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Opening of the Ministerial Segment of the IGR-2

Speech by Achim Steiner, Executive Director United Nations Environment, at the Opening of the Ministerial Segment of the GPA 2nd Intergovernmental Review
16 - 20 October 2006, Beijing

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ducie atoll may not be familiar to all delegates attending this Second Intergovernmental Review of the Global Programme of Action (GPA) but in many ways it should be.

This tiny uninhabited speck at the far flung end of Pacific island chain, symbolizes the challenges this global voluntary initiative faces.

A few years ago a team of scientists, logging new species of biodiversity on nearby Pitcairn Island, popped over to Ducie out of curiosity.

What they saw horrified them.

In a morning’s stroll they catalogued almost 1,000 items of rubbish, litter and junk-- from old bread crates to plastics, a punctured football, discarded meat tins, toy soldiers and two toy jeeps.

Their unattractive haul—collected on a site almost 6,000 km from the nearest Continent—was visible pollution.

That is bad enough.

But much of the contamination swelling round our oceans and seas is less visible and less easy to spot with the naked eye. But we know it is there in abundance courtesy of national and international scientists contributing to the UNEP/GPA’s important work.

A few weeks ago I had the honour to launch the GPA’s State of the Marine Environment report in The Hague, Netherlands.

It underlines some progress, including progress for example, on oily wastes discharged from the land to the sea.

But the overall picture is worrisome and in far too many cases worsening. Far too many of the GPA’s nine key pollutant indicators—sewage, sediments, nutrients and the kind of marine litter found on Ducie-- continue to rapidly head in the wrong direction.

The magnitude of wastes threatens public health to economically productive coral reefs, mangroves and other ecosystems important for life and livelihoods.

On one level we might conclude that the GPA and its aims remain ‘paper tigers’.

But that would mask progress made in laying the foundations for action and for some real and genuine positive impacts starting to be realized.

So far more than 60 countries have developed national programmes of action some of which have involved revisions or enactments of new laws in areas ranging from coastal policy, water policy and integrated coastal management.

Examples include Bangladesh, Barbados, Costa Rica, India and the Philippines.

Rehabilitation and conservation of mangroves—important coastal ecosystems that act as fish nurseries and natural pollution filters—are happening in countries like Bangladesh, India, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.

Many countries are also increasing national budgets for GPA-related issues. India, for example, spent more than $120 million in 2005 backed by over $700 million from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

Funds are flowing from other sources. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), a multibillion dollar project financing initiative aimed at assisting developing countries meet environmental challenges, has invested $1.2 billion through its International Waters programme catalyzing co-financing of a similar amount.

Meanwhile, the principles of the GPA have been endorsed by key industry and business bodies including the International Association of Companies, the Central Dredging Association and the International Ports and Harbours.

New laws or Protocols aimed at tackling land-based sources have been introduced or revised by several regional seas programmes including the Black Sea, Caspian Sea, the Nairobi Convention covering East Africa and the Abidjan Convention covering 18 countries in west and central Africa.

The Global Programme of Action with support from the GEF has catalyzed the establishment of investment funds that should further progress against land based pollution. A $400 million fund now covers the East Asia seas; a $380 million Mediterranean and another $400 million covering the Black Sea and the Danube.

I also read this week with interest the pledges of our host country China to treat 70 per cent of its waste water in five years time. Over 175 wastewater treatment works are under construction.

Congratulations to Zhou Shengxian, Minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration.

So what this Review meeting must do is speed up these and many more actions needed to guarantee healthy and productive seas and oceans for this and future generations.

The question is how? How do we ensure that we deliver satisfactory accounts to the next generation—ones that are in the pink, not in the red.

Where this week do we find fair wind needed to propel the GPA towards its ultimate goals?

That, fortunately for me, is the ultimate responsibility of you the governments attending this meeting and I look forward to the ministerial dialogues starting this afternoon.

But let me make a few observations and comments.

GPA and the Millennium Development Goals

The goals and targets associated with the Millennium Declaration call for a mainstreaming of the environment in sustainable development.

(MDG 7 Ensure environmental sustainability and Target 9: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources)

The GPA must be part of this integration across governments and across ministries. Healthy and productive seas and oceans are everyone’s responsibility--are an integral part of poverty eradication and sustainable development.

GPA in the emerging context of improved ocean management

The GPA also has its part to play in meeting the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s 2010 target—to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity.

The value of marine ecosystem goods and services has been estimated at US$ 20.9 trillion a year, approximately 63% of the total estimated value of all systems on Earth.

The last century was an industrial one. The new century will increasingly be a biological age.

Millions of species living in the deep oceans have yet to be discovered.

Seamounts, for example, are home to cold-water coral reefs and forests, sponge beds and hydrothermal vents.

Over 850 unknown species were recently found on seamounts in the Tasman and Coral Seas.

It is estimated that only less than one percent of the world's seamounts have been explored.

In New York, informal discussions are underway to limit, ban or restrict in some way, highly damaging bottom trawling on the high seas.

Fingers crossed, but we may see a successful outcome to these talks when the outcome goes to the General Assembly in November.

