The briefing on environment was held by Mr. Jim Sniffen who works as Information Officer for the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). In order to save as much time as possible for questions, Mr. Sniffen directly began with his short presentation on what UNEP does in general and on its activities in Africa in particular, as all the students present at the briefing were going to represent African countries during NMUN 2007.
As he reported, UNEP is one of the two UN agencies having its global headquarter in the developing world, namely in Nairobi, Kenya. Officially it belongs to the Secretariat, which means that it reports directly to the Secretary General. It is a relatively small program with only about 600 employees around the world and a budget far smaller than that of large NGOs like Greenpeace. It has three very important and broad tasks:
- to raise public awareness of environmental issues, both globally and regionally;
- to take periodically stock of environmental developments throughout the world and bring it to the attention of the governments, and
- to mainstream environment to be paid attention to in all UN activities.
It is important to mention that UNEP is not meant to directly protect the environment, but to provide information to governments, other actors, and UN agencies in order to help them protect the environment. With this aim, UNEP issues reports and organizes conferences and panels. The reports, however, are not written by UN employees but by internationally recognized scientists.
The work UNEP is mostly noted for is the promotion of the climate change issues. In the middle of the 1980s, UNEP organized the first panel on climate change. During this panel, more then 200 scientists from different fields began to point out human responsibility for global warming. As a result of their report of 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change had been signed. There were however no binding obligations and UNEP continued its work. In 1995, it issued the second report strongly underlining human responsibility. This led to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 which obliges industrialized nations to achieve obligatory emission reductions. Similar schemes are used by UNEP concerning the promotion of other issues like biological diversity, desertification or ozone protection.
The two main problems Mr. Sniffen mentioned are the slow pace of the legal process and the limited financial recourses. For instance, in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, it took more than seven years from the signing of the document to the entry into force in September 2005. With regard to the second point, it is necessary to mention that UNEP relies on voluntary funding: 95% of its budget depend on the political will of the member states. The biggest donors are the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany.
Mr. Sniffen believed that the next UNEP report, which will be focused on North America and will describe past and possible future disasters, should provoke much stronger reactions by the media and the public. He said that one of the main requirements for the success of UNEP’s programs was the involvement not only of governments but also of civil society, private actors, and the scientific community.
He explained that in his experience, there were four main types of reaction by the public following the reports:
- fear and willingness to achieve better results, to reduce emissions;
- fear and the belief that it was already too late to change something;
- the denial of the fact that global warming is caused by human activities and the belief that it was just a circle of the development of the earth so that humans just had to adapt to it;
- technological fiction, searching for rescue in outer space.
Because of the third group of readers, UNEP has to be extremely careful when publishing data.
Regarding its activities in Africa, UNEP in general tries to build a bridge between North and South concerning environmental issues. Since it is based in Africa, some projects tend to use African countries as case studies.