"My vision of UNEP remains as vibrant and optimistic as ever," said Toepfer. "It is a vision of UNEP with a strong environmental assessment, monitoring and early warning capacity. It is a vision of UNEP fully capable of raising consciousness and awareness and educating about actions that negatively affect the environment. It is a vision of UNEP that working closely with the scientific community - makes the link between scientific knowledge and mobilization of action among new and broader constituences."
In his policy statement, Toepfer says that significant progress had been made in revitalising and restructuring the organisation to meet the expectations of governments and to enable it to meet the complex challenges and risks facing our global environment. He then calls on governments to give the organization the resources it needs to do the job.
"The proposed biennial budget, or "financial envelope" of US$119.4 million before the Council for approval has been made in the context of the immense challenges and expectations of UNEP," Toepfer told assembled delegates. "This sum is, in my view, "the minimum financial level that would enable UNEP to regain the effectiveness, critical mass and operating capital that is essential to the execution of the programme of work."
Speaking to press after his speech, Toepfer said that the budget requested represents only a modest increase on the current biennium, and based on what governments agreed to in 1997, is merely linked to inflation.
"I don't believe that 60 million a year for the global environmental voice is too much to ask for," he said. "Especially when you consider the increased demands on the organisation with our expanded mandate."
In his policy statement, Toepfer says that the complexity of the new international environment heightens the need for international institutions that are adequately equipped, flexible and responsive to the emerging challenges. With limited capacity within the organization itself, UNEP must increasingly engage all relevant actors in developing the basis for environmental policy making and action. The focus must increasingly be on developing strategic partnerships and networks to involve all actors that can contribute to the best possible information basis for decision making, he says.
"Prevention is better than cure", Toepfer stresses. "Reliable, accessible and relevant monitoring and assessment is the basis of our approach to policy development. My policy statement and UNEP's organisational structure reflect this."
Looking beyond UNEP's five areas of concentration - environmental information, assessment and research; environmental conventions; freshwater; technology transfer and industry; and support to Africa - the UNEP Executive Director also singles out four "emerging and important environmental issues" that the Council might consider.
Acknowledging that the international community has made "tremendous progress" in the negotiation of the Convention on Prior Informed Consent and the positive on-going negotiations on Persistent Organic Pollutants, "our approach to chemicals is still partial," he says. "It is no longer adequate or acceptable to wait until the consequences of hazardous chemicals have permeated the environment before we act."
Proposing that the Council consider a "pre-emptive life-cycle approach" to chemicals that would establish early screening of chemicals before they enter into mass production, Toepfer reminds governments that chapter 19 of Agenda 21 had proposed a globally harmonised and compatible labelling system by the year 2000.
The UNEP Executive Director also proposes that the Council takes up "the precedent" offered by the Aarhus Convention on the right to public access of environmental information; that it builds on the "encouraging approach" taken by the G-8 group with respect to the enhanced enforcement of environmental law and prevention of environmental crime; and also looks at the role of UNEP in the Global Environment Facility.
The week-long Governing Council meeting, a forum for the international community to address major and emerging environmental policy issues, is being attended by environment ministers and government representatives from around the world. It culminates in a "high-level" segment from 4 to 5 February.
For more information please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
Conference Spokesman on
or Robert Bisset,
UNEP Press Officer on
tel: (254-2)-623084, fax: (254-2)-623692,
UNEP News Release 1999/10