UN environment talks open to more nations

Alister Doyle Oslo

A new UN plan to involve all nations in marshalling science to fix environmental problems from toxic chemicals to climate change will be put to the test at talks in Nairobi this week.

The 40-year-old UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will open its annual governing council to all the world’s almost 200 nations, up from 58 now.

“A strengthened UNEP will… improve and enhance international co-operation on the environment,” UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said.

Environment ministers or senior officials from about 150 nations are due to attend, out of almost 200 worldwide. Until now, the UNEP’s governing council has left out many smaller states, from Guyana to Albania.

The shift is meant to sharpen world focus on problems such as toxic chemicals, over-fishing and global warming. Getting more countries in the room will not necessarily make reaching agreements easier but should give the UNEP more authority.

Steiner said the talks would be a first chance to see how the new approach worked. The UNEP oversees many scientific studies guiding UN work, such as monitoring climate change or the pace of extinction of animals and plants.

Under an agreement last year at an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the UNEP will get a bigger budget.

The Rio deal fell short of calls by some nations, such as France, to create a completely new UN environment agency.

“The seeds of what we are seeing will be seen only five or 10 years down the line,” Steiner said.

“One of the major issues is a new strategy for the organisation and a programme of work for the next three years,” Steiner said of the Nairobi talks, which run from today to Friday and will lay guidelines for work on issues from oceans to slowing extinctions. – Reuters