31 Oct 2019 Story Environmental rights and governance

Strengthening UN Environment Programme important to the Nordic countries

Representatives from the Nordic countries—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden—met in Nairobi with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Secretariat during two days in October. These annual Nordic consultations are a part of the countries’ long-term partnership with UNEP.

During the two days of consultations, the Nordic countries demonstrated that they are strong believers in multilateralism, have a shared interest in the global environment – as well as a joint approach to handling environmental challenges. They all believe that UNEP is in a unique position to promote global environmental sustainability. They also noted that the organization needs to be strengthened further to play this critical role more effectively.

As UNEP is a relatively small, normative organization, the UN reform may be a huge opportunity for the organization to ensure that the environmental dimensions of sustainable development are integrated in the United Nations’ work at country level.

“As Nordic countries, we are strong supporters of the multilateral system and the United Nations. We want to see the system strengthened, so we’re very supportive of UN reform. We have been very pleased to listen to UNEP’s engagement on UN reform issues,” said Mette Knudsen, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Denmark to UNEP.

Nordic countries’ representatives also call for a strengthened UN Environment Assembly, the world’s highest-level environmental decision-making body, which brings together all 193 UN Member States as well as representatives from civil society and the private sector. For example, they believe that ministers beyond environment ministries could be involved, that a focused and science-based theme should be selected for the next Assembly, and that there is a need to establish closer relations between multilateral environmental agreements and the UN Environment Assembly.

UNEP’s Executive Director, Inger Andersen, agrees that after four Environment Assemblies it is important to take stock and see how it can be strengthened. One area to look closer at is the resolutions that are tabled by Member States for adoption.  “At its best, the UN Environment Assembly becomes an organ that takes note on how far we have journeyed, and watches the horizons and identifies areas where we need to take action. In this context, new resolutions are important tools—but it is also important to ensure that the proposed resolutions are meaningful and have foresight,” said Andersen.

Norway, which currently holds the presidency of the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly, plays a key role in preparing for the next Assembly, taking place in Nairobi in 2021. Norwegian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to UNEP Elin Bergithe Rognlie looks forward to working with UNEP on the preparations. “We also rely on UNEP to get the science for the politicians to take the right decisions—and the right actions,” said Rognlie.

The area of “science-policy interface” is part of the core mandate of UNEP and one of UNEP’s comparative advantages, attendees said. This means that UNEP keeps the environment under review and identifies emerging issues, then analyses and translates the science and evidence into information that supports decision makers and policymakers to choose actions that promote a healthy planet.

This science-policy-action axis is one of the reasons they all believe in providing unrestricted core funding to the Environment Fund, UNEP’s core source of flexible funds that supports the bedrock of its work worldwide, rather than specifying to which projects funding should go.

Anna Jardfelt, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sweden to UNEP said that “UNEP is a very important organization for Sweden. We’ve been a longstanding supporter and core contributor to the Environment Fund. I think that all of us realize how important the environmental issues are, and the need to strengthen UNEP.”

While only constituting five countries (or 2.6 percent) out of UNEP’s 193 member States, the Nordic countries together provide around 20 per cent of the funding to the Environment Fund. During the period from 2012 to 2018, this amounted to almost US$103 million. In addition, they provided US$144 million in earmarked funding for thematic areas in 2015–2018.

Further to strengthening the UN Environment Assembly and rolling out UN reform, the Nordics are also supportive of a renewed global international environmental governance to fulfil international commitments. Enhancing synergies among the multilateral environmental agreements, many of which are supported and administered by UNEP, is another important piece of the puzzle.

“We cannot answer to the challenges of environment alone. We need cooperation to do this, international cooperation, and in this respect UNEP is and remains our key partner. We will need to deepen and broaden that cooperation together with other countries,” said Erik Lundberg, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Finland to UNEP.

International environmental governance was discussed at a panel debate that attracted an audience of over 120 UN staff and Member State representatives. The debate took a report commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers entitled “International Environmental Governance – Accomplishments and Way Forward” as a starting point.

In the Nordic countries, the environment is prioritized at the highest level: “Earlier this year, the Prime Ministers of Nordic Countries declared that they want to demonstrate leadership against climate change, and to become carbon neutral societies,” said Unnur Orradottir Ramette, Ambassador of Iceland, the country that currently chairs the Nordic Council of Ministers.

After concluding the consultations, Ambassador Rognlie confirmed that the Nordic countries and UNEP share the assessment of environmental challenges and opportunities. We have had very good and honest discussions during these consultations and we were really happy to listen to the Executive Director talking about her long-term visions for UNEP. We really support her in her work,” said Rognlie.

UNEP’s Executive Director expressed her deep appreciation of the partnership: “Now that the environment is more on the agenda than ever before, we are so grateful to our Nordic donors and friends for their leadership, for their stepping up, for their leaning in on the critical issues pertaining to environmental sustainability and stewardship that we have to address,” said Andersen.