African Heads of State Mark 40th Anniversary of UNEP Mon, Jan 30, 2012

Heads of State from over thirty African countries have taken part in an event to mark the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya with UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) Director-General Sahle-Work Zewde at the anniversary event in Addis Ababa.

Addis Ababa / Nairobi, 30 January 2012 - Heads of state from over thirty African countries have taken part in an event to mark the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) held during the 18th African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The luncheon was hosted by President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, who was joined by 33 African Heads of State and Government, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Environment from most AU member states, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Chairperson of the AU Commission Jean Ping, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and representatives of other UN agencies.

"Since its establishment UNEP has become the global voice on environmental issues", said President Kibaki.

"Through UNEP's leadership, many international agreements have been developed. It has also galvanized global action in areas such as ozone layer, climate change, chemicals management and biological diversity. It is my hope that UNEP will contribute towards a safer earth for humanity," he added.

"The African continent must play a leading role in protecting ecosystems and ensuring a healthy environment. It will continue to support UNEP towards achieving these goals," said newly-appointed Chairman of the African Union President Boni Yayi of Benin at the event.

President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo said that during its forty year history, UNEP had proved to be "a loyal companion of Africa".

He added that the forthcoming Rio+20 conference would be a crossroads for the continent and the international community.

"Rio+20 is an opportunity for Africa and for the world to establish the basis for a new beginning, with concrete actions which favour the transition towards sustainable development through the green economy and reform of the institutional framework of sustainable development," he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon thanked President Kibaki for hosting the anniversary event, and expressed his gratitude to the people of Kenya for hosting UNEP in Nairobi since the organization's founding in 1972.

"Looking to the future, UNEP is a pioneer of the green economy, which will figure front and centre at the Rio+20 conference in June", said Mr. Ban.

"There is thus little wonder that calls are growing for UNEP to be given more global influence. Environmental, economic and social indicators tell us that our current model of progress is unsustainable. Sustainable development offers the best chance to adjust our course. From Rio+20 and beyond, I will rely on UNEP to continue to provide the cutting edge ideas the world so sorely needs," he added.

The Chairperson of the AU Commission Jean Ping said UNEP had contributed significantly to Africa's "ecological awakening" and expressed the continent's support for the transformation of UNEP into a specialized UN agency for the environment.

Mr. Ping assured that the AU Commission would continue its work to mobilize regional and international institutions in support of African positions and interests in the run-up to Rio+20 ? especially with regards to the forthcoming 3rd Intersessional Meeting in New York in March 2012.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner told assembled Heads of State that the decision taken forty years ago to host UNEP in Kenya has served to improve the world's understanding of the links between development and environment, and the importance of environmental services and natural resources in shaping the development path of nations.

"The world of 2012 is light years from the world of 40 and 20 years ago economically, socially and environmentally?not least in Africa", said Mr Steiner.

"Together with Africa, UNEP has evolved to meet the challenges of this very different world. Together, as a result of your collective leadership and vision and as a result of the Rio+20 Summit, we may be embarking on a new chapter of opportunities for not only Africa but the world. UNEP's 40th anniversary is on one hand about celebrating 40 years of history. But it may be equally a year of history-in-the-making and a date just as special as Stockholm 1972," he added.

The event came to a close with a cake cutting ceremony with President Kibaki, Achim Steiner, and Sahle-Work Zewde, Director-General of the UN Office at Nairobi (UNON).

For more information, please contact:

Bryan Coll, UNEP Newsdesk (Nairobi), on Tel. +254 20762 3088 or E-mail:

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