Ministers call for a stronger, revitalized UNEP

OUR PLANET 8.6 - Chemicals

Ministers call for a stronger, revitalized UNEP

The 19th session of UNEP's Governing Council approves work programme and budget for 1998/1999, but governance questions remain to be decided later

The 19th session of UNEP's Governing Council was temporarily adjourned late on 7 February 1997. The two-week meeting, which was attended by ministers and high-level government representatives from over 100 countries, produced a strong ministerial statement on the future role and mandate of UNEP, approved UNEP's programme of work for 1998/1999 and a programme budget of $75 million. The green light was given for work to begin on predictable funding of the organization and a pledging session delivered approximately $34 million in new pledges for the period 1997-1999.

The Secretariat received much praise for its work on environmental law, chemicals, land-based sources of marine pollution, and its new state of the environment report - the Global Environment Outlook (GEO-1). However, governments could not agree on the question of the governance of UNEP. 'This Governing Council has been a great success on most fronts,' said Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Executive Director of UNEP. 'We have made considerable progress on substantive issues like the chemical agenda, and governments have clearly voiced their desire for a strong, independent and adequately funded global environmental organization.'

The Nairobi Declaration

'UNEP must be equipped and empowered to assume the role as the authoritative voice for the environment,' said Elizabeth Dowdeswell. 'For this to happen, the debate on governance must be resolved - and resolved quickly. Until it is, financial contributions from some governments may be withheld and UNEP's work for the environment will suffer. Friday night (7 February) was a sad night for the environment,' she added.

Two central policy issues dominated that Governing Council's discussion - the governing structures of UNEP, and the nature and substance of UNEP's participation at the June 1997 special session of the United Nations General Assembly for the purpose of an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of Agenda 21. With the June meeting in mind, the Governing Council adopted the Nairobi Declaration on the Role and Mandate of UNEP (see pages 33-34). This document will be sent to the United Nations Secretary-General for consideration in the on-going reform process of the United Nations system. It will also be presented to the high-level segment of the fifth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development and to the United Nations General Assembly at the special session.

The Nairobi Declaration recognizes UNEP as the principal United Nations body in the field of the environment and the leading global environmental authority, serving as an advocate for the global environment. It notes core elements of a focused mandate: analysis and assessment; policy advice; promotion of cooperation; international environmental law; and the promotion of greater awareness. Adequate, stable and predictable financial resources are recognized as essential to a revitalized UNEP.

Much progress was made on substantive issues at the Governing Council. One important decision related to the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, where priority was given to the implementation of the GPA in UNEP's programme of work, and a request made for its expansion to all regional seas programmes.

On chemicals the Council concluded that international action, including a global legally binding instrument, is required to reduce the risks to human health and the environment arising from the release of specified persistent organic pollutants and it requested that an intergovernmental negotiating committee start work on such an instrument by early 1998.

Conference set for 1997

With regard to the development of an international legally binding instrument for the prior informed consent procedure for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade, the Council requested UNEP, together with FAO, to hold a conference in 1997 where such an instrument can be signed.

Other important decisions dealt with the state of the environment (including the presentation of GEO-1), coordination and cooperation within and outside the United Nations, financial and administrative issues, other programme matters and emerging policy issues, such as the environment and trade agenda.

A special session of the Governing Council is planned for 12 to 14 November 1997, to review the results and decisions of the General Assembly at its special session on Agenda 21. The 20th session of UNEP's Governing Council will be held from 17 to 28 May 1999.

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