First UN Environment Assembly Marks Environmental Coming of Age

UN Environment AssemblyThe United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is taking on a higher profile among the UN’s sprawling organizational framework as an ever greater number of wild species and ecosystems are at risk due to human population growth and the myriad and unprecedented impacts we are having on the Earth’s biosphere.

A cross-section of world leaders, including “hundreds of environment ministers, decision makers, scientists, civil society representatives and business leaders,” are gathering in Nairobi, Kenya this week to launch a new branch of the institutional framework for world environmental governance. Convening of the inaugural UN Environment Assembly (UNEA) marks the inception of “a new world body that places environmental issues at the heart of international affairs and provides fresh impetus to tackle growing global challenges,” UNEP explains in a press release.

Adopting the theme, “A Life of Dignity for All,” the inaugural UNEA for many marks “the coming of age of the environment as a world issue, as it places environmental concerns on the same footing with those of peace, security, finance, health and trade for the first time,” UNEP states.

“A Coming of Age” for environmental issues

Among the many events taking place at the first UNEA, UNEP released its biennial performance report for 2012-2013. The UNEP Programme Performance Report 2012-2013 includes a status update and assessment of all the climate change-related initiatives, programs and activities in which UNEP is participating.

UNEP Framework
The world community’s principal agency for promoting ecological health and sustainability, UNEP has a strong vested interest in climate change mitigation and adaptation. It’s efforts in this regard are deep and far-ranging, encompassing building the capacity – among less developed nations in particular – to incorporate ecosystem-based approaches into the mainstream of national governance and institutional frameworks, and to craft and implement national climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies and plans.

The 2012-2013 biennial report marks the first two-year period in which UNEP fully applied results-based management principles across the organization’s program cycle. Comparing actual with expected results across the complete range of its activities across seven thematic clusters, UNEP found that among its programs:

  • 64 percent achieved on schedule;
  • 85 percent of indicator targets that were achieved were over-exceeded;
  • 30 percent partially achieved with work still underway in some cases. Financial (and human) resources are not always available at the beginning of the biennium as funds are mobilized during the biennium in which results are to be achieved, sometimes affecting the pace of the organization’s delivery and expenditure rates;
  • 6 percent not achieved, owing to indicators that were not possible to measure and were substituted with alternative performance measurements


UNEP and climate change

United Nations Environment Programme

The biennial report includes its subprogram on climate change, which, the UN agency explains, “has been designed to strengthen the ability of countries, in particular developing countries, to integrate climate change responses into national development processes to help them move towards a climate resilient, low carbon future.”

UNEP’s strategy for the climate change sub-program revolves around five core thematic activities:

  • Climate resilience: to support countries in using ecosystem based approaches to adaptation;
  • Mitigation – Low emission growth: to support countries and institutions to adopt and scale up the use of energy efficiency and renewable energy;
  • Mitigation – Access to finance: to facilitate countries’ access to clean energy finance;
  • REDD: enable countries to capitalize on investment opportunities that reduce greenhouse emissions from deforestation and forest degradation with adequate social and environmental safeguards;
  • Science and outreach: to increase access to climate scientific assessments and information.

Among the highlights associated with each of these strategic “themes,” UNEP over the course of 2012 and 2013:

  • Supported 55 developing countries in implementing concrete adaptation projects and programs;
  • Pioneered practical Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) options and expanded its EbA work to additional ecosystems and urban and agricultural areas;
  • With funding from the UNFCCC’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) UNEP and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) initiated a global support program to assist least developed countries to advance National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), which are seen as the main mechanism for moving the enhanced adaptation agenda forward;
  • Assisted nine countries and two regions to complete climate change vulnerability and impact assessments, including six city-level assessments;
  • Supported countries in meeting the Adaptation Fund Board’s requirements and thus accessing adaptation finance;
  • Expanded the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants to include 72 partners, up from six in 2012. CCAC partners have pledged over $46 million to the CCAC Trust Fund, the first of its kind;
  • Now hosts the new Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) at the request of the UNFCCC;
  • Expanded the en.lighten partnership to 27 countries, fostering the phasing out of inefficient, incandescent light bulbs in West Africa and Central America;
  • Fostered fuel efficiency through a global initiative on clean vehicles spanning 22 countries that could cut carbon emissions from cars and heavy duty vehicles in half;
  • Supported the development of Technology Action Plans (TAPs) across 30 countries. Seven have used them to develop Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), which are the primary vehicle for implementation of low-carbon development actions by developing countries;
  • Mobilized some $432 million in clean energy investments, providing support, including seed capital, to over 50 clean energy projects;
  • Expanded a parallel clean energy finance program that will result in the installation of 140,000 solar water heaters in Cape Town, South Africa, as well as homes and businesses in Tunisia, Egypt and Montenegro.

Reducing deforestation is another key focal point for UNEP, one that directly impacts climate, climate change vulnerability and risk management. Implemented jointly with the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UNDP, the UN-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) supports efforts to conserve forests and make sustainable use of forest resources by supporting REDD+ readiness efforts in 48 partner countries that collectively represent 56 percent of tropical forests worldwide. Seventeen are implementing REDD national programs that are moving into their implementation phases.

*Image credits: UNEP

Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger
A product of the New York City public school system, Andrew Burger went on to study geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, work in the wholesale money and capital markets for a major Japanese bank and earn an MBA in finance.

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