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III - Executive Directors Reports

1. The Council considered agenda item 4 at the 2nd to 7th meetings of the session, from 27 to 29 May 1991. In considering the item, it had before it the following documentation: chapters I and IV of the 1989 Annual Report of the Executive Director (UNEPJGC.16/2); chapters I and IV of the 1990 Annual Report of the Executive Director (UNEP/GC.16/3); the introductory report of the Executive Director entitled "Environment in the 1990s challenges and demands" (UNEP/GC.16/4 and Corr.1 and 2), which was supplemented by reports on the environmental consequences of the armed conflict between Iraq and Kuwait (UNEP/GC.16/4/Add.1), early warning and forecasting of environmental emergencies, including the role of the Governing Council in strengthening the implementation of international legal instruments in the field of the environment and in helping in the prevention and assisting in resolution of environmental conflicts, a proposed United Nations centre for urgent environmental assistance, and the establishment of a green brigade (UNEP/GC.16/4/Add.2), World Environment Academy (UNEP/GC.16/4/Add.3 and Corr. 1 (English only) and 2), environment and economics (UNEP/GC.16/4/Add.4 and Corr.1), international co-operation, environmentally sound development and revitalization of economic growth (UNEP/GC.16/4/Add.4/Supplement 1), Fund target for 1995 (UNEP/GC.16/4/Add.5), special session of the Governing Council in 1992 (UNEP/GC.16/Add.6 and Corr.1), and UNEP's participation in preparation for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNEP/GC.16/Add.7); the report of the Executive Director on the environmental situation in the occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories (UNEP/GC.16/5 and Corr.1); and, the report of the Executive Director on efforts of chemical weapons on human health and the environment (UNEP/GC.16/6). It also had before it a note by the Executive Director transmitting the report of the Secretary-General on monitoring, assessment and anticipation of environmental emergencies (UNEP/GC.16/17); a note by the Executive Director on Governing Council Bureau meetings with bureaux of its counterpart organs (UNEP/GC.16/Inf.2); and, a note by the Executive Director on implementation of resolutions of the forty-fourth and forty-fifth sessions of the General Assembly and of the Economic and Social Council in 1990 (UNEP/GC.16/Inf.5). In addition, the Council had before it suggested action by the Council on issues raised in the introductory report of the Executive Director (UNEP/GC.16/L.5), and a draft decision submitted 'by the Committee of Permanent Representatives on effects of chemical weapons on human health and the environment (UNEP/GC.16/L.8).

2. Introducing agenda item 4, at the 2nd plenary meeting of the session, the Executive Director said that he was putting six

main proposals before the Council, proposals that elaborated on those submitted to the Council at the special session in 1990

and that were designed to strengthen institutional capabilities in environmental monitoring and management in the search for

answers to complex global environmental problems. They included:

(a) Expansion of the Earthwatch system in order to synthesize data from separate monitoring activities, issue comprehensive assessments and warnings of identified risks and critical thresholds and to build a bridge between scientific data, policy options and required action;

(b) Establishment, on an experimental basis, of a United Nations centre for urgent environmental assistance as a mechanism that would focus on technological emergencies and have as its essential components a register of experts and equipment a simple 'switchboard" function;

(c) Mobilization of environmental volunteers, with a view to harnessing the enthusiasm of people, particularly young people, to participate in environmental protection and in responding to environmental emergencies;

(d) Expansion of the role of UNEP in assisting in the avoidance of environmental conflicts;

(e) A proposal for the Governing Council to advise parties to treaties on the need for mechanisms to verify their implementation as means of reducing the risk of environmental conflict;

(f) A proposal to set up, on an experimental basis, a low-cost mechanism that could lead to the setting up of a "World Environment Academy", a centre of excellence for identifying gaps in research and training on environmental issues related to economics, population, natural resources and poverty alleviation and promoting the filling of those gaps by national, regional and global institutions.

None of his proposals involved a new institution and none implied anything

but a modest expenditure.

3. Other proposals concerned the periodicity, duration and organization of Governing Council sessions and the convening of a special, three-to-five day session very early in February 1992, solely to review the reports requested by the General Assembly or the Council itself for presentation to the United.Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Two of those reports were requested for the Conference itself, but he himself would strongly urge that they should go to the Conference through the Preparatory Committee.

4. Finally, he referred to the report on strengthening the capacity of the United Nations system to deal with major environmental problems being prepared, at the request of the General Assembly, for presentation to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development through its Preparatory Committee. Many constructive suggestions had been received, including the revival of the Environment Co-ordination Board, with development issues added to the Board's mandate. Any views of the Council on that important issue would help in refining the draft.

5. In conclusion, the Executive Director reminded the Council that the preparatory process for the 1992 Conference was as important as the event itself. Any delay of action on the part of the Council might be interpreted as a belief that environmental problems could wait. He urged the Council to meet the challenge entrusted to it by the world's people and demonstrate by deed its resolve to build global partnership.

6. The full text of the statement of the Executive Director was

subsequently circulated as document UNEP/GC.16/4/Add.9.

7. At its 2nd plenary meeting, the Council heard a statement by the Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), in which he noted the excellent collaboration between Habitat and the United Nations Environment Programme and the significant progress that had been made in establishing a similar relationship with the secretariat of the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development, with which Habitat was co-operating in the preparation of a consolidated background paper on human settlements and sustainable development for presentation to the Preparatory Committee at its third session, in August 1990.

