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, UNEP's programme of work for 1998/99 and a programme budget of $US 75 million was approved. The green light was given for work to begin on predictable funding of the organization and a pledging session on Thursday delivered $US 34 million. The secretariat received much praise with regard to 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 Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Executive Director of UNEP. "We have made considerable progress on substantive issues like the chemical agenda. Governments have clearly voiced their desire for a strong, independent, adequately funded global environmental organization."
"UNEP must be equipped and empowered to assume the role as the authoritative voice for the environment," said Ms 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 was a sad night for the environment," she said.
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'. The document will be sent to the UN Secretary General for consideration in the on-going reform process of the UN system. It will also be presented to the high-level segment of the fifth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development and to the UN General Assembly at the Special Session.
The Nairobi Declaration declares UNEP as the principal United Nations body in the field of the environment... the leading global environmental authority, serving as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. It notes core elements of a focussed 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.
There was much progress on substantive issues. 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, among other things, 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. It requested that an intergovernmental negotiating committee start work by early 1998. With regard to the development of an international legally binding instrument for the application of 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 an international legally binding 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 Governing Council is planned, from 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.
For more information:
Tore J. Brevik
Chief, Information and Public Affairs
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya
Information and Media Officer
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya Tel: 254-2-62-3084,
UNEP News Release 1997/6