26 Nov 2019

Venue: International Environment House II (7-9 ch. de Balexert)

Organization: Geneva Environment Network

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Geneva Environment Network, a high-level discussion on environmental governance was organized at the place where, almost 50 years ago, the first governing council meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) took place, setting up UNEP and the Sustainable Development Agenda. The event also discussed how international Geneva can continue to contribute to put environment on the highest political agenda.


Welcome & Introduction
Inger ANDERSEN, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme
Sebastian KÖNIG, UNEP Focal Point, Switzerland (on behalf of Swiss Ambasssador for the Environment, Franz PERREZ)

Opening remarks
Johanna LISSINGER PEITZ, Senior Advisor, Swedish Ministry of the Environment
H.E. Amb. Cleopa K. MAILU, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kenya

Discussion on the role of Geneva in placing environment on the highest political agenda
Inger ANDERSEN, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme
Nikhil SETH, Director General, United Nations Institute for Training and Research
Isabelle DURANT, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
María MENDILUCE, Managing Director, Climate & Energy, Cities & Mobility and Circular Economy, World Business Council for Sustainable Development
Marie-Claire GRAF, Vice-President, Swiss Youth for Climate

Moderation: Bruno POZZI, Europe Director, UN Environment Programme


Welcome and introduction

The event started with UNEP Executive Director, Inger Anderson, highlighting how the organization is deeply thankful for the two decades of Switzerland’s support to the Geneva Environment Network, a platform for sharing, policy and engagement.

In its welcoming remarks Switzerland reminded the audience that in 1962, Rachel Carson shocked with her book the “Silent Spring,” informing about the adverse effects of chemical agriculture and became quickly a trademark of environmental activism.

Ten years later, the conference on the Human Environment in 1972, held in Stockholm, reflected the growing interest in conservation issues worldwide and laid the foundation for global environmental governance. The final declaration of the Stockholm Conference was an environmental manifesto that was a forceful statement of the finite nature of the Earth’s resources and the necessity for humanity to safeguard them. The Stockholm Conference also led to the creation of UNEP to coordinate global efforts to safeguard the natural environment. In that respect, the United Nations were at the time a forerunner that took on the environmental concern from the public and academia, establishing principles and concrete measures at the international level.

Today, almost 50 years later, Switzerland suggests we question how we can ensure that the UN still stands for this leading role in environmental protection, and what are the challenges we face. We must work on inherent and underlying environmental problems and emerging concerns in a synergistic way and bring these issues onto the highest political level, formulate policy options and provide policy guidance.

Many of the underlying and emerging issues are part of the questions on how to achieve sustainable production and consumption pattern, for example the one on global plastic pollution. One figure that underlines this importance is that to date, 8,300 million metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced, 79% of this waste has accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.

Geneva is a place where the UN strive to forge multilateral solutions to global concerns. With respect to global plastic pollution, the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention agreed this year in Geneva to amend the Convention, to improve the control of plastic waste exports.

The International Environment House is a place where under a common roof a range of UN and non-governmental organizations are active in the field of environment and sustainable development. It is a symbol for a UN that is not restricting itself to its silos but open to engage and collaborate with other UN agencies and stakeholders. In the context of the topic of plastic pollution, it is also a symbol because we don’t’ only need all actors to promote solutions, what we need are different actors working together, finding synergies among their activities and competences, and delivering results.

As the plastic issue in the ocean concerns the whole life cycle and sustainable patterns of production and consumption, Geneva, as a true environmental hub, and UNEP in the lead, can draw from the expertise from and synergies with other organizatons such as UNCTAD, WTO, WHO, ILO and others. With the Environmental Management Group they have a tool to foster the collaboration among the actors and enhance synergies.

Introductory remarks by Sweden

Accelerating – Action – Ambition – Urgency – Unprecedented – Transformation – Change – Science – Youth – Envolvment – Stakeholders – Partnerships – Coherence – Synergies – Cooperation – Integration – Implementation – Capacity – Support. These are all words used by Sweden in official statements related to the global environmental agenda that imply actions and also inspire the work of the Geneva Environment Network. They signal recognition, willingness, the need to do more. What we are committed to is not always enough or we are not implementing in the speed that the challenges araise.

