It is a pleasure for me, on behalf of the Executive Director, to welcome you all to the United Nations in Nairobi and to UNEP headquarters. Together with our sister agency Habitat, we are the only United Nations headquarters located in the developing world.
It also gives me great pleasure to formally open the intergovernmental consultation on strengthening the scientific base of UNEP.
At the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment (GC/GMEF) Forum in Cartagena in February 2002, Environmental ministers agreed that the increasing complexity of environmental degradation required an enhanced capacity for scientific assessment, monitoring and early warning. The ministers recommended that: “Further consideration should be given to strengthening UNEP's scientific base by improving its ability to monitor and assess global environmental change including, inter alia, through the establishment of an intergovernmental panel on global environmental change.”
In order to strengthen the scientific base of UNEP the twenty-second session of GC/GMEF initiated an in-depth and participatory consultative process involving governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and the scientific community. This consultative process is what we in UNEP have called the Science Initiative.
The ultimate challenge underpinning UNEP's Science Initiative is how to better connect cutting edge science to policymaking, thereby creating a true partnership for keeping our environment under review. We need to understand what is happening in our environment and why, in order to protect it and secure the well-being of present and future generations.
Your deliberations will be important in order to promote our common and shared understanding of the challenges we are confronted with in terms of the three key questions:
• What are the likely gaps and types of assessment needs with respect to the environment and environmental change?
• How are the United Nations Environment Programme and other organizations currently meeting those assessment needs?
• What options exist with respect to meeting any unfulfilled needs that fall within the role and mandate of the United Nations Environment Programme?”
We have, as requested by the Governing Council, consulted governments, IGOs, NGOs and the scientific community on how to identify and address gaps and types of assessment needs related to the environment and environmental change. UNEP received more than 150 responses, including 75 from Governments, a response rate of almost 40%. This is a very good, not least given the fact that we are dealing with highly technical and complex issues. Clearly the level of interest expressed in the survey is a sign of the importance of the issue in front of you today and tomorrow.
The Executive Director has, as requested by the Governing Council prepared a synthesis report based on the findings of the consultative process. An independent analysis and synthesis of responses was carried out under the auspices of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE). The key findings were then presented in a synthesis report that is before you today, and is available on the web together with all individual responses received.
The Executive Director was further requested to facilitate this intergovernmental consultation taking into account available funding, transparency, regional balance and adequate developing country participation, in preparation for the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum at its eighth special session in Jeju next March. We would like to thank the governments of Norway and the Netherlands for their generous support to this consultative process and the intergovernmental consultation in particular.
I don’t want to go into details of the findings, as the documentation for the intergovernmental consultations will be properly introduced later. I would however like to point out two key issues alluded to by many respondents with respect to thematic assessment needs.
The first key issue is: - Can the combination of different human pressures on the environment lead to sudden and irreversible changes? In other words, do we fully understand how the earth system is reacting to the unprecedented and increasing pressure on the environment?
The second key issue is: - Do we fully understand the role of environment as a provider of services that alleviate conflict and poverty and promote fair trade? In other words, do we understand how environmental change may affect human well-being?
It was evident that we do not fully understand these questions, and that we need to assess the inter-linkages between different forms of environmental change and between environmental change and human well-being.
• We need this knowledge to pave the way for more integrated and cost effective environmental policies for implementation of national obligations under international environmental law.
• We need a more coherent approach to implement these obligations in all relevant sectors of society. and
• We need to target all relevant sectors in order to ensure that environmental management contributes to the development goals such as poverty alleviation.
The Executive Director has taken advantage of the intergovernmental consultation to organize a two-day meeting of leading scientific and technical experts, which took place yesterday and the day before. An informal one-day interagency meeting on 16 January 2004, to discuss interagency follow-up on the outcomes of the intergovernmental consultation will also be held. Participants to these meetings have also been invited to be observers at this intergovernmental consultation. I hope this will facilitate dialogue between the groups.
The conclusions of your deliberations will enrich the findings of the synthesis report. It will be an important input to the Executive Director’s report to the eighth special session of GC/GMEF. It is the hope of the Executive Director that your deliberations would pave the way for compromise solutions with respect to issues under considerations by GC/GMEF. One such issue where the synthesis report shows that a number of countries have taken a keen interest, both for and against, is the proposed establishment of an Intergovernmental Panel on Global Environmental Change.
Having said that I would like to remind ourselves that General Assembly Resolution 2997 (XXVII) of 1972 gives the overall responsibility for keeping the world environment situation under review to UNEP Governing Council. It is clearly up to the Governing Council to decide what intergovernmental measures need to be taken in support of its endeavor to fulfill this responsibility. The fact that the GC/GMEF called for this consultation shows that the issue before it required further intergovernmental deliberations. Your findings will also assist us in prioritizing our further programmatic activities in the area of environmental assessments.
Finally, allow me to wish you every success in your discussions and deliberations over the coming two days.