Representatives from Belgium, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) met in Brussels in December to take stock of the partnership and discuss the future.
At the request of Member States, UNEP has over the years engaged in bilateral consultations with several countries. Through open, frank and interactive dialogue, these bilateral meetings have been established to strengthen the relationship between Member States and UNEP. They are a forum for building trust and confidence in the current and future direction of UNEP while demonstrating the organization’s value for money as an investment for a sustainable and healthy environment.
“We have had consultations with three important partners—Belgium, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Luxembourg—who are promoting multilateral cooperation both at home and abroad in their international relations. They are key partners of our organization and of UN reform,” said Bruno Pozzi, Director of UNEP’s Regional Office in Europe.
These three countries are collectively known as the Benelux countries. In addition to being neighbouring countries, they share views on environmental challenges and how to address them, and they are all strong supporters of UNEP’s work.
Belgium stood host for the first Benelux consultations, which were held in Brussels. “It is the first time we do them in this format and we can be very proud to host them here at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belgium,” said Guy Rayée, Deputy Director-General of Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid. “UNEP is a partner organization of our Development Cooperation. We’ve signed a framework agreement in September 2016 which provides for regular policy dialogue and consultations, and these are the first one we have. We are happy to have them now—the time is right because UNEP has a new management team and a lot of things have been going on,” said Rayée.
The consultations are also timely since UNEP has just launched the development of a new medium-term strategy and is assessing its priorities in the context of the 2030 Agenda and beyond, as well as preparing the upcoming 50th anniversary of UNEP.
“For us it is an opportunity to exchange on the challenges and opportunities of UNEP, the UN reform, and also sharing the experiences from our countries and the experience of UNEP,” said Pierre Prum, Advisor International Relations at the Ministry of Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development of Luxembourg.
In discussions on the UN Reform, all parties agreed that it presents a true opportunity for UNEP, especially as it relates to providing countries and other UN agencies with the scientific evidence needed for decision-making and policymaking, together with data and indicators.
Participants also reflected on biodiversity issues in the context of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030), which is led by UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Ecosystem restoration is defined as a process of reversing the degradation of ecosystems, such as landscapes, lakes and oceans to regain their ecological functionality; in other words, to improve the productivity and capacity of ecosystems to meet the needs of society.
“We see many challenges in the area of climate change, pressure on our Earth, how we use it, that we all have our roles to play, and UNEP has an important role in that respect,” said Carmen Hagenaars, Deputy Director of the Department Inclusive Green Growth at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
As the environmental challenges faced by the world are unprecedented, the discussions at the consultations touched upon a wide range of other issues as well, such as green and circular economy and sustainable infrastructure, environmental governance and UNEP’s role in it as a normative organization, and chemicals and waste.
When it comes to funding, UNEP depends on voluntary contributions for 95 per cent of its income and the Benelux countries are vital partners to UNEP in this regard. Together, the three countries provide over 20 per cent of UNEP’s income to the Environment Fund. The Kingdom of the Netherlands and Belgium feature in the top-10 contributors, with the Kingdom of the Netherlands frequently ranking as the top donor to the Environment Fund. They all contribute their “Fair Share” to the Environment Fund, which is an amount based on the UN scale of assessment, but also takes into account other criteria, such as each Member State's economic and social circumstances.
“The Benelux countries are strong political and financial supporters of our engagement worldwide. Their support to UNEP is one of the most stable and important we receive, contributing with non-earmarked funding which enables our organization to deliver its core mandate, for the planet and its people,” said Pozzi.
UNEP works with the Benelux countries to promote sustainable development across the globe. By contributing to the environment Fund, these countries support all of UNEP’s programmes and activities, contributing to all the results achieved in the areas of climate change, disasters and conflicts, ecosystem management, environmental governance, chemicals and waste, resource efficiency, and environment under review.
“A big thank you to Benelux, and we hope that our partnership will continue in the years to come,” said Pozzi.
While this is the first time the policy dialogue was held in a Benelux setting, the dialogue in Brussels built on earlier bilateral consultations initiated by the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Nairobi in October 2017, at which Belgium took part as observer.