Dialogue with Former Executive Directors: 1972-2012
A review of the Evolution of Global Environmental Policy and Institutional Architecture

Nairobi, 20 February 2012

Keynote Address by H.E Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas

President of the Governing Council,
Honourable Ministers of Environment,
Executive Director,
Former Executive Directors,

Firstly, let me extend my sincere appreciation to Mr. Achim Steiner – The Executive Director of UNEP, for inviting me to be part of the twelfth special session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environmental Forum. I am particularly delighted for the opportunity given me to be one of the keynote speakers for this dialogue session. This is an important landmark as the world is bracing up with vigour in preparation for the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012.

The United Nations Environmental Programme, as we know, is an institutional “arrowhead” with the mission of providing leadership and encouraging partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and people to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

The institutional responsibility attached to this laudable mission of UNEP embraces all aspects of human endeavours. This is implicitly built in the mandate of coordinating the development of environmental policy consensus by keeping the global environment under review and bringing emerging issues to the attention of governments and the international community for action.

President of Council, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In reviewing the evolution of global environmental policy, I am quite in agreement that the road from Stockholm (1972) to Rio+20 (2012) is of significance; it has been a remarkable journey.

Stockholm hosted the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE). For the developing countries, it was an opportunity to craft and present a Southern position on global environmental issues.

It could be recalled that the position presented by the developing countries, in the words of the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that “poverty is the worst form of pollution” gained prominence in Stockholm. Then, many of the developing world saw environmental concern in the North (developed countries) as an effort to sabotage the South’s developmental aspiration. For most environmentalists at that time, development (especially industrialisation) was the most important cause of environmental problem and challenges. Environmental negotiation trends today still reflect that position to some extent.

Twenty years down the road from Stockholm to Rio (1992), the developing countries position had not really changed in any significant way, but the paradigm of the discourse on global environmental problematique had begun to shift, most importantly with the advent of the language of “sustainable development”.

The fact that this process was transformed to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) meant that the link between environment and development had been formally globally accepted.

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), commonly referred to as the Rio Conference or Earth Summit, succeeded in raising public awareness on the need to integrate environment and development. In the preparatory process for the Rio Summit in 1992, there were a number of proposals for institutional reform to address the challenges of sustainable development of which environment is a major component.

UNCED adopted a number of crucial agreements, including the Rio Declaration, and the landmark “Rio Conventions” [Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)].

It also created new international institutions, among them the Commission on Sustainable Development, tasked with the follow-up to the Rio Conference, and the reform of the Global Environment Facility.

At the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002, the focus was clearly on the issue of implementation and effectiveness of implementation. The summit also demonstrated a significant evolution in the very content of what constitute the substance of global environmental governance.

Sustainable development was then recognized as an overarching goal for institutions at the national, regional and international levels. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) highlighted the need to enhance the integration of sustainable development in the activities of all relevant United Nations agencies, programmes and funds, and the international financial institutions, within their mandates.

Both the Rio Conference and the Johannesburg Summit enhanced appreciation of the importance of healthy ecosystems and healthy environment to improve human well-being for present and future generations.

After the Rio Summit, and despite progress since Rio, it has become apparent that the global economy based on current pattern of consumption and production is placing heavy stress on many ecosystems and on critical life supporting systems. At the same time, extreme poverty persists in many parts of the world, despite the fact that the world gross domestic product (GDP) has increased by roughly 60 per cent since 1992.

While growing prosperity makes it possible for some countries to address some environmental problems, others have continued to worsen with globalisation, expanding population and economic activities. Land degradation, climate change, biodiversity loss, disruption of the nitrogen cycle, sea level rise are few of the looming global problems.

Considering the role of developing countries through the lens of the Stockholm, Rio and Johannesburg, a lot of lessons were learnt on which the forthcoming sustainable development discourse can be build.

President of Council, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me at this juncture to zoom on ACP Group countries specific initiatives.

Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Countries in the ACP region suffer from low financial capacity, skills and technological capabilities which exacerbate their exposure and vulnerability.

Effective strengthening of the capacity and resilience of these countries, should be a priority concern for the whole international community because ACP countries have more than 20% of the world’s youth (2009), constitute 40 of the 48 least developed countries in the world and 41 of our members are Small Island Developing States or low lying coastal States.

Their stakes in achieving sustainable development are high. The Cotonou Agreement provides the 79 ACP countries a common platform to leverage financial and other resources for increasing their capacities and meeting their sustainable development goals through green economy policies and programs.

On the road to Rio+20 Conference in June 2012, ecological concerns should not only be seen as necessary part of sustainable development, attention should also be paid to developmental and equity concerns. In this regard, the issues of climate change, food security, water, energy, ocean and seas, natural disaster, forest and biodiversity, land degradation and desertification, chemicals and waste, sustainable consumption and production amongst other developmental issues should be sufficiently addressed.

In that regard, there is an urgent need to strengthen UNEP if we are to empower the developing world in facing its sustainable development needs and concerns. It is for that reason that we support the decision from the recent Summit of the African Union on the African consensus for Rio+20 Conference that the international community should strengthen and consolidate the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and transform it into a specialised international environmental institution to be based in Kenya.

Let’s work together for a better world today and a brighter future.

In these times of austerity we must avoid parallel processes, duplication of efforts or the creation of new international bureaucracies. The task at hand is urgent and pressing. Let us get to work. Let us work smartly, utilising existing institutions, tools and instruments efficiently and effectively.

I thank you.

H. E Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas
Secretary General
ACP Secretariat