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New ministerial forum to guide UNEP: 19th Session of UNEP's Governing Council ends with governance question solved

Nairobi, 4 April 1997 - The resumed 19th session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) ended here today at UNEP headquarters with agreement on outstanding agenda item 4(d) Governance of UNEP. After two days of debate, delegates decided to establish a High-level Committee of Ministers and Officials in Charge of Environment, as a subsidiary organ of the Governing Council.

The new Committee will have the mandate to consider the international environmental agenda and to make reform and policy recommendations to the Governing Council. It will also provide guidance and advice to UNEP's Executive Director, enhance UNEP's collaboration and cooperation with other multilateral bodies (including the environmental conventions and their secretariats), and will help mobilize adequate and predictable financial resources for UNEP.

"This is a great step forward for the environment", said Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, UNEP Executive Director. "We now have a global forum for environment ministers - a means of keeping environmental issues at the top of the international political agenda where they belong. UNEP is now better equipped and empowered to evolve into the strong global environment organization that the world desperately needs," she said.

The new High-level Committee of Ministers and Officials will consist of 36 members, elected from among members of the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Members will serve for two years, and represent regions as reflected by the current structure of UNEP's Governing Council. The President of the Governing Council and the Chairman of the UNEP Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) will be invited to attend the meetings which will take place at least once a year in Nairobi and may also be convened elsewhere, in connection with major international environmental meetings. The European Community and other regional intergovernmental economic organizations may attend.

The Governing Council decided to strengthen the CPR which will now hold four regular meetings a year. The CPR's revised mandate includes: to review, monitor and assess the implementation of decisions of the Governing Council on administrative, budgetary and programme matters; to review UNEP's draft programme of work and budget; to review reports requested of the secretariat by the Governing Council on the effectiveness, efficiency and transparency of the secretariat's work; and to prepare draft decisions for consideration by the Governing Council based on inputs from the secretariat.

The next regular session of UNEP's Governing Council will be held in May 1999. A special session, to examine the results of the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session (Earth Summit +5), is planned for later this year in November. The new governance structure of UNEP will be reviewed by the Governing Council at its twenty-first session, with a view to assessing its effectiveness, taking into account any relevant results of the reform process of the United Nations system.

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Note to Editors

The 19th session of UNEP's Governing Council, which opened on 27 January and was temporarily adjourned on 7 February, was attended by ministers and high-level government representatives from over 100 countries. The meeting produced a strong ministerial statement on the future role and mandate of UNEP, and UNEP's programme of work for 1998/99 and a programme budget of $US75 million was approved. A pledging session delivered $US34 million to UNEP's programme activities. The UNEP secretariat was praised 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, until today, governments could not agree on the governance question.

Two central policy issues dominated that Governing Council's discussion in February - the governing structures of UNEP, and the nature and substance of UNEP's participation at the forthcoming Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly (Earth Summit +5). The main purpose of Earth Summit +5, to be held in New York from 23-27 June, 1997, is to review and appraise the implementation of Agenda 21, five years after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

With the June meeting in mind, UNEP's Governing Council adopted the 'Nairobi Declaration on the Role and Mandate of UNEP'. The Declaration sets the stage for UNEP to play a revitalized and focussed role in the United Nations system, and declares that UNEP should serve as the world's leading environmental authority, setting the global environmental agenda, while serving as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.

The Ad Hoc Intercessional Working Group of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), meeting in New York from 24 February to 7 March, also recognized the significance of the Nairobi Declaration and re-affirmed UNEP's role as the principal body within the United Nations system in the field of the environment. The Declaration has been 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 CSD in April, and to the UN General Assembly Special Session in June.

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
Email: Tore.Brevik@unep.org

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

UNEP News Release 1997/16

Friday 04 Apr 1997
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