the commitments it made in Beijing in 1995.

- UNEP co-sponsored a workshop on Rights to Land and Property, focusing on women, the environment and the legal issue of land rights, and agreed to work jointly with the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) on reporting the best practices now being developed to integrate women into environmental decision-making.

- The UNEP/International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC) and the Global Environment Centre Foundation of Japan organized a symposium on Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs). This raised awareness of ESTs among government and industry officials, and provided an opportunity for technology users and managers to exchange information.

- During the conference, UNEP presented two publications that it co-published: The Local Agenda 21 Planning Guide: an Introduction to Sustainable Development Planning; and Air Quality Management and Assessment Capabilities in 20 Major Cities, prepared by GEMS/Air. The Executive Director also drew attention to the World Resources 1996/1997 report published by the World Resources Institute, UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank.

- Conference members were very positive about the participatory approach of the Sustainable Cities Programme, a joint endeavour by UNEP and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements. Through this programme, UNEP is developing capacity-building tools and providing guidance and information to major cities on urban environmental management.

Substituting safely in China

UNEP is helping China address the safety aspects of the substitution of ozone-depleting products in industry. Together with NEPA, UNEP held a workshop on safety issues relating to CFC substitution in refrigeration, aerosol and foam plants. The first of its kind to be convened under the Multilateral Fund for the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, the workshop contributed to building the capacities of local governments and industries in handling safety concerns and to the development of safety standards. NEPA now intends to organize a series of safety workshops at the provincial level. The agency will also adapt the Safety Guidelines for CFC Substitution provided by UNEP.

arctic ice

Executive Director tours Asia and the Pacific

The Executive Director participated in the 1996 ECO Asia Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Gunma, as part of her official visit to Japan in May. She stressed the crucial importance of regional environmental cooperation to address the booming industrialization, resource depletion and population pressure in the area. She also expressed the hope that the UNEP/International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC) will act as a central point for the sharing of technical information by the proposed APEC Virtual Environmental Information Network and the APEC Sustainable Development Institute and Training Network.

At a series of high-level meetings with, among others, the State Minister of Environment, other senior government officials and business people, the Executive Director discussed UNEP's priorities for the next two years, its work on chemicals, the role of IETC and collaboration with the Environment Agency of Japan, Canon Inc. and the Nippon Foundation.

In New Zealand on the next stage of her tour, the Executive Director officially opened the GRID Centre in Christchurch. This opening demonstrates the support of the Government of New Zealand for joint activities with UNEP on the environment in the polar zone. Established at the International Centre for Antarctic Information and Research (ICAIR), GRID-Christchurch will provide UNEP with access to data directory services, reports and Antarctic datasets.

The final stage of her tour took the Executive Director to Australia, where she stressed the role that Australia can play in environmental issues in both the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and highlighted the prompt payment by the Government of Australia to the Environment Fund for 1996. She held a number of meetings with senior officials of the Environment and Foreign Affairs Ministries, the Olympic Coordination Authority, the Environment Protection Agency and the Australian Nature Conservation Agency.

Insurers respond to environmental risks

The UNEP Conference on the Insurance Industry and the Environment, held in London in May, sought new solutions for managing the growing environmental risks insurers now face. Insurers explored the following issues: claims handling, environmental reporting, asset management, loss prevention, mobilization of companies, lobbying and product design. The meeting agreed to increase lobbying in the future for the implementation of relevant environmental treaties such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Meanwhile, in July, a number of insurers participated directly in the Second Conference of the Parties to this convention, under the umbrella of the Climate Change Association of the Insurance Industry in Support of the UNEP Initiative. They launched a position paper on Insurance and Climate Change, and held a workshop on Climate Change, Property Insurance and Asset Management. Many leading global insurance companies are realizing that insuring risks and preventing accidents go hand-in-hand with a precautionary approach to the environment, and that their efforts to protect human life and property and prevent catastrophic events can play a vital role in protecting the environment for future generations.

Protecting the land that feeds us

UNEP commemorated World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought in Kenya on 17 and 18 June by attempting to bridge the gaps that exist between people, businesses and governments in understanding the global dryland crisis.

The activities were supported entirely by donations from Kenyan businesses and donors. For the second year, UNEP recognized outstanding contributions to desertification control. Saving the Drylands awards were given to the Jhanwar Watershed Project in India and the SOS Sahel Community Forestry Project in the Sudan. In each case participation was the key to success, demonstrating that communities need to be empowered through the establishment of village-level decision-making structures and effective credit facilities that are supported at the national level.

scientists looking at test tubes

Positive moves on biodiversity

UNEP's latest achievements in the field of biological diversity were recognized at the third meeting of the Executive Director's Advisory Panel of Biodiversity Experts held in Washington, DC, in May. The panel highlighted the preparation of strategic policy instruments such as the Biodiversity Programme and Implementation Strategy and UNEP's efforts to build partnerships with the biotechnology industry in the area of biosafety. It made a number of recommendations, including the need for a long-term mechanism to ensure up-to-the-minute information from the scientific community on biodiversity-related issues as part of the follow-up to the Global Biodiversity Assessment Report.

Also in May, UNEP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) brought together in Geneva representatives from indigenous and local communities to explore ways of ensuring their full participation in the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The meeting recommended that:

- There should be regular consultations between UNEP-GEF, local people and indigenous communities.

- GEF operations should address the priorities of the indigenous and local groups.

- An advisory mechanism should be established to advise the GEF on projects which would encourage the implementation of Article 8 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Article 8 states that the Contracting Parties should preserve and maintain the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities with regard to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

Groundwater: A Threatened Resource

UNEP/Gems Environment Library No 15

Groundwater: A Threatened Resource cover This, the latest addition, explains the importance of groundwater, and assesses its vulnerability to over-use, misuse and pollution. The UNEP/Gems Library was established in 1987 to disseminate environmental information on major topics to a non-technical audience. There are three other titles on water issues, Freshwater Pollution, The Pollution of Lakes and Reservoirs and Water Quality of World River Basins.

All are available at US$7 per volume from SMI (Distribution Services) Ltd., PO Box 119, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 4TP, UK (fax: +44 1438 748 844;
tel: +44 1438 748 111)

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