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Address by Dr. Klaus Topfer,Executive Director United Nations Environment Programme to the Second Meeting of the High Level Committee of Ministers and Officials

Nairobi, 2 March 1998 - Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers, Dear colleagues, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,

Heartily welcome to Nairobi, heartily welcome to UNEP, heartily welcome to the UNEP family and to this conference site.

Today I complete exactly 3 weeks as the Executive Director of UNEP. I consider holding this post a great honour and privilege for me.

I am very glad you have come to Nairobi to attend the second meeting of the High Level Committee of Ministers and Officials.

First of all, of course, I want to congratulate our new Chairman, H.E. Mr. Moyo. I am certain that under your able leadership, Your Excellency, your dedication, your wisdom - we will achieve good results - and good results are urgently needed. I also wish to thank the members of the Bureau and congratulate its new member, H.E. Mr. Janusz Radziejowski, the Vice- Minister from Poland. I extend my special thanks and gratitude to the interim Chairmen of the High Level Committee, H.E. Minister Alsogaray from Argentina and our good friend Philippe Roch from Switzerland. I think they have done a remarkable job in the past months and

I sincerely hope they will continue to support us in our future tasks. Knowing the tight schedule of Ministers and High Officials, I really appreciate your investing precious time to give advice on how to achieve a successful future for UNEP.

Let me take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the important Committee of the Permanent Representatives to UNEP, to its Chairman H.E. Dr. Alex Kamugisha from Uganda and to the members of its Bureau.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I know of your close engagement in UNEP matters. I hope for a good cooperation and that the Secretariat performs in ways that satisfy your expectations.

May I also express my special welcome to the Minister of Environment of our host country, H.E. Mr. Francis Nyenze. He has been appointed as the Environment Minister of Kenya just a week ago. I appreciate your taking the time to be with us for these days.

Once again, a hearty welcome to all of you.

Ladies and Gentlemen, as I stand before you in my new position as the Executive Director, I recall my first visit to this conference hall to attend the Governing Council of UNEP in 1987. I was then the new, and to some extent, a fresh Environment Minister of my country. I had the pleasure to listen to the impressive speech of Dr. Mostafa Tolba in this very hall.
He spoke of his intensive work with regard to the development of global environmental conventions, the problems of the ozone layer and last but not least he was blaming all the Ministers present that they were unable to agree on stable and sufficient financial contributions to UNEP.


Recalling those days seems like a dream. We met then and we meet again today in the same place. But even after ten years the topics of our agenda have not changed much. This is not just a nostalgic glance back. It is mainly to remind us that we still have a long way to go in achieving our common aim.

Though this meeting is being held just three weeks after my arrival, I appreciate this opportunity of welcoming my colleagues from around the world here in Nairobi, to seek their advice, to seek their opinion and their wisdom. Your counsel will also be invaluable in preparations for the forthcoming session of the Governing Council and therefore I appreciate the presence of the Chairman of the Governing Council, H.E. Mr. Gabaldon, from Venezuela.

But let me also tell you, I was not only waiting for you - my stockholders, my bosses - to come to Nairobi. I am quite convinced that it is essential for me to be available in your capitals, in your regions to learn of the problems you are faced with, to learn a little bit more with regard to your expectations towards UNEP and to receive your advice. During my three weeks in office I have been doing just that.

I appreciated very much my deliberations with the Environment Ministers of the European Union just before I left for Nairobi. I will be going to Lima next week to attend the 11th meeting of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean. I hope to meet very soon with the Ministers in other regions as well. I have just returned from Malaysia where I attended the Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Basel Convention, a very important meeting indeed. Another important regional meeting coinciding with this was the meeting of the ASEAN Ministers of the Environment. They had gathered in Kuching to discuss the effects of the forest fires in the region and on how to best combat the problem of the haze.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues. I give high importance to this meeting of environmental leaders and experts. The world looks to us and expects us to address the environmental issues of pressing importance at the present time. These forest fires threaten a serious economic and environmental fallout across the entire region. They pose a tremendous risk to human health. Satellite photos prove about 1000 fires are burning now in East Kalimantang. Last year, these bushfires had sent, as you know, a choking smoke over much of South East Asia and they threaten to do so again this year with even greater destructive impact. Our ASEAN colleagues requested me to ensure that UNEP and the United Nations system, the United Nations family is mobilized urgently to join in the efforts in fire fighting, and in the development of preventive measures.

