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OPENING ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE GOVERNING COUNCIL

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

As the representative of my country, Venezuela, it is a great honor for me to have this opportunity to chair the fifth special session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme.

I cannot conceal from you the satisfaction and optimism I feel at witnessing a period which marks the political revitalization of the United Nations Environment Programme.

If we look back just one year, we will recall that the nineteenth session of the Governing Council of UNEP began with the general conviction that the institution was undergoing a profound crisis. We were not clear as to how UNEP would regain its leading role in the development of the international environmental agenda. The debate on the governance of UNEP questioned the Governing Council’s ability to guide the institution politically, in circumstances which demand that important decisions should be taken in an expeditious and timely manner. Moreover, financial contributions had dwindled considerably, which compelled us to cut back on a large number of work Programmes.

Times of crisis are propitious for discussion and sterile debate. Still in my mind is the crude confrontation we faced, but perhaps it was necessary in order to exorcise the demons that were on the verge of devouring us, to encourage us to reflect, and to generate the consensus which today has re-established optimism, credibility, and a truly constructive climate.

Three factors have contributed to this new direction. In the first place, there was the approval of the Nairobi Declaration on the Role and Mandate of the United Nations Environment Programme. The role of UNEP must be clearly and accurately stated as the leading global authority in the field of the environment. The Nairobi Declaration is the guiding document enabling us to embark on the essential process of reforming UNEP. Our Declaration has been widely welcomed within the United Nations, and secretary-general Kofi Annan himself has referred to it in the context of the

General reform of the Organization that is taking place.

Secondly, I would like to refer to the decisions we adopted at the nineteenth session of the Governing on the governance of UNEP.

This was the most polemic topic, but our political skills enabled us to find a solution. The High-level Committee of ministers and Officials has held two meetings, and is proving to be an active and useful body in contributing to the steering of UNEP in an appropriate political direction.

Thirdly, the appointment of Dr. Klaus Topfer as the New Executive Director has helped to restore confidence in UNEP and its leadership. His international prestige in the field of the environment, his political experience and managerial abilities, fully qualify him to manage out organization successfully.

This triad of elements now constitutes the foundation on which out renewed optimism will grow and is the basis for the revitalization of UNEP. Before us lies an important agenda to be covered during this fifth special session of the Governing Council.

We must critically review the results and decisions of the special session of the United Nations General Assembly for the purpose of an overall review and appraisal of the implementation of Agenda 21.

Looking back at what happened at that special session, analyzing the documents approved and hearing the comments made at a series of international meetings in which I was fortunate enough to participate, there is, in any opinion, no reason to be satisfied with the results of the implementation of Agenda 21 over the period following the Rio de Janeiro conference. In view of this situation, UNEP cannot merely sit back as an observer. It has an immense responsibility for the development of Agenda 21 in the sphere of the environment.

This is why we must make a concerted effort to maximize our role as catalysts of progress in implementing Agenda 21. This goal must be uppermost in our minds, so that during the forthcoming days whatever resolutions are necessary may be adopted.

Within this same context there is another important item on the agenda: the assessment of UNEP’s management and administrative support. The Committee of Permanent Representatives, pursuant to Governing Council decision 19/22, has submitted a very well thought-out report containing important proposals that must be carefully analyzed. Within the general framework of the Nairobi Declaration, the report of the Committee of Permanent Representatives must constitute a basic element to be considered in designing UNEP’s Programme of internal reform me that at this special session he will present in outline of UNEP’s internal reform Programme, which will obviously form a key aspect of our deliberations.

We also have to consider the important conclusions adopted by the High-level Committee of Ministers and Officials on matters pertaining to the reform of UNEP and its financing, and aspects considered as priorities on the international environmental agenda. Very special attention must be given to the initiatives aimed at affording priority to the treatment of freshwater within the implementation of Agenda 21.

Finally, during our deliberations, we should deal with the issue which, for me, represents the most important challenge confronting UNEP at this moment. Within the terms of the Nairobi Declaration we should analyze the way in which UNEP can act as the coherent link between the different international conventions.

For example, the changes forthcoming as a consequence of the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are going to define very important aspects of the global environmental agenda. The magnitude of these changes is such that UNEP cannot stay on the sidelines. The same is true of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Ladies and gentleman, I would once again exhort you to be constructive in the work you undertake. I also be your help and indulgence in the course of this meeting. As always, I am open to any suggestions and criticisms that may be in order. Please be assured that my involvement is motivated only by my desire to strengthen UNEP.

Let us take every possible advantage of the propitious climate that the organization is currently experiencing.

Thank you very much.