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Jacob Scherr’s Blog

Beyond Rio+20: Reflections on the Road to Nairobi and Paris

Jacob Scherr

Posted February 25, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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Thumbnail image for UNEP.jpg

I just traveled to Nairobi for the first Universal Session of the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council and then on to Paris for meetings with government officials and civil society on climate change and global goals.  I have come back with a sense that  there is new momentum in the four-decade-long quest to protect the planet.  I have also returned with some initial thoughts about where we are headed in the next critical few years.

Having campaigned extensively around the Rio+20 Earth Summit last June, I was very encouraged to see that Rio+20 is stimulating new thinking, new approaches, and new actions.  In spite of continuing economic challenges, there appears to be a growing sense of urgency as to the need to address climate change and to put the world onto a more sustainable path.  The world has noticed President Obama recent statements about  climate change and his appointment of Secretary of State Kerry; and there is new hope that the U.S. will provide needed leadership.

In Nairobi last year, UNEP celebrated its 40th anniversary and this year, the agency’s upgrading.  The Rio+20 Earth Summit called for enhancing UNEP’s role as the environmental voice of the United Nations.   Now all nations will be members of its governing body; and UNEP will have increased access to the regular UN budget.  UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner commented that:

Ministers responsible for the environment implemented the strengthening and upgrading of UNEP to an institution better equipped and resourced to serve the planet and its people to meet the ever growing challenges posed by ecosystem degradation to the growth of greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere while catalyzing transformational change to seize the equally fast growing opportunities for a sustainable development path change...

In his opening statement to the Governing Council, Steiner reviewed UNEP’s successes over the last year, including the completion of the mercury treaty (see my colleague’s blog here) and the rapid growth of a new global coalition to tackle black carbon and other climate pollutants.  Think Eat Save.jpgUNEP has also gained wider acceptance of its Green Economy concept and announced a new partnership with 30 countries to apply this approach where it really matters at the national level.   Finally, UNEP launched a new global public outreach campaign called "Think Eat Save" to stimulate action to stop the waste of 30% of the food produced each year.  I sensed a much greater appreciation of the need to accelerate attention and action at every level from the international to the individual.   

In Paris, French government and civil society are already thinking about 2015. While not finalized, it appears that France will be the host that year for the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN climate treaty.  This is the COP which is supposed to produce a new legally-binding climate agreement. 

I heard repeatedly that climate finance will be a critical issue to the success of the next set of climate negotiations.  At Copenhagen in 2009, the developed nations promised to substantially increase investments in developing countries to address and deal with climate change.   At the 2015 COP, the developing countries will be pointing to the target of $100 billion a year by 2020 as a test of the seriousness of the developed countries.

paris.jpgThere is a search underway for what a new architecture for the global climate regime might look like.  For example, a new legal agreement might recognize the variety of approaches that national governments are now taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to measure their reductions.  Also the gathering in France would be much more than just a formal meeting of the “Parties” to the climate treaty.  There were interesting suggestions of organizing parallel "COPs" of other key actors - regional and local authorities, corporations, and civil society - that might meet to make their own commitments to take action on climate. 

Finally, in both Paris and Nairobi, I had a number of conversations about the various UN processes now underway that will lead to the adoption of a new set of global goals – successors to the Millennium Development Goals which are set to expire in 2015.   The UN has now initiated what is probably the most extensive global consultations ever with meetings planned for more than 50 countries and opportunities for electronic engagement in defining “the world we want.”  Whether the nations can really negotiate a short list of global priorities remains to be seen, but the processes now underway will help stimulate even more new thinking, new approaches, and even more new actions towards a sustainable future.

All photos by S. Jacob Scherr

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Comments

stephen RichterFeb 26 2013 11:57 AM

The optimism expressed here is refreshing, and I sense that if the United States does not take a major role in leadership toward global sustainability, the goals of the UNEP will be an uphill battle.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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