It is my sincere belief that we should join together as a family to respond to this environment catastrophe. Of course, I shall be raising this issue during my visit next week to the United Nations Headquarters in New York and I hope to discuss it at one of the next meetings of the Senior Management Group of the United Nations. Environment disasters such as the forest fires are mirrored in many forms in many parts of the world. I refer to the effects of the El Nino phenomenon which has caused and is still causing disasters, especially in our host country Kenya, not forgetting the disastrous floods in Mexico and other parts of the world.

The United Nations must be ready to respond to these challenges promptly and effectively. It is UNEP's task to develop this capacity to sound early warnings and catalyze action within the United Nations system and even beyond.

Ladies and Gentlemen, many friends and journalists have asked me What is your "Leitmotiv"? Now I can tell you what my "Leitmotiv" will be. It will be "Continuity and Change".

UNEP has achieved much in the past 25 years of its existence, with help and support from member states and their Permanent Representatives.

I would like to take this opportunity to salute my predecessors, especially Elizabeth Dowdeswell. She did her very best to cope with a very difficult time in global environmental policy. I want to thank, of course Dr. Mostafa Tolba and Mr. Maurice Strong. Most of the notable initiatives in the field of global environmental policy in the past, owe their origin to their creativity and dedication. UNEP has contributed to the development of conventions, the protocols, the regional sea programmes, and the discussions concerning small island developing states. All this and much, much more has come from the UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi. I believe that we will have to make an effort to live up and to meet those high standards in the future.

But five years after the Earth Summit at Rio, international commitment and awareness to the concept of sustainable development has changed and even to some extent weakened. The world leaders are preoccupied with the solution of regional conflicts as well as with distortions in the economy and financial markets and a high rate of unemployment.

Thus, we are faced with the challenge of bringing the concept of sustainable development, especially the integration of the environmental dimension of sustainable development, back to the centre of the international policy agenda.

This is not an easy task but it must be done.

The sustainable use of natural resources will be an increasingly important key issue of the global political agenda. It will become an essential part of security policies in the future.

Of the challenges facing the world community in the next century, none will be more formidable as the attainment of a sustainable balance between economic growth and development, poverty reduction, social equity and the protection of the Earth's resources, commons and life-support systems.

It is clear that the world of the 21st century will be predominantly urban with more agglomeration oriented settlement patterns. And the transition to global sustainability will largely depend on the success in ensuring the sustainable development of our cities, towns and villages. Peace in future will depend to a great extent on whether we are able to develop especially the megacities in a sustainable way. Thus, a far more integrated systematic approach of environmental requirements to policies and programmes throughout the whole range of United Nations activities in the economic, social and development fields is needed through mainstreaming the organization's commitment to sustainable development.

To this end, the Secretary-General has set up a Task Force which he has asked me to chair. The Task Force is charged to review existing structures and arrangements through which environment and environment- related activities are carried out within the United Nations and to prepare proposals on reforming and strengthening United Nations activities in the environment and human settlement areas. The report will have to be submitted to the Secretary-General by the 15th of June 1998 and after approval the report subsequently will be submitted to this year's General Assembly. I will come back to this issue during the item-wise discussions of our agenda.

Let me now turn to the new dimensions of environmental policy.

