On 17 March 2008, we met Mr. James Sniffen, Information and Liaison Officer at the United Nations Environment Programme’s New York Office.
The mission of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the analysis of developments in environmental protection, and the collection of information and its dissemination. UNEP also adopts environmental guidelines and coordinates projects for the conservation of the environment on the planet as a whole.
The aim is to put the states and men in a position to improve their lives without any negative impact on coming generations. The headquarters of UNEP is located in Nairobi (Kenya) and it receives annually 135 million US$.
Mr. Sniffen pointed out at the beginning of his lecture one additional main goal of UNEP: To convince the various states of the existence of climate change.
To gain precisely this awareness, UNEP publishes reports to the States. In addition, specific topics and reports are published and every five years such as the “Global Environment Outlook” (GEO). UNEP collects the information needed for these reports from different sources, such as satellite imagery from NASA.
UNEP also works very closely with the environment ministries of the different Member States.
The issue of climate change is more and more understood since the early 1970s, though different opinions existed on this topic at that time. Since the 1980s, the science of climate change became clearer, even if diverging views on climate change impacts existed. Also, one major achievement was the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer of 1985 and especially its Montreal Protocol minimizing the use of CFCs. Scientific research and evaluation of a variety of literature eventually led to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. While the Protocol has received the needed 55 ratifications, it is clear that perception continues to change in the issue, so that more has to be done. Finally, it was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who stated that the environment is one of the most important issues of our time.
With this in mind, the goal of UNEP is to get all states on board in order to tackle climate change together. Another important issue for UNEP is “water”, as the sustainable and equitable management of water is one of the main challenges. One third of the world’s population lives in countries with good water supply, but with disproportionate consequences for the poorer parts of the planet. Another important topic for UNEP is disaster prevention. This includes e.g. the use of early warning systems after the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean 2004, in order to be prepared for future disasters.
UNEP tries to reduce the threat posed by chemicals to the environment, through various conventions and information programs, as much as possible.
Furthermore, UNEP helps the states to use chemicals in a safer way in order to not harm the environment. An important measure in this field is the dissemination of information on the various chemicals. In this context, the Rotterdam Convention on Chemicals and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which both entered into force in 2004 are essential.
Another institution that Mr. Sniffen explained to us is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was founded by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UNEP, in order to provide an objective source of information on this topic, so that governments and others can take action to tackle climate change. The mandate of the IPCC is not to conduct research. It only assesses the existing data on the subject.
Finally, Mr. Sniffen stressed again the responsibility of the Developed Countries in the fight against climate change.
In addition, Mr. Sniffen mentioned in this context the importance of the Kyoto Protocol and its performance on climate change. The significance of Kyoto rests in the setting of binding targets for the 37 industrialized countries and the European Community. To date 180 counties have ratified the Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is also characterized by its mechanisms. These include emission trading, clean development mechanism and joint implementation.
The Delegation of Freie Universität Berlin is grateful to Mr. Sniffen. The mood during the briefing was very enriching and the delegates followed the remarks by Mr. Sniffen carefully, as climate change is a very important issue.