Source: Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
Title: SA: van Schalkwyk: Keynote address by the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism at the UN Environment Programme Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi
We have gathered here for a ministerial plenary discussion under the thematic question: "International Environmental Governance: help or hindrance?"
I would, with respect, venture to say that this is the wrong question. We should rather be asking ourselves whether the debate on strengthening the international architecture for environmental governance and sustainable development, which started some nine years ago, has been a help or a hindrance.
As we start preparing for 2010 and 2012, I think it is time to reflect honestly on where we are with the debate that started in Malmo in 2000, that grabbed our imagination in Cartagena and at the world summit, and that still continues in New York and Nairobi today.
Before I share some of my reflections with you, let me share with you what my officials advised me when I considered the invitation to make remarks during this discussion. They said to me, Mr Minister, it will just be a repeat of the last nine years of debate on Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) reform. Nothing will come of it. Everyone will simply restate entrenched national positions, nothing too controversial, lots of code language, basically what they have been saying for nine years. It will be "political theatre" Minister.
Well, I decided to prove my officials wrong. And I must add that, I am delighted that many Ministers did the same during their frank and constructive interventions over the past three days. This was definitely not "political theatre". I will therefore also use the opportunity to share with you some personal reflections on where we are and where I believe we could be heading.
In taking stock, I believe that it is not only the system that is fragmented, but also the debate on fixing the system. This debate has been afloat without a compass on a sea of uncertainty marked by competing agendas for far too long. The impasse has been characterised by limited agreement on how to implement what has already been agreed not least in Cartagena, a widening trust gap, and the lack of a higher level shared vision for the next decade. It has been marked by different interpretations and expectations of what should constitute a global environmental governance regime, the balance between normative and operational work, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)'s role and mandate in this context and widely divergent options for institutional reform (that is: the UNEP versus United Nations Environmental Organisation (UNEO) debate).
When I look back on the last decade of IEG and IEG reform, I have very mixed feelings. On the one hand I feel a strong sense of achievement and I will elaborate on this in a moment. But on the other hand I also feel a strong sense of frustration with the lack of fundamental reform, or even incremental progress, in some of our important areas of work. Most importantly, I feel greatly disillusioned by the lack of implementation of what we have already agreed, dating back to 2002 under the Cartagena package for global reform as well as under the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building. These are all issues of critical importance to developing countries.
And as we meet here as Ministers, we also have to acknowledge limited progress on the intention to use the Global Ministerial Environmental Forum to provide concrete policy guidance and to identify priorities at a political level.
Yet, I am convinced that most of us are united in our desire to place environmental challenges at the centre of political and economic decision making processes, not least where it has bearing on the evolving global financial architecture. We are committed to putting in place economic, social and environmental conditions that will ensure the survival, prosperity and security of future generations. I am also convinced that we share a common conviction that this is not only about the environment per se, but about humanity and livelihoods in decades to come.
I do not want to paint too grim a picture. We should also acknowledge that we have achieved much globally and at the country level. There are some 500 multilateral environmental agreements, a proliferation of funds and entities and a variety of agencies dealing with the environment. We have also, to varying degrees, managed to integrate the environment in other areas of work of our respective governments and public awareness has been raised to unprecedented levels. And we have created new policy and scientific capacities, with international environmental law on the compliance side developing rapidly.
At a country level the international regime has helped to deliver some concrete gains, and we can probably all find many examples. But on reflection I think many of these achievements at the country level are still ad hoc. At a global level our work remains fragmented, our institutions overloaded, and the scale of action does not reflect the urgency indicated by science. From a developing country perspective, the implementation deficit, that is the widening resource gap between commitments and actions, is most concerning.
I also believe that, besides burgeoning fragmentation and duplication in an overburdened system, the absence of a strong international political base for IEG has contributed to our inability to fully and effectively integrate the environmental pillar of sustainable development into the wider macro-economic environment.