The assessments we do are approaching issues by issues and not looking at the systematic approach. The solutions require integration. We should look at the driving forces and opportunities as the science is clear – we need to do more and we need to do it together.

Introductory remarks by Kenya

Science is clear. We need more efforts to avoid a global environmental crisis, with a point of no return. The conference of Stockholm in 1972 initiated the global effort to address environmental problems and led to the creation of UNEP, the global environmental authority, that Kenya proudly hosts. Kenya is also active in taking actions to address these issues, under the leadership of its President. Kenya aims to increase its forest cover from 7% to 15% by 2022, to coincide with UNEP’s 50th birthday.

The Geneva Environment Network has been instrumental in promoting increased cooperation and networking among its members and provide public outreach on environmental issues in international Geneva. Geneva is a hub for environmental governance, and in hands with Nairobi can contribute to address global environmental issues to achieve SDGs, and enhance cooperation and coherence among our institutions. Kenya will continue to play its role in the multilateral agenda on environmental-related issues.


Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UNEP

  • Emissions Gap Report 2019: need for serious cuts in CO2 emissions
  • 7.8 million species on planet, due to Climate Change close to 1million species are at the verge of extinction
  • Circular economy – Plastic, clothes/garments
  • Climate change is an existential issue. It is critical that it is not only dealt with by the environment sector, but also finance, energy, agriculture & every other sector. To everyday conversations – dining table, inside and outside classrooms, Universities, Offices, so on
  • Nowadays, the environment is brought to the core of everyday conversations (dining table, inside and outside classrooms, universities, offices) more frequently thanks to the youth, businesses and NGOs
  • Year 2020 is a super year for the environment: Paris Agreement into effect, Conference on Oceans in Portugal, CBD COP15, UNFCCC COP26 in UK
  • G20 – >70% emissions – Year 2020 – Can G20 submit more ambitious NDCs in 2020?
  • Traveling around the world we see a core focus on environmental issues at all levels.
  • Looking forward: “Pop the bubble”. It’s time for activism! Where there is access to finance you see entrepreneurial engagement, creative energy for news business & opportunities.

Isabelle Durant, Deputy Secretary General, UNCTAD

  • Trade, investment, technology, protection of consumer, macroeconomic policies: all have an influence on environment and sustainability
  • Our destiny is not in our hands alone… Global collaboration and efforts are needs of the day
  • Experts in different sectors never speak to each other, they rarely interact, but there is the need for a comprehensive approach: Trade + Environment = Environmentally sustainable trade
  • Today networking is the best thing we can do for multilateralism
  • Looking forward: Export the Geneva Environment Network model outsideof Geneva, real network among partners

Marie-Clarie Graf, Vice-President, Swiss Youth for Climate

  • Transform the system of decision making so that the solutions are transformed as well
  • Important to include the youth and civil society in the decision-making process in a meaningful manner at the highest level
  • Nature based solutions – May cost little, but impacts are huge
  • Low-cost solutions are not given importance as their cost is ‘LOW’
  • What are we burning for? Are we as individual doing enough?
  • Looking forward: Include young people and civil society at all levels and facilitate their participation

Nikhil Seth, Director General, UNITAR

  • Multilateralism has moved away from meeting of ministers to meeting and interaction of NGOs, businesses, academia, youth
  • Proposed Conventions related to Environment under one roof – WIPO model – To have unified and measured global outcomes
  • As multilateralism is changing we need to think on what advocacy & transformation is needed to find solutions to fill the gaps.
  • Life is integrated, and we have to view global challenges all together, as it is done in the SDGs.
  • Solutions to people who are already willing to act rather than trying to convince the inconvincible
  • Looking forward: Analyse the gaps to fill them

Maria Mendiluce, Managing Director, WBCSD

  • Need to educate people of all ages, not only young
  • Role of non-state actors in implementation of NDCs – Consider shared decision-making and implementation of policies
  • We need to find a better way of working together
  • Business has solutions & is ready to bring transformation.
  • Looking forward: More engagement with business



The event was live on Facebook.


Photos © UNEP, Digna Francisco. Available on BRS MEAs Flickr.