World governments agree on new initiatives to meet Johannesburg commitments

During the Global Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, the EU suggested new initiatives on mercury, chemicals management, sustainable production and consumption, engagement of business and international environmental governance.

The biggest Governing Council session that UNEP has ever had concluded its work by adopting more than 40 decisions on issues relating to:

  • international environmental governance;
  • post-conflict environmental assessment;
  • water policy and strategy;
  • a strategic approach to chemicals management;
  • a mercury programme;
  • support to Africa;
  • production and consumption patterns;
  • and the environment and cultural diversity.

However, the overloaded agenda and the difficult nature of the political issues hampered efforts to focus on practical World Summit on Sutainable Development (WSSD) implementation. Moreover, the meeting underlined tensions between the US, which seeks to contain UNEP’s role in sustainable development, and the EU and others, more eager to expand the organisation’s role.

The EU showed a strong involvement in the following issues:

Mercury Programme: Based on the UNEP global mercury assessment, the Council agreed to urge immediate national and international action to reduce risks to the environment and human health. The EU and Norway argued strongly for a text providing for the possibility of a proposal for a legally binding instrument at the Governing Council’s 23rd session. This was opposed by Australia, New Zealand and the US, who advocated focusing resources on immediate action.

Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management: Governments agreed to request from UNEP that it support initiatives to enhance corporate responsibility and accountability and consumer awareness, taking into account gender issues and the different circumstances of countries. The decision recognizes the requirement for further training, awareness raising and capacity-building programmes on sustainable production and consumption, in particular in developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

Sustainable Production and Consumption: The EU submitted a text on UNEP’s development of a 10-year programme for sustainable consumption and production. The US argued that the inclusion of the words “life cycle initiative” was unacceptable due to concerns over trade restrictions and, with Australia and the G-77/China, strongly objected to a code of conduct, finding it unrealistic and premature. The EU, supported by Switzerland and Norway, agreed to drop a piece of text relating to the code of conduct, in return for stronger language on UNEP’s role regarding the 10-year framework of programmes supporting the shift to sustainable production and consumption.

Engaging Business and Industry: Following consultations between the US and EU on the degree of government regulation required in this area, a revised text based on the WSSD’s formulation on this matter was adopted. It requests that Member States submit elements for guidelines for cooperation between UNEP and business and industry to UNEP by 1 October 2003, and asks the Executive Director to distribute these elements to all Member States by 15 November 2003, allowing UNEP to begin the development of consistent guidelines.

International Environmental Governance: The EU and Norway supported the establshment of an Intergover nmental Panel on Global Environmental Change (IPEC). The text adopted refers to the establishment of such an institution as one of several options.


The UK, on behalf of the EU,said the EU would remain faithful to the commitments it had made in Johannesburg. Asserting that UNEP’s role as the leading environmental agency had been confirmed, the UK said EU ministers were committed to making the Global Ministerial Environment Forum the key worldwide arena for international policy guidance on environmental issues.

Julio Garcia-Burgues, Head of the Commission's Unit for international environmental affairssaid, "We have achived our two main objectives for the meeting: chemicals and sustainable patterns of production and consumption. To play an active part in international negotiations, we will need to do more work on sustainable production and consumption. During the review of the EU sustainable development strategy at the Spring Council, we expect sustainable production and consumption to be identified as a priority".

The Slovak Republic, speaking for the Eastern European Group,said the decisions taken at this gathering represented a practical step forward from the WSSD. It highlighted action on education, capacity building and science, which it said would lead to a strengthening of the scientific basis of UNEP’s work.

Matt Philipps, from Friends of the Earth International, said: "It's a contrast how governments follow-up something they really want like free trade with something they are less committed to like sustainable development. During the Johannesburg Summit and the UNEP's meeting, European governments have not really demonstrated commitment to a long term active process that makes sustainability a priority for the planet. We need to see leadership from the Europeans to deliver on sustainable development in the face of US intransigence."

On the contrary,for some observers, the EU, with its stringent environmental standards, made attempts in the negotiations on chemicals and sustainable consumption and production to move beyond WSSD commitments. Other developed countries, such as the US, and developing countries, including South Africa, resisted this.


The 22nd session of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council and fourth Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GMEF) took place from 3-7 February 2003, at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Nearly 1,000 participants, including delegates from 148 countries, attended the week-long gathering.

The Council consists of 58 states that serve four-year terms on the basis of the following geographic distribution: 16 African, 13 Asian, 13 Western European and North American, 10 Latin American and Caribbean, and 6 Eastern European states.

The EU is currently represented by the following countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.


The next international UN event will be the World Water Forum taking place in Kyoto, Japan, from 16 to 23 March 2003.

The eleventh session of the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development will be held from 28 April to 9 May 2002 in New York, USA. It will set UNEP’s role in the implementation of WSSD commitments together with other UN agencies.

At a paneuropean level, the fifth ministerial “Environment for Europe” conference taking place from 21 to 23 May 2003, in Kiev, Ukraine, will address environmental policy in transition; environmental monitoring; the third pan-European environmental assessment report; environmental strategy for countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia; environment, water and security in Central Asia; mountain initiatives; environmental education; and energy.


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