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Steiner on UNEP - UNIDO Inter-agency Cooperation

Speech by Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme to the Industrial Development Board of the UN Industrial and Development Organization (UNIDO)

Geneva, November 2006—It gives me great pleasure to address the Industrial Development Board meeting of UNIDO.

I am here via video link to explore renewal, re-engagement and to re-invigorate our long standing relationship—one found within our work in the network of National Cleaner Production Centers.

And through UNIDO’s involvement in UNEP’s Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production at the Wuppertal Institute, Germany.

I am here to also to share some ideas on how we can make both our agencies mutually supportive in ensuring sustainability is at the heart of social and economic development.

Above all I want to explore how we can work better towards achieving the internationally agreed development goals within the rapidly evolving environmental and industrial landscape of the 21st century.

Our engagement today comes against a backdrop of big events—of a swiftly changing world very much on the move.

We no longer have two stakeholders; we have three--the developed, the developing and now the rapidly developing countries of Asia and Latin America.

How do two modestly–sized UN agencies work together to achieve the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Johannesburg Plan of Implementation?

I refer here to the “ 10-year framework of programmes in support of regional and national initiatives to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production” or the so called Marrakech Process.

How do we make ourselves as relevant to Burkina Faso as to Brazil--where is our valued added in a country like China whose rapid economic development is putting it beyond the cusp of being a recipient of donor aid but a giver of aid in its own right?

There is an old proverb that “time and tide waits for no man”— this is particularly relevant today in a world facing so many acute challenges and also a welter of opportunities.

Challenges and opportunities ranging from overcoming poverty, curbing climate change and the rapid loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services up to international trade structures and globalization.

High Level Panel

Earlier this month the High Level Panel Report on UN Reform released its report which is now being considered by the Secretary-General.

It has been described as the biggest opportunity for the UN in a generation.

Within this report is the framework and the work culture we are called upon to pursue to ensure that the UN and multilateralism regain—some would say retain-- their role as the central delivery systems for a more equitable, harmonious and sustainable world.

I think we sometimes forget how the UN is perceived among some, if not many, of our overall constituents—the six billion people alive today on this planet.

A few days ago I happened to glance through a report carried by This Day, a Nigerian newspaper published out of Lagos.

I quote: “There are too many UN agencies competing with each other on the ground and for international influence…..developing countries find themselves struggling to manage the proliferation of donor funds and programmes. The UN is not the only culprit, but it is part of the problem, not part of the solution”.

“Simplification and better management would also encourage the big aid donors to channel more of their money into the multilateral agencies and spend less through their own, inevitably smaller programmes”.

Put another way, agencies of the UN are perceived by some as not a collective solution but a string of individual, dysfunctional entities each set on their own course, each after its own slice of the financial resource pie.

We should and must over turn these perceptions by acting in common, well-coordinated, and intelligent cause mindful of the fundamental, precious and timeless importance of the UN charter—but cognizant of the need to be adaptable and flexible to challenges now and those that lie ahead.

We must be the sustainability problem solvers--the ones who can look above narrow national self interest to the international and interconnected wider landscape beyond.

The Panel’s report is one defining moment of our time. But there are others which will also define our evolving relationship.

Climate Change-Working Together

During early November, Kenya and the UN Office at Nairobi hosted the climate convention talks.

There were several important outcomes which, albeit modestly, move the climate change agenda forward.

One, announced by the Secretary-General in a speech to ministers, was the Nairobi Framework.

It aims to build the capacity of developing countries in places like sub-Saharan Africa so they can better access the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.

One pillar of this is a new partnership between UNEP and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on capacity building for the CDM and on adaptation.

The partnership, very much echoing to the UN reform agenda, is part of an overall, closer, relationship between the development and environment wings of the UN.

It is designed to be practical and I would be keen to explore the interest and possible contribution of UNIDO within this new initiative.

Many countries, like those in sub-Saharan Africa, are being shut out of the CDM and the hundreds of millions-- if not billions-- of dollars expected to flow from the North to the South. The reasons are complex but can be addressed.

Firstly, many of the countries concerned do not have agencies able to pin point promising CDM projects on clean and renewable energy schemes let alone write winning CDM project proposals.

Secondly, many of these countries do not have the necessary legal, financial or regulatory frameworks in place.

Thirdly, many of the projects that might qualify are too small to attract outside investors.

Fourthly, many smaller developing countries need assistance to take part in the big Carbon Expos like the annual one held in Cologne.