The GPA covers coastal waters, so what do we do about those outside Economic Exclusive Zones? Maybe the GPA has lessons that can be applied to the wider oceans and the wider challenges facing the marine world.

GPA as a flexible instrument of environmental management

Global Programmes of Actions are not new. They have been developed, besides for land based sources of pollution, for marine mammals, for least-developed states, for small island development states. In fact, Agenda 21 and the JPOI of Johannesburg can be seen as Global Programme of Action or GPAs.

Lately, GPAs as a flexible environmental management tool have received further attention: the SAICM adopted a GPA; a GPA for forests is under discussion in the framework of UNFFC; and GPAs have been mentioned as possible instruments for improved management of high seas, mountains, and mercury.

The Guidance document, prepared by the GPA and discussed yesterday, illustrates how GPA can be adapted to the rapidly changing realities of our world. A lot of lessons have been learned through the implementation of this GPA: the GPA to address land-based sources of pollution and the physical alteration and destruction of habitats. As the international environmental community, we might wish to reflect, now while we can still see the forest through the trees, which way we want GPAs to go, how will we integrate them, how will we learn from those ongoing, how will we avoid that they each establish their secretariat and work programme, possibly leading to a further fragmentation of the environmental field. As the “father” of the GPA this meeting might wish to devote some attention to these questions.”

GPA and the UNEP coasts and oceans programmes

UNEP is the Secretariat of the GPA and as such is here to ensure the responsibilities of the programme are properly discharged.

UN reform is very much on the global agenda. Well, I can announce a mini reform!!.

In order to streamline UNEP’s overall work on coasts and oceans, I am happy to announce that the GPA, the Regional Seas, Small Island Developing States and corals, are now under one division.

GPA and the link with IWRM

It strikes me as vital that the management of freshwater and marine worlds are brought ever closer.

Indeed, one outcome of this meeting would be for all governments everywhere to take concrete steps to end this artificial separation between ministries that has been the norm of the past.

For we know what ends up in rivers, invariably ends up in the seas and oceans.

In UNEP, we have and are ensuring an ever closer link between our freshwater programme and the GPA—in other words an ecosystem approach to water management.

In doing so we are responding to the 2005 Integrated Water Resources Management part of the 2002 Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

GPA and the Bali Strategic plan

Finally let me highlight the 2005 decision of the UNEP Governing Council when it approved the Bali Strategic Plan on capacity building and technology transfer.

Bali demands that we no longer implement programmes in isolation and with a short-term perspective in mind. Bali requires that we integrate across sectors, mainstream into national development processes, assess our impact, including on the state of the environment in the long run. Bali requires that UNEP, to a certain degree, adopt another way of doing business.

I see the programme of work of the GPA Coordination Office, as presented to you yesterday, as a test case for this new approach in UNEP.

It lays the foundations for such a new approach, a UNEP more responsive to the needs of the countries and more geared towards supporting the mainstreaming of environment into development processes.

The proof will be that Bali implementation is fully mainstreaming throughout the work of the GPA Coordination Office, and as such, throughout UNEP.

Emerging Threats Mean we Need More GPA not Less

Honourable Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Honourable Ministers, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I as the new Executive Director of UNEP places a lot of hope on this meeting.

A meeting to achieve concrete results, a meeting to move the international coast and ocean agenda forward and a meeting which will result in increased action at the national level.

Because without doubt, the need to address marine pollution and damage takes on ever greater urgency.

In a few short weeks, UNEP’s headquarters in Kenya, will play host to the United Nations Framework Convention talks with some 6,000 delegates.

In the past 12 months, the science of climate change and the impacts on the Arctic to the Tropics, on the oceans to the mountains, have been almost daily headlines.

The link between this important Review here in Beijing and the climate conference in Nairobi, will be underlined later today.

We will be launching a rapid response report on the recovery rates of coral reefs following the climate-related bleaching episodes of 1998 when surface sea temperatures climbed as high as 34 degrees C.

Bleaching episodes that are likely to become more frequent as a result of climate change.

The work, centred in the Seychelles, indicates that reefs in Marine Protected Areas and away from land based sources of pollution and human impacts such as dredging are faring and recovering far better.

Confirmation, if confirmation were needed, that healthy and less uncontaminated ecosystems are more likely to survive and to continue to function in a climatically-altered world.

So, ladies and gentlemen, please set your sights high because that is where they should and must be trained for the sake of this and future generations.

As Robert F Kennedy said:”Every generation inherits a world it never made; and, as it does so, it automatically becomes the trustee of that world for those who come after. In due course, each generation makes its own accounting to its children”.

I hope the next generation of scientists visiting Ducie atoll can count birds rather than bread crates and turtles rather than old tin cans.

And if they go for a swim or cook up some crustaceans, the price paid is not a prolonged spell in the nearest clinic or hospital because the seas there as elsewhere are now healthy and pollution free.

Once again Honourable Vice Premier, thank you very much for hosting this meeting and to all of you for your active contributions. I look forward to useful discussion in the next 2 days.

Thank you.




Further Resources

IGR 2 Official Website


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