To mark the 20th anniversary of the Geneva Environment Network, a high-level discussion on environmental governance was organized at the place where, almost 50 years ago, the first governing council meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) took place, setting up UNEP and the Sustainable Development Agenda. The event also discussed how international Geneva can continue to contribute to put environment on the highest political agenda.
Welcome and introduction
The event started with UNEP Executive Director, Inger Anderson, highlighting how the organization is deeply thankful for the two decades of Switzerland's support to the Geneva Environment Network, a platform for sharing, policy and engagement.
In its welcoming remarks Switzerland reminded the audience that in 1962, Rachel Carson shocked with her book the “Silent Spring,” informing about the adverse effects of chemical agriculture and became quickly a trademark of environmental activism.
Ten years later, the conference on the Human Environment in 1972, held in Stockholm, reflected the growing interest in conservation issues worldwide and laid the foundation for global environmental governance. The final declaration of the Stockholm Conference was an environmental manifesto that was a forceful statement of the finite nature of the Earth’s resources and the necessity for humanity to safeguard them. The Stockholm Conference also led to the creation of UNEP to coordinate global efforts to safeguard the natural environment. In that respect, the United Nations were at the time a forerunner that took on the environmental concern from the public and academia, establishing principles and concrete measures at the international level.
Today, almost 50 years later, Switzerland suggests we question how we can ensure that the UN still stands for this leading role in environmental protection, and what are the challenges we face. We must work on inherent and underlying environmental problems and emerging concerns in a synergistic way and bring these issues onto the highest political level, formulate policy options and provide policy guidance.
Many of the underlying and emerging issues are part of the questions on how to achieve sustainable production and consumption pattern, for example the one on global plastic pollution. One figure that underlines this importance is that to date, 8,300 million metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced, 79% of this waste has accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.
Geneva is a place where the UN strive to forge multilateral solutions to global concerns. With respect to global plastic pollution, the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention agreed this year in Geneva to amend the Convention, to improve the control of plastic waste exports.
The International Environment House is a place where under a common roof a range of UN and non-governmental organizations are active in the field of environment and sustainable development. It is a symbol for a UN that is not restricting itself to its silos but open to engage and collaborate with other UN agencies and stakeholders. In the context of the topic of plastic pollution, it is also a symbol because we don’t’ only need all actors to promote solutions, what we need are different actors working together, finding synergies among their activities and competences, and delivering results.
As the plastic issue in the ocean concerns the whole life cycle and sustainable patterns of production and consumption, Geneva, as a true environmental hub, and UNEP in the lead, can draw from the expertise from and synergies with other organizatons such as UNCTAD, WTO, WHO, ILO and others. With the Environmental Management Group they have a tool to foster the collaboration among the actors and enhance synergies.
Introductory remarks by Sweden
Accelerating - Action - Ambition – Urgency – Unprecedented - Transformation - Change – Science - Youth - Envolvment - Stakeholders - Partnerships - Coherence - Synergies - Cooperation - Integration - Implementation - Capacity - Support. These are all words used by Sweden in official statements related to the global environmental agenda that imply actions and also inspire the work of the Geneva Environment Network. They signal recognition, willingness, the need to do more. What we are committed to is not always enough or we are not implementing in the speed that the challenges araise.
The assessments we do are approaching issues by issues and not looking at the systematic approach. The solutions require integration. We should look at the driving forces and opportunities as the science is clear - we need to do more and we need to do it together.
Introductory remarks by Kenya
Science is clear. We need more efforts to avoid a global environmental crisis, with a point of no return. The conference of Stockholm in 1972 initiated the global effort to address environmental problems and led to the creation of UNEP, the global environmental authority, that Kenya proudly hosts. Kenya is also active in taking actions to address these issues, under the leadership of its President. Kenya aims to increase its forest cover from 7% to 15% by 2022, to coincide with UNEP’s 50th birthday.
The Geneva Environment Network has been instrumental in promoting increased cooperation and networking among its members and provide public outreach on environmental issues in international Geneva. Geneva is a hub for environmental governance, and in hands with Nairobi can contribute to address global environmental issues to achieve SDGs, and enhance cooperation and coherence among our institutions. Kenya will continue to play its role in the multilateral agenda on environmental-related issues.
Inger Anderson, Executive Director, UNEP
Isabelle Durant, Deputy Secretary General, UNCTAD
Marie-Clarie Graf, Vice-President, Swiss Youth for Climate
Nikhil Seth, Director General, UNITAR
Maria Mendiluce, Managing Director, WBCSD
The event was live on facebook.
Photos © UNEP, Digna Francisco. Available on BRS MEAs Flickr.
RECEPTION (12:30-13:30) (Watch Reception Welcome video)
(offered by Switzerland & Geneva authorities)
HIGH-LEVEL DISCUSSION (13:30-15:00) (Watch Discussion video)
Welcome & Introduction
Inger ANDERSEN, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme
Sebastian KÖNIG, UNEP Focal Point, Switzerland (on behalf of Swiss Ambasssador for the Environment, Franz PERREZ)
Johanna LISSINGER PEITZ, Senior Advisor, Swedish Ministry of the Environment
H.E. Amb. Cleopa K. MAILU, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kenya
Discussion on the role of Geneva in placing environment on the highest political agenda
Inger ANDERSEN, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme
Nikhil SETH, Director General, United Nations Institute for Training and Research
Isabelle DURANT, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
María MENDILUCE, Managing Director, Climate & Energy, Cities & Mobility and Circular Economy, World Business Council for Sustainable Development
Marie-Claire GRAF, Vice-President, Swiss Youth for Climate
Moderator: Bruno POZZI, Europe Director, UN Environment Programme