We are still faced with a fast growing population. During the five years after the Earth Summit, we have added 400 million more people to our population. That is exactly the number of the overall population of Europe. Therefore, we urgently need environmentally friendly technical processes to be available all over the world, especially in the developing countries. UNEP must play its role in the ongoing negotiations on trade and environment. We should not resign in the face of the so called limits to growth. We are challenged to extend those limits in a sound sustainable manner.

I have been the Executive Director as I mentioned only for three weeks. Therefore I will not dare to present to you something like a comprehensive strategy on UNEP's work in the future, especially being aware of the fact that the last Governing Council had endorsed the Nairobi Declaration.

But I am convinced, that despite UNEP's achievements in the past UNEP must provide better means for bringing emerging environmental issues and problems of international and regional significance to the attention of the world community. UNEP should provide a forum for effective dialogue among member states, and with non-governmental organizations and the private sector, leading to programmes that respond to both global and regional needs. In addition, UNEP's responsibility for securing agreements on innovative legally binding instruments will remain crucial.

UNEP must develop other innovative instruments to foster more uniform standards and practices among nations. Early warning systems, priority setting, and the development of information concerning hot-spots to alert nations of potential conflicts over common, shared resources are badly needed as is proven in the case of the forest fires which I just mentioned.

Let me also refer here to the issue of global freshwater resources which has attained a prominent place in the global environmental arena. I am pleased to see this topic on our agenda. The Commission on Sustainable Development has also taken an important initiative in this regard for its 6th Session. In this context I would like to refer to a number of international conferences such as the recently concluded one in Harare, the one in Bonn starting today and a conference in Paris later this month.

I really believe that this High Level Committee must provide clear advise as to what UNEP's role with regard to freshwater should be.
In UNEP, we might focus our attention towards forging a regionalized Global Programme of Action on Water along the lines of the Global Programme of Action on Land-based Sources of Marine Pollution. This Global Programme of Action would be an innovative instrument in a new disarmament policy, for example in the hot-spots of water scarcity. Future generations will have a chance to, at least, avoid conflicts over access to a vital natural resource.

The second important feature of freshwater is of course that it is an indicator of sustainability per se. Its quality and availability indicates the level of social development within a community. It is an indicator for poverty, it indicates social tensions and it is also a proven indicator, for the quality of the environment.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues, another field for our new dimension is UNEP's role vis a vis the conventions and protocols. The role should be enhanced to serve the member nations better. Besides functioning as a secretariat, UNEP should do more to assist the parties in the further development of these conventions, which are linked to UNEP. There are many synergies between the different conventions and protocols. These need to be identified and made use of - not only for administrative reasons, but also to avoid incompatible regulations on issues addressed by more than one convention. UNEP developed these conventions, now it should also become a partner in the implementation phase. Let me give one important example: Besides the regulatory approach UNEP should examine from the environmental point of view the application of economic instruments - as mentioned in the Kyoto Protocol. I am of the view that UNEP's capacity in this field, currently available for example in Nairobi, in Geneva and in Paris must be consolidated. We must form a new unit to look at these instruments from the environmental point of view and examine ways and means of implementation, for example in the Kyoto Protocol and elsewhere. UNEP must become the driving force as well as a committed partner for agencies like the World Bank, OECD, UNCTAD and others which are already working in this field.

It is necessary to participate in the discussions on sinks with a view to COP-3. It is necessary to discuss the possible trade off between the six gases agreed on by the Parties. I want to underscore my decision to improve UNEP's role in IPCC.

Regarding UNEP's role in the implementation of the Conventions I agree with the Secretary-General's recommendation that UNEP should not focus on country level projects. Nevertheless I believe that we must continue to develop pilot projects, for example, for education, for capacity building, for a better cooperation in the regions. UNEP must become an agent for change - that stimulates complements and accelerates action.

UNEP should enhance its activities in the field of cleaner production. "UNEP approved" should become a globally accepted trademark. At Kuching, during the Fourth Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, we agreed that the incineration of hazardous waste is environmentally sound given the proper incineration technologies. Even better was to develop clean technologies which leave lower quantities of hazardous wastes. The badly needed change of production pattern towards cleaner production needs stimulus. Among other things it could be brought about by a change in consumption patterns.

