Nairobi — Hundreds of environment ministers, decision makers, scientists, civil society representatives and business leaders are set to gather at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters next week to galvanize a new era of stronger action on pressing environmental issues.
The delegates will be making a small but significant piece of history by attending the first ever meeting of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF) under universal membership as a result of the Rio+20 Summit held last year.
As well as charting a course for a strengthened UNEP that will help transform a wide body of science into concrete policy action, the meeting will cover many pressing and emerging issues, including: sustainable consumption and production patterns and the post-2015 Development Agenda, financing options for chemicals and waste, and system-wide coordination on Rio+20 follow-up.
UNEP will launch new reports outlining emerging issues such as the global consequences of rapidly receding ice in the Arctic, the latest research on the impacts of chemical exposure on the hormone system of humans and animals, and an assessment of off-grid lighting in several countries around the world.
A major new UNEP-led technology initiative that focuses on the transfer of technology and expertise to developing countries in order to intensify the battle against climate change will be announced.
At Rio+20, Heads of State and governments decided to strengthen and upgrade UNEP - a move which represented the first institutional reform of the environment programme of the UN since the Stockholm UN Conference on the Human Environment established UNEP in 1972. This was followed by the adoption of a resolution at the 67th session of the UN General Assembly later in the year.
The decision to upgrade UNEP implemented the commitments made by world leaders to strengthen UNEP's work in addressing global environmental challenges, and to establish the organization as the leading international authority that sets the global environmental agenda.
"UNEP - with its long history of working with partners from governments, the UN family, cities, the scientific community, businesses and civil society - is entering a new phase that can better serve the needs of a growing global population while keeping humanity's footprint within planetary boundaries," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
"The theme of the Governing Council, Rio+20: From Outcome to Implementation, highlights that the time has come for the world to scale-up and accelerate the implementation of the array of treaties and transformational policies that have been agreed and successfully demonstrated across the globe for over four decades," he added. "From this landmark meeting, and as a result of reforms put in place in the last six or so years, UNEP is emerging better placed to maximize its potential to address the realities of and real opportunities for a sustainable 21st century."
40 Years of UNEP
Also, to mark the 40th anniversary of the organization, UNEP on Thursday launched UNEP The First 40 Years, a book by award-winning conservationist Stanley P Johnson covering forty years of UNEP's history.
The book - which is not an official UN history - charts the evolution of UNEP from its inception at the landmark Stockholm conference of 1972 to its position today at the heart of the global environmental movement.
"UNEP has come a long way from a small secretariat of around a dozen people, housed initially above a supermarket in downtown Nairobi, to the truly global institution we see today," said Mr. Steiner. "Mr. Johnson's account charts UNEP's growth in comprehensive detail; at the same time it serves as a fascinating history of the growth in awareness of the many environmental problems the world faces and the efforts put in place to tackle them."
The book ranges across an extraordinarily wide front; from early efforts to clean up dangerously polluted oceans, adopt urgent action to save the ozone layer, prevent the harmful dumping of toxic waste, protect biodiversity and save endangered species and fauna, to today's efforts to promote the Green Economy.
The book takes the reader behind the scenes to witness first-hand the role played by UNEP in complex and often-fraught negotiations resulting in landmark treaties such as the Mediterranean Action Plan and subsequent Regional Seas Programme, the 1983 Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, the epoch-defining 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.
Based on interviews with key actors at the time, such as former Kenyan Foreign Minister Dr. Njoroge Mungai, the book also details the delicate diplomatic manoeuvring which resulted in the fledgling organization becoming the first UN body to be headquartered in the developing world.
"Kenya always has been and remains an extremely welcoming host," said UNEP Spokesperson and Director of Communications Nick Nuttall. "Today, few question what a far-sighted decision it was to place the headquarters of a UN body in the developing world, but this narrative reminds one how radical it was at the time and the key role Kenyan diplomats played in that decision."