Chair, the world around us is changing, and IEG reform must keep up with this changing context. On the positive side I observe a new generation of green leaders emerging in government, business and civil society. This reverberates through the G77, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the G8, the G5 and the African Union. There seems to be a new resolve amongst the global citizen to act wisely and to act now. Our task as Ministers are to convert this public will into political will, and political will into action and implementation.
But there are also red lights; most significantly, the global financial crisis in the face of which some waver, in stead of rising to the challenge and the new opportunities for green growth and development.
Science tells us that the environmental threats to sustainable development and the Millenium Development Goals are even greater than previously thought. The challenges associated with biodiversity, desertification and climate change are of a significantly greater magnitude than we had understood in 2010 seventeen years ago.
It is in this context of great achievement and great frustrations, of new threats and new opportunities, that we as Environment Ministers must make a fresh start. Maintaining the status quo for IEG is untenable.
My challenge to our collective gathered here today is that we must use the next three years, up to 2010 and 2012, to define a new paradigm for our cooperation. We must transform the politics of distrust, break the impasse and build a common vision for IEG reform. Whilst building on UNEP by enhancing its legitimacy, authority and resources, we must ask ourselves fundamental questions on the desired future and how we can find innovative ways of achieving it.
As we re-assess, re-view and re-think, the starting point should be principles, objectives and priorities for IEG, with environmental financing taking centre stage. Only once we are clear where we want to go, should we ask the institutional questions relating to format and structure. Form must follow function. If we start with a polarised institutional debate rather than seeking consensus on principles and objectives, we run the risk of yet another inward looking dialogue and potentially a weaker mandate for the environment and sustainable development across the United Nation (UN) system.
To be in a position to use 2010 and 2012 to celebrate our political decisions on a reinvigorated regime for environmental governance, we should set clear milestones for the next three years.
And in particular, we should bring high-level political guidance back into the process. The political authority should vest in governments. Ministers are the nucleus of this Global Ministerial Environmental Forum, and we must give UNEP the necessary political weight to take us through to 2012.
It has now been nine years since we as politicians, as Environment Ministers, really owned this process and its outcomes. The last time that the outcomes of these deliberations were captured in a political declaration was in Malmo, Sweden in 2000.
It is no reflection on you, Mr President, or on your August judgement, but I hope that this forum will be the last one where we will conclude with a summary and not a politically agreed ministerial declaration. UNEP cannot be steered by a governance system that gives a voice to only a few. The political voice of UNEP must belong to all.
Chair, I would therefore hope that this Global Ministrial Environment Forum (GMEF) will mark a fresh start; that it will mark the re-launch of the debate on IEG reform at a political level, to conclude before 2012; and that it will be the beginning of an open debate on the successes and new challenges for IEG.
The first milestone will be when we meet in a year from now, in February 2010. At that meeting we should ideally adopt a ministerial declaration on the principles and objectives that will guide our further work in the run-up to 2010 and 2012.
Our further work, to be concluded before 2012, would be: firstly to finalise the details on institutional reform and its relationship to UN reform, secondly to improve coordination between Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)'s and system wide coherence, thirdly to build local capacity and bridge the gap between science and policy implementation, and fourthly to re-view or audit the effectiveness of existing international funding mechanisms for environmental activities.
In the latter respect, I believe UNEP should be requested to lead an audit to determine how much money for the environment is flowing through the UN system, the adequacy of funding, what it is used for and how it is aligned, whether there are equitable distribution to participants (including the role of Global ENVIRONMENT Facility (GEF) in environmental financing), whether there are any obstacles or conditionalities that unnecessarily hinder access and finally, whether we are fully exploiting the synergies and co-benefits of environmental and development financing.
Chair, in conclusion, whether the road ahead is "ambitious incrementalism" or "fundamental reform", we need to make a fresh start in our discourse. The road from Nairobi in 2009 should truly enhance the role of the GMEF and Ministers in providing policy advice and guidance. We have a three years window to think big and ambitious, in a way that reflects the scale of the challenge. Together, we can inspire a new generation of thinkers, scientists, leaders in industry, activists, women and youth to take our hands in government towards a sustainable future.
I thank you