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Governments reaffirm UNEP's role as Environmental Conscience of the United Nations

New York/Nairobi, 15 December 1998 - Heightened political support by Governments towards the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and a solid reaffirmation of the organization's role as the environmental conscience of the United Nations are clear messages emanating from the 53rd UN General Assembly as it nears closure of the first part of its annual session.

"The Assembly's discussion of environment and sustainable development issues has unquestionably set the right tone for the upcoming 20th UNEP Governing Council, and augers well for its successful outcome -- the start of a new phase in the ongoing process of reform of the organization", said UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer

During the current session, the Assembly had three main reports before it of primary concern to UNEP: the results of the special Governing Council session held in May of this year; the report of the Secretary-General on implementing conventions related to environment and sustainable development; and the report of the Secretary-General containing the recommendations of his Task Force on Environment and Human Settlements, which was chaired by Toepfer.

Series of resolutions adopted

With the exception of the latter item, the Assembly or its Committees have already adopted a series of resolutions on a wide range of environment and sustainable development issues, including: the Governing Council report; international convention coordination; follow up to the Earth Summit and its five-year review in June 1997; the recommendations of the Parties to the three "Rio" Conventions (climate change, biodiversity, desertification); Small Island Developing States; El Nino and solar energy, among others.

On the Secretary-General's Task Force report, discussions are continuing under the UN reform agenda item as to the form and substance of the Assembly's recommendations. While it was clear from the formal discussions held two weeks ago that most Governments viewed the report positively, especially the establishment of an UN system-wide Environmental Management Group (to be chaired by the Executive Director of UNEP), a much fuller substantive debate may be required in the New Year.

Toepfer's efforts and UNEP's role recognised

In its resolution on the report of the UNEP Governing Council at its fifth special session, the Assembly particularly recognised Toepfer's efforts to revitalize and strengthen the organization. It also welcomed the positive role played by UNEP in the field of environmental management of chemicals, noting the successful adoption of the Convention on Prior Informed Consent in International Chemicals Trade (the "PIC" Convention) and the start of international talks on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).


UNEP, the principal UN body in the field of environment

Most importantly, the Assembly emphasised that UNEP must continue to be the principal United Nations body in the environment field; that its role is to be the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda and promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN system.

"While the Assembly still needs to pronounce itself on the major item of the Task Force report, the current session has proven itself to be critical to UNEP in the sense that political support to its ongoing reform efforts -- both programmatic and administrative -- needed to be reinforced at the highest levels", said Toepfer. "And, I'm sure that the reform and revitalization process of UNEP will take another positive step forward in February when the Governing Council meets," he said.


Note to Editors

The other main relevant General Assembly resolution dealt with "International institutional arrangements related to environment and development". Under its provisions, the Assembly recognised its own role in fostering progress in the implementation of the three Rio conventions and reaffirmed the need for greater coherence in the multiple intergovernmental processes through better policy coordination.

The Secretary-General has been asked for a follow up report on this issue, to which UNEP will extensively contribute under its new programme on environmental conventions. The UNEP programme is concentrating on the promotion of the development of coherent interlinkages among the conventions, in cooperation with their respective conferences of the Parties, or governing bodies. It is also coordinating UNEP's support to those processes, particularly the programmatic interlinkages.

The UNEP Governing Council will meet for its 20th session at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1 to 5 February, 1999.

For more information, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
Director of UNEP Information and Public Affairs in Nairobi
tel: (254-2) 623292, fax: 623692,

Robert Bisset,
UNEP Press Officer
tel: (254-2) 623084,

In New York, contact:
Jim Sniffen,
Information Officer,
UNEP Regional Office for North America
tel. (1-212) 9638138, fax: 9637341,

UNEP News Release 1998/132

Wednesday 16 Dec 1998
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