With UNEP's expanded role, how much more technical assistance?

    Nick Nuttall, communications director of the United Nations Environment Program. Photo by: Guilherme Costa / U.N.

    Expect a series of major decisions today on the last day of a high-level United Nations meeting, including on the role of the the U.N. Environment Program in fighting climate change.

    All major decisions at the first Universal Session of the UNEP Governing Council and Global Ministerial Forum in Nairobi will happen Friday, Feb. 22, on the five-day summit’s final day, the agency’s communications director, Nick Nuttall, told Devex.

    But tentative proposals and ongoing discussions are suggesting the high-level gathering could give UNEP more sway within the U.N. system. UNEP’s expanded role is no surprise in itself: World leaders agreed on it last year at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20. The agency has, for the longest time, been funded almost exclusively by donations.

    “Our funding is 99.999 percent voluntary funding from governments,” Nuttall told Devex on Thursday.

    So today, at the first global meeting since the General Assembly signed off on this position in December 2012, environmental ministers and their colleagues are considering ways for UNEP to actually boost its status within the United Nations. Throughout the week, several leaders, like Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, highlighted UNEP’s potential to serve as a catalyst in climate change mitigation.

    How do you also include civil society organizations much more in the decision making processes? One proposal on the table is for a significant UNEP-led global conference, once every three years, with scientists, social scientists and researchers that would consider emerging issues, challenges and successes in the environment.

    Exactly how much money UNEP will have to work with in the coming years is an another issue, Nuttall said: “There is a lot of debate right now about how much more of the U.N. regular budget UNEP will be provided with, to allow it to do more under this increased mandate.”

    Another proposal presented at the universal session is to strengthen UNEP’s present core budget by between 30 percent and 40 percent. UNEP’s total budget for 2014-2015 is $631 million, an increase from the 2012-2013 budget. This would not necessarily signal more projects and on-the-ground programs, though.

    “That’s not our role,” Nuttall said. “It would still be to coordinate environmental activities within the U.N. system, but also to demonstrate pilot projects or show a shift in how you can actually move from A to B, whether it be in terms of renewable energy or managing water.”

    More voluntary country funding could also enable UNEP to advise more governments in constructing green economies as part of its Green Economy Initiative, launched in 2008.

    “This doesn’t require vast sums,” Nuttall said, “but it does require some budget.”

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    About the author

    • Amy Lieberman

      Amy Lieberman is an award-winning journalist based in New York City. Her coverage on politics, social justice issues, development and climate change has appeared in a variety of international news outlets, including The Guardian, Slate and The Atlantic. She has reported from the U.N. Headquarters, in addition to nine countries outside of the U.S. Amy received her master of arts degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in May 2014. Last year she completed a yearlong fellowship on the oil industry and climate change and co-published her findings with a team in the Los Angeles Times.