The UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer, said the decision to hold this meeting to coincide with the deliberations of COP-4 was an appropriate one as it enabled the participation of a large number of ministers of the environment. This sentiment was echoed by the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Secretariat, Michael Zammit-Cutajar, who said he was grateful for the timing of the meeting as it allowed ministers to get here early and further contribute to the COP-4 process.
In his opening statement, Toepfer described the "good progress" made by UNEP in each of its areas of concentration: support to Africa; development of an emergency response capacity and strengthening of early warning and assessment functions; the coordination and development of environmental policy instruments; water; and industry and technology transfer.
On the issue of UNEP reform, Toepfer said that the process of restructuring the organization was almost complete. "UNEP's restructuring is a strategic response to the changing institutional, programmatic and budgetary conditions. It is not a reactive or a mechanical gesture, or a public relations exercise," said Toepfer. "We want our shareholders, partners and constituents to know that we are making every effort to be focused on our mandate, to respond better to countries' needs, and to be cost-effective," he said.
"The functions of: environmental assessment and early warning; environmental policy development; environmental policy implementation; building mutual support among conventions; regional cooperation and representation; and communications and public information are fundamental to our leadership role in international environmental cooperation," continued Toepfer.
UNEP reform is guided by the Secretary-General's report on United Nations reform, the Nairobi Declaration on the role and mandate of UNEP, the policy guidance of the fifth special session of UNEP's Governing Council, and the report of the United Nations Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements.
Toepfer informed the meeting that the report of the Task Force, which he chaired, would be discussed by the United Nations General Assembly, starting on 18 November.
Other issues on the agenda included "Financing sustainable development: the role of UNEP in the financial mechanism. The Executive Director informed the Committee on the efforts made by UNEP to promote the implementation of multilateral agreements.
Discussing this issue, the ministers welcomed the strengthened role of UNEP as an implementing agency of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). They agreed to consider at the next meeting of UNEP's Governing Council, a plan of action aimed at enhancing UNEP's intervention in the GEF, in addition, and as a complement, to its core activities.
Several ministers congratulated UNEP on the progress made so far with regard to the efforts on reform. Various speakers emphasized the need for UNEP to set priorities. This observation was welcomed by Toepfer who said that "we were here to listen and learn." He also said that future meetings of the Committee would get down to the business of dealing more with substantive environmental issues.
The meeting was chaired by Hon. Simon Moyo of Zimbabwe. It was held at the Secretariat for Natural Resouces and Sustainable Development, Buenos Aires.
Note to Editors
The High-level Committee of Ministers and Officials was established by a decision at the nineteenth session of UNEP's Governing Council. It has the mandate to consider the international environmental agenda and to make reform and policy recommendations to the Governing Council. It also provides guidance and advice to UNEP's Executive Director.
The Committee consists of 36 members, elected from among members of the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Members serve for two years, taking into account the principle of equitable regional representation as in the composition of UNEP's Governing Council.
Note to journalists
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UNEP News Release 1998/117