Press releases

Thursday 13 Dec 2001

Can the UN be a powerhouse for the environment?

13th December 2001 - Norwegian Minister of Environment, Børge Brende: "Through more than fifty years the UN has worked for human rights and peace. For this effort the UN and its Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan rightly deserve to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for 2001. The question is whether the UN also can be strengthened to meet the most probable greatest challenge during the next fifty years -the global environmental problems."

Through more than fifty years the UN has worked for human rights and peace.For this effort the UN and its Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan rightly deserve to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for 2001. The question is whether the UN also can be strengthened to meet the most probable greatest challenge during the next fifty years, -the global environmental problems.

By BØRGE BRENDE, Minister of Environment

Dramatic
It is now soon 30 years since the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was established. During these years we have experienced an ever-increasing threat towards the environment in the form of depletion of the ozone layer, climate changes, accumulation of poisonous substances in nature and loss in the biological diversity. The problems of a changing climate not only lead to water scarcity, increasing sea levels and more extreme weather conditions, but will also make large inhabited areas uninhabitable. In the future, the battle for natural resources will potentially become a source of terrifying conflicts. If a rapidly increasing human population is to have its needs satisfied, a better control with the problems related to environment and resources is urgently needed.

UNEP is today too weak to meet these challenges. 16 nations - among them Norway - now bear 90 percent of its financing. Since the contributions are voluntary, they are unpredictable, which again makes long-term planning difficult. Norway is of the opinion that more countries must contribute and commit themselves over several years. Only in this way can UNEP attain the necessary economical tenacity and predictability.

Many third world countries are facing such extensive environmental challenges that their basis for social and economical development is at stake. The third world countries also have problems in meeting the targets of several international environmental agreements, as economic growth is often given priority. At the same time the present international support to third world countries is too fragmented between various national and international agencies.

Norway has suggested a new partnership within environment and development, where a plan is developed to enable third world countries to meet their environmental commitments. This demands a greater effort from UNEP, and increasing opportunities to support environmental initiatives in third world countries.

A new high commissioner
UNEP should, in my opinion, gradually be upgraded to a special organisation on the same level as the World Health Organisation. This will entail commitment from the member countries and give the organisation greater international impact. A short time ago at a ministerial meeting in Canada I proposed as a first step that a separate high commission for the environment should be established - and organised under UNEP's Executive Director. A high commissioner would give the world an "ombudsman" that can lift the environmental challenges up to a higher level on the international agenda.

Creating impact on environmental politics demands substantial knowledge. The UN Climate Panel has been invaluable to obtain international acceptance for the necessary measures against greenhouse gas emissions. Without this panel it would probably not have been possible to achieve consensus on the implementation of the Kyoto protocol, as we managed in Marrakech in November.

At the meeting in Montreal I recommended that UNEP should also have its own scientific panel. This panel should monitor other significant environmental changes, among others the loss of biological diversity. When 40000 species disappear annually, there can be no doubt that there is a need for a better global overview over the "library of life". A scientific panel would provide a better basis for decision making for the global society, and give UNEP more authority and impact.

Our common challenge
Global environmental challenges also have consequences for Norway. Standing alone we have little influence on pollution coming from afar. Common challenges demand common solutions and a higher level of ambition. It is therefore necessary to give the UN the strength to become a powerhouse for the environment.
I have noted with interest that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has expressed that the Nobel Peace Prize may also be given for environmental achievements. To work for a sensible use of the world's nature and its resources is without doubt also a long-term peace creating effort. Nothing would please me more than that the UN could make itself worthy of such a prize.

Translated at GRID-Arendal by
Karen Folgen and Åke Bjørke

See original text in Norwegian in Dagbladet

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