On the first day of the Study Tour, our delegation received a briefing on the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), held by Mr. James Sniffen. We learned that he has been working for the UN since 1979 when he started his career at the UN Press Office. He joined UNEP in 1991 in order to work at the UNEP-headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya for 6 years before relocating to New York.
Mr. Sniffen structured his briefing into three parts: climate change and its effects, “Green Helmets” and their possible tasks as well as environmental security. On the subject of climate change, he mentioned possible consequences such as sea level rise, arctic melt and a change in the oceans’ currents. According to Mr. Sniffen, Sea level rise is a growing hazard, especially to Small Developing Island States (SDIS) as the Maldives and to countries like Bangladesh. These states are geographically low-situated, have a high density in population, a strong need for agriculture in areas threatened by inundation, and only small financial means to meet these challenges. In Bangladesh, as Mr. Sniffen pointed out, the problematic coastal area and water management constitute the biggest problems to the government and the people.
In many cases, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the most relevant partner for UNEP concerning the financing of projects. Generally, UNEP’s task is not so much carrying out specific projects but rather to provide agencies like UNDP vital and relevant information. Important and necessary tsunami research, such as environmental assessment of changes in the ecosystems, and early warning mechanisms for Sri Lanka and the Maldives serve as an example. In regard to financial contributions, the Global Environmental Facility plays a decisive role for UNEP.
The Kyoto-Protocol and the UN-Climate-Change-Conference in Montréal in 2005 were other important aspects of the briefing: Mr. Sniffen emphasized that especially the European states have to strengthen their efforts in promoting the Protocol as well as in technology export, in order to enhance their role model-status within the global community. In spite of adversaries of the Protocol such as China or the US, Mr. Sniffen still sees the future of climate protection in effective Clean Development Mechanisms and Joint Implementation projects.
In regard to “Green Helmets” Mr. Sniffen first acknowledged that there were many misunderstandings of the term itself. According to him, “Green Helmets” would be environmental volunteers on the ground in a post-disaster or post-military situation. Technical units would establish basic local capacities, similar to the task of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the humanitarian sector.
The last topic was environmental security. In times of increasing armed conflicts within states, just distribution and management of natural resources are a major necessity in order to maintain stability and peace. The Darfur crisis in Sudan could be seen as an environmental disaster, as it is a conflict between pastoralists and farmers over water and the use of land, also caused by environmental degradation after improper management of the resources. The role of water is also often underestimated when it comes to the roots of conflicts. Turkey and its neighbors Syria and Iraq, as well as Uganda and Egypt serve as further examples of bilateral conflicts.
In addition, Mr. Sniffen reported about the The Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) in Southern Caucasus, where after the breakdown of the Soviet rule new comprehensive strategies were implemented by a cooperative project planned and implemented with the assistance of OSCE, UNDP and UNEP.
At the end of the briefing, we discussed the relevance of UNEP within the international community and the future of the programme itself, since its Executive Director Klaus Toepfer is about to leave office.
Mr. Sniffen provided us with a profound overview on the major global environmental problems and conflicts, together with an interesting personal insight into the work within this important agency.