World’s Environment Ministers Pledge Success of Rio+20 Summit

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 22, 2012 (ENS) – Environment ministers from around the world ended their annual meeting today by promising to make the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, a success.

The ministers and representatives from nearly 150 countries were attending the 40th anniversary United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum, which opened Monday at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi.

At UNEP’s 40th anniversary Governing Council meeting, from left front: Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary-General, Abu Dhabi Environment Agency; Izabella Teixeira, Environment Minister Brazil; back row, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

Expressing concern over “the continued environmental degradation” happening worldwide, the delegates described the Rio+20 conference slated for June 20-22 as “a unique opportunity to address the economic, social and environmental challenges in the context of sustainable development.”

The ministers said many of the environmental challenges glimpsed 20 years ago at the landmark Rio Earth Summit in 1992 are today’s reality – climate change, the loss of biodiversity and fisheries, deforestation and the decline in productive and healthy soils.

Three weeks in advance of the Rio+20 conference, on June 5, Brazil will host the UN’s annual World Environment Day.

This year’s theme, “Green Economy: Does it include you?” invites everyone to assess where the Green Economy fits into their daily lives and evaluate whether development towards a Green Economy can deliver the kinds of social, economic and environmental outcomes needed in a world of seven billion people.

Brazil also hosted World Environment Day in 1992, on the eve of the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

“In celebrating World Environment Day in Brazil in 2012, we are returning to the roots of contemporary sustainable development in order to forge a new path that reflects the realities but also the opportunities of a new century,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

Spain’s Environment Minister Federico Ramos de Armas presides over the UNEP Governing Council (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

“We are very pleased to host this global celebration for the environment. The World Environment Day will be a great opportunity in Brazil to showcase the environmental aspects of sustainable development in the warm-up to the Rio+20 conference,” said Brazil’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira at the Governing Council meeting.

During their three-day meeting, the environment ministers focused on the twin themes of Rio+20 – a Green Economy and an institutional framework for sustainable development.

President of the UNEP Governing Council Federico Ramos de Armas, who heads Spain’s Environment Ministry, said the Green Economy is widely viewed by ministers as a way to achieve sustainable development, poverty eradication and decent job creation “by increasing resource efficiency, supporting the shift to sustainable consumption and production patterns and facilitating low carbon development.”

In addition to the challenges of financing, capacity and access to relevant technologies for developing countries, Ramos de Armas noted concerns by some countries that a Green Economy might lead to trade protectionism.

“Many of the activities under the Green Economy approach can provide new opportunities for women to become key players in the local economy, especially in the energy, land management and water sectors,” said Ramos de Armas.

There was a high level of support among the ministers for strengthening UNEP’s mandate, authority and financial resources.

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki (Photo courtesy ENB)

Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki told delegates Monday that his government supports the transformation of UNEP into a specialized UN agency for the achievement of green development. He asked them to support the “African position and endorse the transformation of UNEP into a specialized organization based here in Nairobi.”

Over 100 countries, including members of the African Union and the European Union, have backed the upgrading of UNEP to a specialized agency of the United Nations as one of the Rio+20 outcomes.

Delegates supported greater involvement of major groups and stakeholders in any new institutional arrangements, including local and regional authorities, women, indigenous peoples, young people and the private sector.

Some 150 representatives from all regions and the nine major groups and stakeholders of civil society at a forum in Nairobi February 18-19 underlined the need for Rio+20 outcomes to be “actionable, measurable and implementable.”

Chantal-Line Carpentier of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs saidd that out of over 686 submissions received on the “zero draft” of the Rio+20 outcome document, 493 were from major groups.

She identified priority areas as: energy access, efficiency and sustainability; food security and sustainable agriculture; green jobs and social inclusion; sustainable water management; urbanization; oceans; and improved resilience and disaster preparedness.

But time to make key changes is running out, Ramos de Armas said in his closing address to the Governing Council.

“Time is not on our side,” he warned. “Rio+20 must take quick and immediate action to respond to the current environmental crisis. Delegates stressed there should be a clear decision on the institutional framework for sustainable development and international environmental governance.”

Current and former UNEP Executive Directors at UNEP’s 40th anniversary Governing Council meeting, from left: Achim Steiner (2006-present) ; Mostafa Tolba (1975-1992); Elizabeth Dowdeswell (1992-1998) and Klaus Töpfer (1998-2006) .

Steiner said, “The world’s ministers responsible for the environment have sent a clear signal to the Rio+20 summit – namely that there needs to be an urgent focus on scaling up implementation of sustainable developments and that bold, transformative decisions need to be taken in four months’ time in Brazil.”

“The three take-home messages from this Governing Council, the last global gathering of the world’s environment ministers, are these. The scientific understanding about what is happening to the planet as a result of past and present development paths is far clearer and far more sobering than 20 years ago. And two – there is overwhelming support for a transition to a global economy along pathways proposed in UNEP’s Green Economy Report in order for it to deliver positive social and environmental outcomes across all nations.”

“Thirdly, said Steiner, “incremental reforms of the current architecture and management arrangements of planet Earth is leading seven billion down an unsustainable path and a very uncertain future. It is time to implement the decisions and directions of the Rio 1992 Earth Summit so that this generation of world leaders and ministers can deliver on the promises and the vision of a previous generation.”

Norway’s Environment Minister Erik Solheim in Nairobi (Photo courtesy ENB)

As a tangible recognition of UNEP’s mandate and achievements, the government of Norway has committed NOK 200 million (US$35 million) for the period 2012-2013.

This contribution is in addition to Norway’s annual support to the core funding of UNEP and its support to key programs such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation in Developing Countries, REDD.

Norway has doubled its support to the UNEP-UNDP Poverty and Environment Initiative to meet the increased demand from developing countries for advice on the integration of environmental concerns into national development policies.

Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim emphasized UNEP’s role within the UN system of integrating environment and development.

“Ultimately,” Solheim said, “this funding is a mark of Norway’s trust in UNEP. It will strengthen the organization’s science-based policy work based on the GEO-report and other flagship publications and enhance UNEP’s ability to support countries efforts to develop a low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive economy.”

The GEO-5 Summary for Policy Makers was negotiated and endorsed at an intergovernmental consultation in South Korea in late January. It was launched Monday at the UNEP Governing Council Special Session.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.