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Shaping the environmental Agenda of the 21st Century

UNEP Governing Council to Hold 19th Session
UNEP News Release.
For information only. Not an official record.

UNEP Governing Council to Hold 19th Session Beginning Monday 27 January

NAIROBI, 20 January 1997
The nineteenth session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - perhaps the most important in the organization's 25 year history - opens on Monday 27 January at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi. Ministers and high-level government representatives from over 100 countries are expected to attend the two-week meeting which culminates in a "high-level" segment from 5-7 February.

"When the Governing Council meets at its nineteenth session, Governments will not only have the occasion to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of UNEP, they will also have the opportunity and responsibility to set UNEP on a clear path for the next millennium," said Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, UNEP Executive Director. "After all, the Governing Council is the only forum that environment ministers and leaders have to put in place the programme, funding and governance that will ensure that UNEP evolves into a global organization that acts clearly and unambiguously as the world's environmental agency."

1997 will be a milestone year for the environment. In June 1997, world leaders will gather at a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly for the sole purpose of reviewing and appraising the progress of implementation of Agenda 21 - the Global Plan of Action agreed by governments at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This meeting represents a pivotal point in the future of many organizations who are critical in the implementation of sustainable development, including UNEP.

With the June meeting in mind, the "high-level" segment of Governing Council will be opened on 5 February by H.E. Ambassador Razali, President of the United Nations General Assembly. During the segment, the focus will be on two central policy issues. First, ministers will be asked to define the nature and substance of UNEP's participation at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session. This will require a thoughtful review and articulation of UNEP's role and mandate. Second, ministers will review the governing structures of UNEP, and determine what changes to these structures might be necessary as the organization moves toward the twenty-first century.

To assist ministers in their deliberations several documents have been developed, including: an appraisal of UNEP's efforts to implement Agenda 21; the first edition of the biennial world-wide environmental assessment report, Global Environment Outlook (GEO); and a paper on the future of UNEP, in which the option to radically redesign, reorient and refocus UNEP is outlined.

"In one way or another, assessment of the environment; analysis, evaluation and the development of policy instruments, and building consensus among governments have always been regarded as UNEP's mandate," said Ms. Dowdeswell, "but they should be redefined, restructured, refocussed, given new vitality, ans pursued with new vigour."

"Notwithstanding an impressive slate of achievements, it is clear that far-reaching reform is needed in UNEP," said Ms. Dowdeswell. "In Rio, and Stockholm before it, UNEP was given an almost impossible task. My hope is that Governments attending Governing Council will embark on bold reform that will result in a strong and comprehensive environmental organization. UNEP needs to be given the tools to become the strong and vibrant organization governments agree the world needs."

The first week of Governing Council will be devoted to work in two integrated committees that will consider administrative and budgetary matters, and also new substantive programmatic issues, including the chemical agenda, environmental law, and the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of Marine Environment from Land-based Activities.

Another key issue will be adequate and predictable financing of UNEP. UNEP is witnessing shrinking financial resources at a time when its workload is increasing as a response to serious environmental problems worldwide and to countries' demands. A "pledging session" will be held on the evening of 5 February whereby Governments will be invited to announce their pledges for 1997 and for the coming biennium, 1998-1999.

Also, attending the meeting as observers will be representatives of UNEP National Committees, other United Nations organizations, and accredited non- governmental organizations. As a complement to the formal agenda of Governing Council, a special panel discussion on "Global Environmental Citizenship: UNEP's Special Contribution to Agenda 21" will be held on 4 February. Mrs Bella Abzug, Chair of the Women's Environment and Development Organization and Mr Tom Spencer, President of GLOBE International will participate and speak about the partnerships that UNEP has fostered in order to deliver on Agenda 21. Exhibitions profiling the work of UNEP will also be prominent at the session.

For more information:

Tore J. Brevik
Chief, Information and Public Affairs
UNEP Headquarters
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 254-2-62-3292, Fax: 254-2-62-3927

Robert Bisset
Information and Media Officer
UNEP Headquarters
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 254-2-62-3084, Fax: 254-2-62-3692

UNEP News Release 1997/2

About UNEP:

Located in Nairobi, UNEP is headed by an Executive Director, Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell. Its Governing Council, the members of which are elected by the United Nations General Assembly for a four year term, assesses the state of the world environment, establishes UNEP's programme priorities, and approves the budget. The Governing Council is composed of 58 members selected on the following basis: 16 seats for Africa; 13 seats for Asia; 6 seats for Eastern Europe; 13 seats for Western Europe and other States; and 10 seats for Latin America.

UNEP is built on a heritage of service to the environment. As one of the productive consequences of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, UNEP provides an integrative and interactive mechanism through which a large number of separate efforts by intergovernmental, non-governmental, national and regional bodies in the service of the environment are reinforced and interrelated. UNEP was established as the environmental conscience of the United Nations system, and has been creating a foundation for comprehensive consideration and coordinated action within the United Nations on the problems of the human environment.

From the very beginning, UNEP recognized that the environment could not be compartmentalized. The environment is a system of interacting relationships that extends through all sectors of activity and to manage these relationships requires an integrated approach. Recognizing that environment and development must be mutually supportive, UNEP advocated a concept of environmentally sound development, which later led to the adoption of the "Sustainable Development" concept in the Brundtland Commission Report and the United Nations Perspective Document for the Year 2000 and Beyond. This concept was embodied in an action programme called Agenda 21, which was adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

UNEP's uniqueness lies in its advocacy of environmental concerns within the international system. In this, it makes a particular effort to nurture partnerships with other United Nations bodies possessing complementary skills and delivery capabilities as well as enhancing the participation of the private sector, the scientific community, NGOs, youth, women, and sports organizations in the achievement of sustainable development.

One of the most important functions of UNEP is the promotion of environmental science and information. The United Nations-system-wide research and synthesis of environmental information, promoted and coordinated by UNEP, has generated a variety of state-of-the-environment reports, and created world-wide awareness on emerging environmental problems - some of which triggered international negotiations of several international environmental conventions.

UNEP derives its strength and influence from the authority inherent in the importance of its mission - environmental management. The extent to which governments face common environmental problems, are disturbed by environmental threats beyond their jurisdiction, or need to harmonize policies relating to the environment. In this, UNEP has and will continue to play a pivotal role.

UNEP's integrated work programme for the biennium 1996-1997 emphasizes relationships between socio-economic driving forces, environmental changes and impacts on human well-being. Equipped with stronger regional presence and marked by a process of continuous monitoring and assessment of its implementation, UNEP's programme of work for 1996-1997 focuses on the following areas: sustainable management and use of natural resources, sustainable production and consumption, a better environment for human health and well-being; and globalization and the environment.

UNEP's programmes are financed by the Environment Fund which is made up of voluntary contributions, and by trust funds, counterpart contributions and the United Nations regular budget. Budgetary appropriations for the Environment Fund for financing UNEP's programme activities for the biennium 1996-1997 were approved by the eighteenth Session of Governing Council at US$ 90-105 million.

Monday 20 Jan 1997
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