During two days in September, representatives from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the government of Switzerland met in Nairobi to take stock of the partnership, discuss some of the environmental challenges facing our planet and to brainstorm about the future.
“Here at UNEP we are so pleased and proud of our collaboration with the government of Switzerland. Switzerland has been supporting UNEP since the 1970s on critical issues such as biodiversity conservation, chemicals and waste, resource efficiency, and environmental governance,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.
Franz Perrez, the Swiss Ambassador for Environment, called these discussions “a privilege”. He stressed the important role UNEP plays with its mandate as the global leading authority on the environment, providing the overarching global view of the environment.
“For Switzerland, UNEP is a very important institution. Switzerland is a small country. We are certainly privileged in many perspectives, but we cannot solve the fundamental [environmental] problems alone. Neither the ones in Switzerland nor the ones we are facing as part of a global community. For this we need a strong institution here in Nairobi that is providing the scientific information, based on that developing political guidance, and then also catalysing support for implementing the guidance by all partners in the world,” said Perrez.
Switzerland is a strong supporter of multilateralism and the need for effective international environmental governance. This was naturally discussed during the consultations, as was the strengthening of UNEP’s and the UN Environment Assembly’s (UNEA) role in international environmental governance. The UN Environment Assembly, being the world’s highest-level environmental decision-making body, bringing together all 193 UN Member States as well as representatives from civil society and the private sector, will convene for the fifth time in 2021.
Also on the horizon is UNEP’s 50th birthday in 2022. Fifty years after the Stockholm Conference in 1972, which established the UN Environment Programme, we have seen an enormous increase in global environmental challenges. UNEP turning 50 could, according to Ambassador Perrez, be an opportunity not only for stock taking, birthday celebrations and nostalgia, but most importantly also for taking forward-looking decisions and for ambitious commitments that go beyond the Agenda 2030 timeline.
“It should be an opportunity to make another big step forward, because 50 years of UNEP is not sufficient—50 years of UNEP did not bring us where we should be—so we need at least another 50 years. That would also be a good moment to outline the vision and to set the framework for the next 50 years of ambitious, effective and coherent international environmental policymaking,” said Perrez.
The discussions on the roadmap to and beyond Stockholm+50 will continue with all 193 Member States.
Andersen and Perrez agree on the fundamental importance of sound science and robust data.
“With Switzerland, we have a strong collaboration on data and science, which are crucial to ensure that we can inform the world on the state of the natural environment,” said Andersen.
“UNEP is the institution in the UN System to give an overview where we stand with the environment. We have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dealing with climate change, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on biodiversity… But we also need something that gives, on a regular basis, a broad overview of where we stand on the global environment. These global environmental outlooks are critical documents,” said Perrez.
Perrez highlighted the chemicals and waste area as a success story of collaboration and of creating synergies, mentioning the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, as well as the development of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
“Chemicals and waste management is for Switzerland critical because we are hosting research and world leading industry in that area. For Switzerland, it is important to have an international framework that is setting the bar high to ensure that chemicals and waste are managed all over the world in an environmentally sound manner,” said Perrez.
When it comes to financial support, Switzerland has been supporting UNEP ever since 1975 with yearly contributions to the Environment Fund, UNEP’s core fund, which allows the organization to carry out its mandate of being the leading global authority on the environment.
Between 2012 and 2018, Switzerland contributed its ‘fair share’ to the Environment Fund—US$28.6 million in total—and consistently featured in the top 10 contributor list to the Fund. In addition, Switzerland provides additional funding towards UNEP’s scientific work and to programmes in the areas of biodiversity, environmental governance, resource efficiency and chemicals and waste.
After the consultation, Inger Andersen expressed her appreciation to UNEP’s longstanding partner: “We at UNEP are extremely proud of this consultation with Switzerland. We do this once a year and each time we have an honest exchange, we learn from one another and we understand how we can get stronger. We look forward to strong, continued collaboration with Switzerland,” she said.