Opening Remarks by UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner at the Open-Ended Meeting of CPR to UNEP Mon, Feb 15, 2016

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UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and H.E. Julia Pataki, Permanent Representative of Romania to UNEP and Chair of the Committee of Permanent Representatives

Nairobi, 15 February 2016

Your Excellency Ms. Julia Pataki, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Romania to UNEP and Chair of the Committee of Permanent Representatives, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the second meeting of the Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives. A very special welcome to all delegates joining us from capitals and other duty stations. Your presence here is a true reflection of the universal nature of the United Nations Environment Assembly.

This meeting is an important milestone in UNEP's incredible journey, which began after the Stockholm Conference in 1972, when UNEP was born here on a coffee farm in Gigiri. This journey has taken us to landmark summits in Rio, Johannesburg, and back to Rio - and just last year to New York, and finally to Paris.

The world has come a long way since 1972. Forty years ago, we struggled to move discussions on the environment from the periphery to the centre of the development debate. By 1992, the environment had become widely accepted as one of the three dimensions of sustainable development, but the world had yet to be convinced that sustainable development was the only possible path.

In the visionary words of Maurice Strong, a truly special and incredible man, first Executive Director of UNEP, who passed away only a few weeks ago, when he spoke at the opening of the Earth Summit in 1992 "No place on the planet can remain an island of affluence in a sea of misery. We're either going to save the whole world or no one will be saved"

By the time we all came back to Rio in 2012, the universal nature of the environment agenda had finally been recognized, and UNEP had finally come of age. The establishment of the United Nations Environment Assembly cemented UNEP's position as the world's leading authority and principle advocate on environmental matters. That important designation has humbled us, and inspired us to pursue our mandate with renewed energy and commitment.

Over the next five days, you will no doubt be very busy getting ready for that big meeting that's coming up at the end of May. But what you're doing here this week isn't just prep work for UNEA-2. This OECPR is a vital forum in itself - a landmark in UNEP's journey, and one that will help determine the organization's direction and place in the global arena.

The work you do this week will help determine whether UNEA lives up to the mandate that it was given in Rio. The resolutions, decisions and outcomes that you prepare here will put new and emerging issues on environment firmly on the global radar, sending important signals to the global community about how to fully address this major pillar of an integrated sustainable development agenda. The work you do this week will position UNEA to as the International Environment Rendez-vous for all, and lay the groundwork for UNEP's contribution to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

UNEA-2 will be one of the first major global conferences since the adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. 2016 has been called the year for implementation and delivery. UNEA-2 is our chance to show the world UNEP's readiness and commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals through our programme of work.

As you consider the Medium Term Strategy and the Programme of Work and budget, I hope you will remember that you are not just reviewing some long technical documents. You are working with the very foundations of UNEP's ability to deliver, within the UN system and with its partners, its mandate as the world's leading advocate for the environment. And you are determining UNEP's capacity, through its strategy, business model and financial resources, to contribute to delivering the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris climate agreement.

Under your guidance, Madame Chair, the CPR has worked hard over the last several months to get a head start on the substantive preparations for UNEA-2. Thanks to this work, the OECPR received a package of draft resolutions that have already gone through several rounds of discussion. It is clear that you will be tackling some critical - and potentially difficult - subjects this week, but I am confident that the constructive spirit which has prevailed during the discussions of the CPR, will continue to do so this week.

On the basis of an update from the President of UNEA, H.E. Ms. Oyun Sanjaasuren, you will also consider the new stakeholder engagement policy. Your discussions this week will help to determine how the civil society around the world will be able to contribute in solving urgent environmental challenges and take advantage of environmental opportunities. The Secretariat is ready to help member states reach early consensus on the stakeholder policy.

UNEP's stakeholders are critical to its work, and you will see that in action at UNEA-2. The meeting will provide a space for representatives from government, business, academia, scientific institutions and various communities to contribute and find value. We are putting together an engaging menu of side events that we hope will attract leaders from all sectors.

But let's bring our focus back to this week. You will be discussing the organizational arrangements for UNEA-2, particularly the High-Level Segment. Ministers and heads of delegation are depending on you to set the stage in a way that allows them to have substantive discussions on the various global environmental issues that are directly relevant to their countries and regions. If we can quickly resolve these organizational questions - including the structure and format of the outcome of the High-Level Segment - then we will have more time to focus on the real substance at hand.

You have already received a concept note on the theme of the High-Level Segment, which is entitled "Delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development." UNEP can play a crucial role in achieving the SDGs by providing assessments to strengthen evidence base, policy analysis, and integrated approaches, and by supporting member states, stakeholders and other UN bodies with our technical expertise, knowledge systems and global partnerships.

In mid-January, the President of ECOSOC proposed the theme 'Ensuring that no one is left behind' for the 2016 session of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). UNEA-2 will be preparing critical outputs for ECOSOC on the delivery of the 2030 Agenda, so we're looking forward to active and engaging discussions on these topics.

The High-Level Segment will also include a policy discussion on the theme "Healthy environment, healthy people". This week, you will have the opportunity to review the draft report on that topic, a report that summarizes the links between environmental quality and human health and wellbeing - a highly relevant issue. The theme also addresses many Sustainable Development Goals, emphasizing UNEP's integrated approach to the Agenda.

This report describes the drivers of those health and environment links, including inequality, migration, unplanned urbanization, unhealthy lifestyles, and unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. Your reactions to that report will help ensure a rich, focused and interactive conversation on health and environment at UNEA-2.

Ladies and gentlemen, this will be my final OECPR meeting as Executive Director of UNEP. After almost ten years at the helm of this organization, I look back with a sense of both pride and humility. I am proud of UNEP's achievements, including its contribution to the success of the Montreal Protocol, its work on environmental assessments such as the Global Outlook Reports and its support to countries and regions as they grapple with pressing environmental challenges.

Throughout my time at UNEP, I have been humbled by the way that the initiatives of our small organization have been amplified through partnerships that enable us to have an impact well beyond our size. Many different organizations and stakeholders have engaged in mutual trust relationships that have ton continue being enhanced in the future. A case in point is the UNEP Finance Initiative, which has helped to make the concept of sustainability a strategic consideration for financial decision-makers around the world and has now a strong network.

But of course it is our partnership with all of you - our member states - that gives UNEP its greatest power on the global stage.

I hope that by the end of this Second Session of the OECPR, we will have narrowed the gaps on any outstanding issues, and created a clear roadmap for our remaining work.

I hope that the progress we make this week will enable each of you to confirm the participation of your Ministers and Heads of Delegation at UNEA-2.

And I hope that you will all look back at the Second Session of the OECPR with a sense of pride and achievement.

Thank you.

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