8. Stressing the need to focus attention on the living environment of the world's people and the factors of urbanization, poverty, atmospheric pollution, housing and infrastructure deficiency that directly conditioned it, he said that Habitat had embarked on a series of important programmes directly linked to the goal of sustainable development, foremost of which was the Global Strategy for Shelter to Year 2000. Work on the Strategy was supplemented by Habitat's responsibility for the urban water resources and sanitation programme within the context of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which was linked to Habitat's waste management and recycling programme. Habitat was also involved with the human resource requirements of sustainable development, through its programme on settlements management and finance training and its community participation programme. It also supported institutional capacity-building through its urban management programme, carried out in collaboration with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme.

9. It was essential to realize that the real issue of sustainable development was not environmental protection per se but how environmental resources could be optimally managed to achieve sustainable social, economic and physical development. The Commission on Human Settlements at its thirteenth session had made a strong case for a two-pronged approach to the human settlements and sustainable development issue by the Preparatory Committee by which human settlements would be treated as both a distinctive substantive area as well as a cross-sectoral issue.

10. After briefly pointing out some of the positive aspects of urbanization, he expressed his satisfaction that among the many crucial environment/development issues he would have liked to have seen taken up in the preparatory process for the Conference, population growth, accelerated urbanization, and energy and transportation were now receiving some attention in the preparatory process for the Conference. He would also have liked to have seen women's special concerns reflected in the Conference agenda. He called upon the Council to lend the considerable weight of its opinion on those issues, which must not, however, be perceived in isolation.

11. The direct and immediate issues of environmental health and amenities must find a place in the Agenda 21 document, the implementation of which would be greatly dependent on how much success was achieved in forging an action-coalition of national Governments, industry, local authorities and communities with a strong self-interest in making settlements work and in maximizing their contribution to social, economic and physical development. There was also need for North-South and South-South co-operation in formulating and implementing the necessary protocols and action plans, and the countries of Eastern Europe must be brought into the network for the exchange of information on technologies and management techniques. Most importantly, the institutional arrangements within the United Nations system must also be strengthened, so that the agencies whose work was closely linked to sustainable development goals received greater resources to pursue their activities with sustained vigour.

12. At its 2nd plenary meeting the Council also heard a statement by the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, who said that the purpose of the Conference was to integrate issues being discussed in various forums, while avoiding duplication or competition. Conscious of that purpose, the secretariat for the Conference had instituted a work process which fully involved its partners in the United Nations system. on behalf.of the Secretary-General of the Conference, he conveyed his gratitude to the Governing Council and the Executive Director for their support.

13. Reviewing the status of the preparatory process, he said that the Secretary-General of the Conference had outlined a structure for potential outputs of the Conference, which had been discussed and broadly endorsed by the Preparatory Committee at its second session in March 1991. That structure contained three elements: first, a statement of principles relating to environment and development dealing with the relationship of humans to each other and to nature; secondly, an agenda for action in preparation for the twenty-first century ("Agenda 21"); and, thirdly, certain areas where action would include the formulation of global conventions, notably of climate change and biodiversity, it being essential to complement and avoid duplication with the ongoing negotiating process for conventions in those areas.

14. The implementation of Agenda 21, as well as the conventions, would require new and additional financial resources, arrangements for the transfer of relevant technologies, particularly to developing countries on fair and affordable terms, and legal and institutional development. With regard to financial resources, there was a need for financing for the implementation of specific conventions or legal obligations and for international action undertaken particularly by United Nations organizations to implement the Agenda 21, as well as a need to augment the flow of financial resources to developing countries to allow them to incorporate sustainability considerations into development programmes. The focus of discussions on technology transfer was on building the capacity required in developing countries to implement Agenda 21, the need for international co-operation in science for sustainable development, and a variety of issues relating to the transfer of environmentally sound technology. Issues related to legal and institutional developments included strengthening the mandate and capacities of UNEP; arrangements for co-ordinating environmental and developmental action in the United Nations system and in financial and aid institutions; the institutional implications of international agreements; the possible need for a new environmental authority or forum; the role of non-governmental actors; and, the strengthening of regional institutions and national capacities.

15. The Conference had to deal with developmental issues not just indirectly in relation to environment but also more directly, focusing on the links between poverty and environmental degradation; the links between growth, demographic pressures, unsustainable consumption patterns and environmental degradation; the links between international economy and sustainable development; and, the way in which incentives and disincentives embodied in prices, fiscal policy, trade policy, and other major areas for economic policy helped or hindered sustainable development.

16. In conclusion, he noted that the UNCED and UNEP secretariats were maintaining close contact at every level, and that UNEP was preparing several major studies which would contribute in a substantial way to the Conference process.

17. In the general discussion on agenda item 4, many representatives spoke of the importance their Governments attached to environmental matters at the national levy and gave a description of measures being taken or proposed in their countries to protect and enhance the environment and to achieve sustainable development. Many also gave an account of their Governments, involvement in bilateral, subregional, regional and international co-operation on environmental matters.


  • Annual sessions of the Governing Council
  • Independent external evaluation
  • Membership of the Governing Council
  • Special session of the Governing Council in 1992
  • Strengthening of UNEP
  • United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)