Another area of high concern for UNEP is chemicals. I have reasons to be optimistic that UNEP with FAO will finalize negotiations for a legally binding instrument on Prior Informed Consent Procedure on certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade in March this year. UNEP is currently working towards an agreement by governments to establish a legally-binding instrument for reducing and ultimately eliminating the manufacture and use of Persistent Organic Pollutants, which are considered to be a major global environmental hazard. Negotiation on POPS will begin around the middle of this year.

Finally we must focus our attention on making the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bratislava a real success, despite certain unresolved problems.

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends

Much of UNEP's ability to carry out its mandate and responsibilities hinges on the level of resources available. I appreciate that the financing of UNEP occupies a prominent position on our agenda. There are many areas in which UNEP could improve its profile but given the financial situation, chances of improving UNEP's profile are very slim indeed. The future financing of UNEP is a matter of great urgency and high priority. This was recognized by the 19th session of UNEP's Governing Council and is stated in the Nairobi Declaration which calls for a strong, effective and revitalized UNEP. The Nairobi Declaration confirms that the revitalized UNEP to operationalize its mandate needs adequate, stable and I would add growing and predictable financial resources. The Governing Council for example at its 19th session approved for fund programme activities the overall sum of 137.5 million US Dollars. If the total contribution for 1998-99 remain at about the projected level of approximately 87.6 million US Dollars, then substantial parts of UNEP's work programme, already agreed on by the member states, cannot be implemented. Therefore we have intensively to discuss ways and means to improve the financial situation.

Let me take the opportunity to thank those governments who have already paid their contributions in full and in some cases increased them. I must thank those governments who have already paid their contributions in January and February. Otherwise we would be facing a very, very dramatic situation with regard to our cash flow. I have noted with satisfaction that the number of governments contributing to UNEP's environmental fund has grown by 40% over the last biennium. Some are contributing for the first time or after a period of non-contribution. I have to thank you all for doing so. I shall be available for discussions on this topic.

If governments want UNEP to regain a high profile, they must be ready to provide predictable financial resources. In view of the serious difficulties that UNEP is facing today, I urge governments to pay their contributions in full and as early as possible.

Believe me, we need this psychological signal urgently. I hope that next year we can prove that this psychological signal was a wise investment in our future.

I am very grateful to all those countries who have given us earmarked contributions knowing of course that it is much better to have non earmarked money. But we need both. Please, do try to raise your contributions in the future.

UNEP will make efforts to reduce administrative costs. It is an advantage that the Secretary-General decided that I was also to be the Director General of the United Nations Headquarters in Nairobi. I will do my utmost to strengthen Nairobi as an important location of the United Nations family. I hope we can use these dual rsponsibilities to reduce administrative costs. I am convinced that there are overlappings and duplications in administration, and that we must make a better use of UNON in the future.

Another issue of high relevance is the improvement of the communications system at the United Nations Headquarters in Nairobi. For strengthening the presence of UNEP and other United Nations institutions in Nairobi, we need a modern infrastructure including modern information communication technologies. I hope that in the framework of this High Level Committee we can finally reach an agreement with the Kenyan Government. This might only be the first step because all United Nations institutions in Nairobi need to be linked to the modern communication system. I sincerely hope that the ongoing negotiations will lead to good results.

I would like to thank you once again for attending this meeting. I look forward to working with you in the coming years in our common endeavour for development that is both sustainable and environmentally friendly, it must be a sustainable development.

Let us take up the challenge and remake UNEP the environmental voice of the United Nations as stated in the Secretary-General's Reform Programme.

A very convincing signal to the global community must come from this Committee. It must be a signal that we not only talk but are also able, prepared and committed to act.

Thank you very much.

Monday 30 Mar 1998
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