Policy Statement by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director at the Opening of the First Universal Session of the Governing Council of UNEP Mon, Feb 18, 2013

Building on four decades of an evolving discourse on environmental sustainability, the summit has delivered several key directional shifts in the environmental agenda.

Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen

Thinking about the future of UNEP also relates to the future of your Ministries and the environmental portfolio in your countries.

We have come a long way since the environmental agenda was frequently characterized as "the preoccupation of the few at expense of the many" or "the luxury of the rich at the expense of the poor". Rio+20 recognized unequivocally that the growing volatility of our economies and markets is increasingly linked to environmental change and the depletion of our natural resources. That poverty is not only a product of history and inequity within and among nations but also 'man - made' and exacerbated by the development choices we make - which all too often impact on the livelihoods of the poor by diminishing their resource base and the natural capital on which they depend.

However, this at times costly and painful journey of learning also has significant implications for the "environmental agenda" of the future. Environmental policy, which is not rooted in and cognizant of the political economy of our societies and thus the economic policy and development discourse of our respective nations, will be at risk of being marginalized and ignored.

We cannot continue to "save the planet", one species, one ecosystem, one policy, one issue, one law, one treaty at a time. Our challenge at the beginning of the 21st century has become a systemic one.

Environment Ministers have a mandate to protect the environment but increasingly their success in doing so will be predicated on their capacity to offer environmental solutions which create jobs, expand access to energy, address food security, reduce poverty and enhance livelihoods. Transition strategies towards a low carbon economy or more sustainable agriculture or fisheries sectors must speak to the complexity of economic policy choices, perceived trade - offs between short - term and long - term objectives and social equity considerations - both intra - and inter - generational.

The challenge of achieving not just incremental progress but transformative changes that can deliver absolute reductions in CO2, a halt to the loss of biodiversity, or a reversal of land degradation and the loss of arable land represents an unprecedented challenge ? both to environment ministries and societies in general.

The magnitude of the challenge you face - as Ministers responsible for the Environment - and by extension UNEP and the global environmental agenda is daunting. It is for this reason that we must continuously review, rethink, and refocus the environmental agenda and narrative to reflect the realities we confront today, building on UNEP's mandate and capacities.

The full copy of the policy statement can be dowloaded from http://www.unep.org/GC/GC27/Docs/ED_POLICY_STATEMENT_2013.pdf

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