Renewable energy is high on the agenda of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), but the organization must be given the necessary resources and financial backing if it is to lead the environmental agenda into the new millennium.
NAIROBI, Kenya – “Give us a basis for our work but, please, give us that basis with more resources,” executive director Klaus Toepfer told 80 government representatives meeting in Nairobi earlier this month for the 21st session of the Governing Council. Over the past five years, many member nations have reduced their funding to UNEP. The U.S. is the single largest supporter at $7.2 million, followed by Britain at $6.3 million. “We have to use economic instruments to pay for the environment and not the other way round; I believe this a huge challenge for our negotiations here,” and he says governments must be willing to pay to sustain the environment, rather than exploit it for commercial reasons. “We do not need new priorities or new visions; what we need to do now is to implement,” and the time for talk has ended, he says. UNEP is committed to five priority areas, including early warning, monitoring and assessment to offset the impacts of natural disasters, co-operation between environmental conventions and links with industry, and promotion of environmentally friendly technologies such as renewable energy. “One of the pre-conditions for development is energy and renewable energy in Africa is also one of the preconditions for stimulating development in rural areas,” he adds. Residents are leaving rural areas and moving to cities which, in turn, puts pressure on urban living and its environment, and UNEP can counteract that migration if it can provide electricity to rural areas. The Nairobi meeting was opened by Laszlo Miklos, the environment minister from the Slovakia Republic and outgoing president of the Governing Council. Canadian environment minister David Anderson was elected to be President of the next session. It is crucial that the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which will take place in Johannesburg next year, send a clear message to the world that globalization will not widen the gap between the developed and the developing world. “We need to make globalization the instrument for closing the gap between the rich and poor,” says Toepfer. Rio-plus-10 is the working title for that summit. The Nairobi meeting also talked about a May summit in which governments will discuss how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That meeting in Germany will continue the aborted meeting from November in Holland, at which there was disagreement over the use of forests to absorb CO2.