We are now in the third year of the experimental merger of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and ASCOBANS Secretariats. This meeting will pave the way for a decision on the future of the Agreement to be made at the sixth Meeting of the Parties (MOP) later this year. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will strive to assist Parties in that process.
The UNEP-led review in late 2008 confirmed that the current Secretariat arrangements are heavily stretched but functional. The current team is carrying out all the main activities mandated by the MOP, despite some unforeseen major tasks and challenges and in a situation where the Secretariat was asked to achieve significantly more than last triennium with considerably less resources.
Patience is needed to realise all the benefits of the merger, but Parties are urged to keep the wider issues in focus – by being part of the United Nations and the UNEP/CMS family, ASCOBANS can in the end have more policy influence than if it was a non-UN treaty based in a public institution.
The UNEP-led review highlighted examples in terms of benefits to ASCOBANS: for example in outreach work or by building new links to the European Commission and the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
As Executive Director of UNEP I believe that ASCOBANS looking forward not back is indeed the way forward with an emphasis on "policies for practical conservation".
ASCOBANS Parties need to also reflect on their role in terms of the fulfilling the aims and the aspirations of the fundamental principles of the UN. It is my sincere hope that some of the apparent misunderstandings of the past year in terms of the role and responsibilities of the UNEP secretariat vis-à-vis the Parties and working groups, have been clarified-equally that trust and open lines of communication are being re-established so that the conservation work of this agreement can forge ahead in a spirit of constructive cooperation
ASCOBANS needs to join UNEP, CMS and other MEAs in improving environmental governance by welcoming opportunities for greater synergies. The crises we face in respect of biodiversity – and above all the threat to ecosystems and species from climate change – have common causes and in many cases, shared solutions. The recent UNEP Governing Council was very clear about rejecting a model in which governance becomes more and more fragmented. We all need to keep the bigger picture in mind and put into practice what the Governments have agreed to do.
This includes a look at all possible synergies and, where appropriate, harmonization with other regional cetacean agreements, as well as the European Community. By strengthening the framework and making it compatible with the sister Agreement ACCOBAMS, as well as by using their status as EU member states to ensure the necessary influence in this important forum, Parties can take the lead in turning ASCOBANS into a proactive conservation Agreement.
In order to fulfil its function, ASCOBANS needs a properly resourced Secretariat and a well functioning Agreement structure. UNEP therefore welcomes the proposal to bring the set-up of the Agreement bodies in line with the practice in virtually all other MEAs by separating a small Standing Committee that deals with policy and organizational matters, including budgetary and administrative issues, from the Advisory Committee. The AC should function best if it can give unbiased scientific and technical advice to the Parties. Such an arrangement allows for more efficient use of resources and time, as well as for more involvement of specialists in the Agreement's work between sessions of the Meeting of Parties.
I am confident that all participants in this meeting will strive to find the best solution for the many very real conservation problems cetaceans face in the Agreement Area. My representative at this meeting, Mrs Elizabeth Mrema of the UNEP Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, is looking forward to participating in debates that lead to positive and practical recommendations to be made to the 6th Meeting of the Parties in autumn of this year. I wish you a pleasant and successful meeting!