Here they can participate in what one might call a CDM fair matching developing country projects with developed country backers.

So I ask the question, could our joint network of National Cleaner Production Centers play a role?

Could such centers become the CDM clearing house agency able to pin point promising projects and write those winning CDM project proposals?

Could such centers ‘bundle’ small-scale hydro or small-scale agricultural waste power plants together, so that they become one big CDM project attractive to the investors?

And what about adaptation and climate proofing economic sectors?

Many environment ministers in sub-Saharan Africa want swift and decisive advice on infrastructure projects.

They want to know how climate change—from droughts and floods to sea level rise—might impact on a new road, dam, agriculture or power plant scheme—ten, 20 or 30 years from now.

Would UNIDO wish to play a role here too, together with the UNDP-UNEP partnership?

Let me touch on other potential areas of cooperation.


UNEP, through its Division of Technology Industry and Economics, has developed a network of renewable energy entrepreneurs in Africa as well as in Latin America and China.

We are both aware that biofuels are rapidly emerging as one promising solution to the climate crisis—the G8 group of nations launched the Global BioEnergy Partnership as one outcome of the Gleaneagles Summit.

By 2020, around a fifth of mineral oils consumed world-wide could be substituted by bio-fuels.

But there are pitfalls of the kind spelt out by Lester Brown and his think-tank—the Earth Policy Institute—in a provocative article in the Washington Post in September.

“The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol would feed one person for a full year…no one is monitoring the escalating diversion of grain to fuel distilleries to ensure that it will not disrupt fuel supplies,” he wrote.

This is one scenario. Biofuels can also be produced from other sources like sugar cane as is the case in Brazil.

I have already discussed with Kandeh Yumkella, UNIDO’s Director-General, how UNEP could contribute to the UNIDO-Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN’s initiative on biofuels.

Certainly there is a clear need to swiftly develop some authoritative guidelines, or sustainability criteria, for biofuels.

There is also the potential for the establishment of small businesses producing and converting biomass into fuels using the renewable energy entrepreneurs model mentioned earlier and harnessing the skills of the National Cleaner Production Centres.

There are other areas we should explore too.

UNEP, through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has identified promising wind and solar power sites in some 12 developing countries.

Can UNIDO take up these findings to assist in installing technology on the ground?

Let me mention one other area on which we could build a strategic and more productive partnership in the future.

Basel Convention

As I speak we have the Conference of the Parties meeting of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

So far the Convention has not been entirely successful in establishing regional centers aimed at technology support and capacity building—the urgency for such centers has been given further impetus as a result of the recent dumping of hazardous wastes in Cote D’Ivoire.

Some times in the UN we are gifted at re-inventing the wheel. So I would be keen to explore if the National Cleaner Production Centres could be expanded or modified to encompass some of Basel’s needs as an alternative to stand alone Basel centres.

So ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues, the list of potential cooperation is long.

The chances for ever deeper partnership under the banner of UN reform and the wider reforms we must all undertake are real and significant.

We should also reflect that the UN reform package proposed by the Panel is not a final destination—it is the beginning of a never ending process of self-renewal, reflection and well-informed, well-thought-out and well-targeted action.

So we are not in the arrivals hall, disembarking from a journey, but in departures ready to undertake a challenging but also new and exciting safari.

UNIDO’s Director-General, will-- I am happy to relate-- be himself in departures in early February en route to Nairobi.

Kandeh, we sincerely look forward to welcoming you at UNEP’s Governing Council in February 2007 and hearing your ideas and a shared vision when you address UNEP’s gathering of environment ministers.

Between then and now, let us explore all the options.

It would be good to offer to governments new and concrete proposals and plans that demonstrate that action-orientated reform is alive and well between UNEP and UNIDO—that we know that a problem shared is a problem halved. It would be a fitting tribute for the 40th anniversary celebrations of UNIDO.

Thank you




Further Resources

UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

National Cleaner Production Centers.

UNEP Division of Technology Industry & Economics

Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Production & Consumption

WSSD Plan of Implementation

UNEP & the Millennium Development Goals

Report of the UN High-level Panel on System-wide Coherence

The Marrakech Process
10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production

UNEP Resources for Business

Green Awards
for Creativity in Sustainability

Basel Conference Addresses Electronic Wastes Challenge
UNEP Press Release

Steiner on E-Waste & Cote D’Ivoire Crisis at Basel COP Opening

Basel Convention


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