Upping the game to address environmental chaos

Upping the game to address environmental chaos

Your excellency, Ambassador Pirkka Tapiola, Chair of the Committee of Permanent Representatives 

A warm welcome to the Ninth Annual Subcommittee meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives. I understand that we have more than 170 Member State representatives in-person in Nairobi and online this week.

As the UN Secretary-General has noted, the planet is on “life support” as environmental chaos beckons. Your keen participation here sends a strong signal – that in these times of chaos, you are steadfast in your resolve to keep the window open for climate action and nature action. And it is this window of opportunity or courage that is indeed the focus of UNEP’s 2022 Emissions Gap Report which will be released later this week. Suffice to say excellencies, the time for incremental change is long over. Comprehensive transformation is the only credible path to avert climate disaster and we have eight years to get this done. If environmental chaos is upending our lives, then its solutions and actions must unite us. And these solutions and actions must ensure that we leave no one behind. It is this courage which we must pack in our suitcases as we head towards COP 27 in Egypt, and later in the year at the CBD COP 15 held under the Presidency of China and hosted in Montreal, the seat of the Biodiversity Convention.

Against this backdrop, this week, we will review UNEP’s progress in delivering these solutions and in particular, for developing countries. You will review UNEP’s engagements with UN reform and our support to mainstreaming the environmental agenda at the country level. You will review UNEP’s progress on the implementation of the programme of work and budget. You will review our efforts to achieve greater organizational effectiveness, and importantly, we will engage in a deep and frank dialogue on the financial outlook and funding realities of UNEP. Because ambassadors, our ability to deliver effective solutions to the triple planetary crisis requires a steady and sustained financial pipeline.

The sum total of these efforts is to ensure that UNEP can deliver better for developing countries and for those that need it the most. To deliver with rigour. To deliver with speed and efficiency. To deliver solutions that are relevant and actionable. And to deliver with fairness to those that have done little to contribute to the crisis we face, but yet, find themselves at the frontlines of the triple planetary crisis. Here I acknowledge the presence of Barbados. This marks the first time we have had a Nairobi-based permanent mission from the Small Island Developing States at the Annual Subcommittee Meeting. This is a symbolic milestone for us in Nairobi, the only headquarters in the global south.

Turning to UNEP in the context of UN reform and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. In 2019, we provided a roadmap of how we intended to implement the UN reform.  The roadmap looked at our engagement in the development of UN reform guidelines. The roadmap also outlined our plans to address administrative and operational guidelines outlined in key guiding documents such as the UN Management Accountability Framework and the Funding Compact. Since then, we have worked hard to up our game and deepen support to UN Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams on the triple planetary crisis and the SDGs, and to align UNEP processes and programmes accordingly. We are, as you will hear this week, tweaking our approach to delivery to ensure greater coherence, efficiency, and clearer accountability for the delivery of results.

On the delivery of the programme of work, as you will recall, in July we held a session on the 2020-2021 Biennial Programme Performance Report. We appreciated very much the comments on the report, and it is our constant endeavour to improve reporting and to provide you with the information you need.  Responding to your call for more information on UNEP’s work in the region, this week you will hear the regional perspective on UNEP’s work from our regional directors. This I expect will complement the global perspective on our work outlined in the 2020-2021 Programme Performance Report.

On organizational effectiveness, we will cover a full gamut of issues, but allow me to zero in on an issue that I have spoken about several times before you and to which I am personally committed – to increasing the geographical diversity of UNEP staff. I outlined, if you recall, a four-point plan in my report to the fifth UN Environment Assembly. This is not a check the box administrative exercise but is far more, because a diverse, flexible, qualified, and agile workforce is critical to achieving UNEP’s mandate. In the last year, our efforts have focused on increasing internal direction to our hiring managers, messaging, guidance, monitoring, and targeted awareness aimed at top management and operations. We have also worked towards increasing our outreach efforts, including using new tools and platforms to promote jobs and increase the profile of UNEP in countries and regions where we are less known. Through a series of outreach events with different partners, we have been able to reach out to thousands of potential candidates. We have also established a strategic partnership with the OneUN Talent Outreach working group (including more than 20 UN entities, agencies, funds, and programmes) to increase the competitiveness and visibility of UNEP as an employer of choice for talent from un- and underrepresented Member States and less represented regional groups.

We also continue to push ahead on developing a Young Talent Pipeline initiative for entry level professional positions that will focus on improving geographical diversity among our work force. The Pipeline will aim to attract young talent from less represented regional groups and un- and underrepresented Member States. I look forward to updating you on our progress in this regard.

Ambassadors, as you all know, resources – human and financial – are the pillars upon which any organization depends. So, allow me to turn to the question of financial resources. The founding members of UNEP 50 years ago envisioned a healthy Environment Fund targeting a core funding of US$ 100 million annually. In today’s dollars, that would be roughly equivalent to US$ 691 million. In 2021, our Environment Fund stood at US$ 78 million. The reality remains that the Environment Fund budget has never been fully funded. Indeed, less than 50 percent of Member States contribute annually. So far in 2022, 66 Member States contributed over US$ 60 million to the Environment Fund in 2022. We are very grateful for this support. But we all know we have some way to travel because ambition alone will not get us far. Financing must follow and while our funding base remains below where we would like it to be, we have seen increasing number of complex issues ambitiously added to our mandate.

And we have significantly upped our game towards this ambition– responding to these mandates through a new, more focused, and integrated medium-term strategy that seeks to make a “definite difference” to the triple planetary crisis – the crisis of climate change, the crisis of nature and biodiversity loss and the crisis of pollution and waste. I call on Member States to step up funding to commensurate with the ambition and urgency. It is critical that we set UNEP on a sustainable footing for the next decade by establishing a modern funding base. The bottom line is that we need more financial resources. We need more stable funding. And we need more funding that does not tie our hands to one priority over another. As we do a deep dive into out funding base this week, I am mindful that we do so in difficult times. Debt distress. Skyrocketing inflation. Rising poverty. Economies weakened by the global pandemic and conflict. Nevertheless, as 2022’s summer of climate extremes has taught us: backpedalling is simply not an option.

With a view to achieving the flexibility needed to deliver transformative actions outlined in the MTS, we have developed the Thematic Funds that will allow us to directly engage to tackle the triple planetary crisis. These new funds provide a mechanism to pool together and direct softly earmarked resources towards solutions for climate stability, for nature, and for pollution. If done right, the thematic funds are a way to replace fragmented funding with transformative impact, as an important compliment to the Environment Fund. I look forward to our discussions on the financial outlook and funding challenges before us.

With these words excellencies, I end my remarks to you. I look forward to a rich discussion this week and indeed beyond as we strive to strengthen UNEP’s ability to deliver real solutions to the very real challenges that we face.

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