Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to welcome you to the first-ever hybrid meeting of the Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives. My warm greetings to delegates joining in-person here in Nairobi, and to those who are online around the globe. In an uncertain world, the continued determination of Member States to make headway on environmental governance is to be applauded.
A hybrid setting to kick-start this critical process ahead of the UN Environment Assembly is indeed new terrain. But if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we adapt when it matters – and we can all agree – this moment matters and matters greatly. If we left COP26 in Glasgow acutely aware of the enormity of the environmental challenges ahead, the work you do this week and at the resumed fifth session of UNEA signals the resolve of the global community to rapidly agree on multilateral solutions that can make a real difference in improving people’s lives.
Excellencies, the agenda before you is ambitious, to say the least. You have 16 resolutions and one draft decision to deliberate on in a complex hybrid setting. Many delegates will be joining negotiations virtually. Time is of the essence because after all, this is a shorter Assembly, reflecting the fact that UNEA 5.1 already handled the approval of the Medium-Term Strategy, Programme of Work and the budget.
But we know that while the stakes remain very high, we can together land firmly on the finish line – agreeing to a limited set of substantive and strategic outcomes that can have the maximum impact in global efforts to address the triple planetary crisis. The crisis of climate change; the crisis of biodiversity loss; and the crisis of pollution and waste.
So, as you embark on this intense undertaking, I ask you to be flexible; to be focused; to allow science to help you prioritize; to be inclusive; and to use the power of words to build solidarity, consensus and action. As many of you have heard me say before, we do this together, or not at all. In particular, I call on all Member States to engage in the negotiations on the draft resolutions with an eye on delivering on a package of ambitious outcomes. A package that focuses on what has not been addressed previously by the Assembly or elsewhere. A package that zeroes in on what is new and urgent. A package that avoids the risk of spreading ourselves and UNEP, too thin, fragmenting our mandate and diminishing our collective impact. When it comes to resolutions, more is not necessarily better.
I do not need to tell you the world is watching – yes, with anxiety but also with hope – because for the first time in history, we are seeing unprecedented global momentum to tackle the plague of plastic pollution.
Excellencies, you have a real chance to reshape our relationship with plastic once and for all in agreeing to start negotiations on a strong and comprehensive global agreement to tackle plastic pollution. I have gone on record to state that such a deal would be the most significant global environmental governance decision since the Paris Agreement in 2015. Such an agreement will also ensure we commit to securing a plastic pollution-free future for the people who need it the most – our children. I ask you to be bold and to be determined so that we can land at a daring and meaningful resolution that kick-starts global action to put the brakes on plastic pollution, from source to sea.
In the weeks ahead, I assure you that you have the full support of the Secretariat, as we stand in support of your success – because when you succeed, people and the planet succeed as well.
Over the course of the last year, we at UNEP have worked hard to raise our game as well. In 2021, we worked to provide greater clarity on functions, form and finance through embedding across UNEP, strong internal accountability structures. In the context of the new Medium-Term Strategy, we sharpened our approach on how we will deliver the Programme of Work for you, the Member States, including how we will deliver through the reformed UN Development System. Diversity and inclusivity– both in the UNEP family and in the science we produce is a key priority. I am committed to improving the geographical diversity of our workforce. In my Report to Member States, I outlined a four-point plan to address this issue. This includes targeted awareness initiatives to enhance outreach and to establish a new UNEP programme that taps into new talent in less or un-represented regions and Member States.
Similarly, and as UNEP’s new contribution to the Science Policy Interface lays out, strengthening the science-policy interface requires us to look beyond the so-called “traditional” sciences, to learn from social and behavioural sciences, and transdisciplinary approaches to land at science which speaks to and with the language of policy. This also requires us to take a critical look at “who” is the gatekeeper of the knowledge we produce and here too UNEP is committed to doing the work to widen diversity, in scientists, in institutions we work with, in reviewers and so on. Diversity gives us strength and resilience and I am confident that UNEP will be able to tap into diversity to effectively meet the environmental challenges before us.
And finally, a word on resource mobilization. 2021 marked the highest contributions to the Environment Fund since 2015. A clear indication that Member States have full confidence and trust in UNEP. My deep gratitude to the 79 Member States who have contributed to the Environment Fund and to the 39 Member States that contributed as per the Voluntary Indicative Scale of Contributions. However, I should note that UNEP only received 78 per cent of the approved budget for 2021. Further, many Member States are yet to contribute. And speaking from a historical lens, as we mark 50 years of UNEP, allow me to note that the founding fathers of UNEP envisioned a funding base for the Environment Fund of US$100 million a year. When adjusted for inflation, this would equal roughly US$ 600 million today. This is the magnitude of ambition that dominated the establishment of our institution.
I call on Member States to continue to fuel UNEP as we move into our new MTS – seeking to become more agile and flexible. Our ability to deliver on the new MTS and to deliver on emerging priorities requires a predictable, stable and flexible funding base.
This imperative becomes even more critical considering the OECD-Development Assistance Committee (OECD/DAC) review of UNEP’s ODA-eligibility, just released on 11 February. Following the review, OECD/DAC has proposed to reduce UNEP’s co-efficiency rating from 100 per cent to 79 per cent on the basis of a generic methodology that does not recognize all of UNEP’s normative and scientific work as ODA eligible. However, it is precisely this work, that establishes the raison d’etre of UNEP’s support to developing countries.
Last year’s DAC proposal was also to reduce to UNEPs co-efficiency rating to 79 per cent. However, based on the concerns we, and some of you raised last year, the DAC Chair agreed to maintain the co-efficiency rating at the previous 100 per cent for 2021. Unfortunately, DAC has now resubmitted the same proposal for consideration by DAC members now in 2022. Many OECD countries use this coefficient to determine their contribution to UNEP’s Environment Fund. Let me be very clear, should OECD member states agree to this downgrading of UNEP, this would be a serious blow to UNEP’s resources and our ability to deliver the Programme of Work to support developing countries in their efforts to tackle the triple planetary crisis. So, I strongly urge all OECD Member States to engage directly to fix this. The comment period on this proposal ends in less than one week, ironically on the same day as we open the UN Environment Assembly when we gather to set UNEP’s continuing support to developing countries. So, we need your attention and action this week, during the OECPR. UNEP cannot fix this without your help -- we count on your efforts to support the UNEP Programme of Work and its Budget by working with us to maintain the ODA coefficient at 100 per cent.
In just a few days we will be commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of UNEP, a moment to look back with pride at the evolution of the multilateral environmental movement, and to look forward with grit and determination to how we will rise for people, for the planet, and for the sustainable development goals. I am confident this will be one for the history books. My huge thanks to Member States who continue to work hard to land a powerful and visionary political declaration. As you may recall, speaking at the 157th Committee of Permanent Representatives, I outlined the importance of such a declaration to launch a “we the peoples movement” for environmentalism. I have complete faith in the commitment of Member States to push forward on this.
As I end my remarks to you, I am reminded of the words of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who speaking at the 1972 Stockholm conference on the human environment noted, “We are gathered here under the aegis of the United Nations. We are supposed to belong to the same family sharing common traits and impelled by the same basic desires, yet we inhabit a divided world.” I submit to you Excellencies, that UNEA 5.2 is our chance to demonstrate the solidarity and vision that a divided world so desperately needs.
I thank you for the hard work that you will be undertaking this week and look forward to our deliberations.