Year 2016 is at its midlife crisis. It already had its share of chaos that started with tsunami of migration from war torn regions knocking the shore of Europe. Add to that waves violence and terrorism that caused with shutting the borders by some European countries. A rise of unexpected Presidential candidate in USA who is riding on these dangerous waves has proposed to build walls on its borders to make USA great again. Brexit has officially signaled the self-isolation that has already heralded similar exits by the countries. Setbacks to Obama who planned to leave a legacy of his inclusive policy on immigrants has created glooms to millions in USA. China’s smooth takeoff as global political player to hood-wink USA in South China sea after a crash landing on economic front has made 2016 as year of super-power clashes. The world-of-walls is new movement that is set to go viral.
Sadly, frightening but most authoritative report on state of environment released by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in May 2016 was eclipsed in the bedlam of terrorist attacks , tsunami of migration, shocking Brexit and power plays in South China sea.
The report, called Global environmental Outlook ( GEO) , stated that the environment is deteriorating faster than previously thought, making it imperative that governments act now to reverse the worst trends. The red alert that nature’s overexploitation can portent food shortages, enhance water scarcity, lead the world to unknown and deadly diseases, destabilize the economy and even dislodge the entire populations met with mute response by the policy makers of the world. The axis evidenced by UNEP between the environmental degradation and economic instability, raging wars and never ending conflicts met with wall of silent response by the leaders of major economy.
The frightening buzzer that the report thuds for Asia- Pacific, home for more than 60 percent of global population is that more than 40 per cent of all natural disasters reported over the last two decades occurred in the this region, which also accounted for 91 per cent of the world’s deaths attributable to natural disasters in the last century. The indiscriminate and unsustainable consumption of natural resources, by burgeoning 2 billion plus middle class-not excluding 15 million millionaires and billionaires -is pointed as the main driver for natural disasters.
The media pre-occupied with social and economic upheavals has widely overlooked this warning from UN’s top environmental organization.
Entry this week of a new honcho of UNEP, Erick Solheim, heralds some meaningful transformation the way ecological collapse is treated by the world. He has that distinct character, background to make difference by opening the windows in the tall walls and unlocking the gates of the formidable fencing to allow integrated and inclusive solutions to the growing paradox of development and environment. What more, he also has potential to contribute to launch a global thought process on root causes embedded in ecological degradation that fuel violence, conflicts and destabilization of the society. He can strengthen the belief that peacekeeping between the nations is better achieved not by focusing on the front-line and trenches in the battlegrounds but by promoting harmony between humans and nature at the rear end.
Mr. Solheim , citizen of Norway, has been elected by United Nations General Assembly for four-year term as Executive Director of UNEP. He unlike his predecessors is not only known as environmental steward or green politician but is also known to have hands-on experience in peacekeeping and management of disaster and conflicts. He goes beyond the routine appeal of ‘need to take action for next generation’ approach. He looks more for ways to promote long-term peace through meaningful diplomacy, sustainable and inclusive developmental cooperation. Never before UNEP had leader with such multidimensional background.
Mr. Solheim, who in the past struggled as a socialist for saving the environment through non-governmental organization, has served as Minister of International Development of Norway and later held the combined portfolio of Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development. He has also played diplomatic role for the government of Norway in international negotiations for environmental issues like climate change as well as peace making efforts, notably in Sri Lanka.
Mr. Solheim takes over to lead the UNEP when it is undergoing critical transformation on global stage. UNEP, established in 1972 as a sequel to Stockholm conference on Human Environment, is authoritative voice on global environmental issues. Except for the global accords like the Montreal Protocol that was aimed at protecting the Ozone layer, many of the authoritative voices from UNEP unfortunately evoked deceitful hypocrisy from the world leaders. The positioning of UNEP within the UN-edifice, overlapping environmental mandates of UN agencies and competition between them for the funding from the depleted global purse are some of the reasons for passive heeding of UNEP’s findings. In December 2012, following the Rio+20 Summit, a decision by the General Assembly of the United Nations was taken to ‘strengthen and upgrade’ the UNEP. It also established universal membership of its governing council, now called as United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA), the highest decision-making body on environmental matters in the UN system. It is said that such transformation of UNEP, widely credited to the all out efforts of outgoing chief Achim Steiner, after more than 4 decades of its establishment, symbolizes the coming of the age of UNEP. It would bring the nexus of environmental degradation and developmental imperatives as well as social and economical conflicts in the global amphitheater.
UNEA is now highest decision-making body on environmental matters in the UN system, and has universal membership of all 193 UN Member States. The second session of UNEA was held just a month before Erik Solheim’s entry into UNEP on 26th June.
“Leading UNEP into the future at this critical juncture in history carries with it great expectations. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals have given a renewed framework for us to work towards protecting our vulnerable Earth while bringing every human being out of poverty”, he stated while taking charge of UNEP.
Mr. Solheim is strong believer in the potential of the private sector to be the game changer to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals ( SDGs) unanimously agreed by all nations at UN in last September.As a Chair of the Development Assistance Committee of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ( OECD), he recognized that trillions of dollars of incremental resources needed over next 15 years to achieve SDGs would not be forthcoming without private sector’s active investments.
Indeed over next 15 years private sector is projected to invest about USD 20 trillions, but redirecting it for achieving sustainable development would be the indicator of how new chief of UNEP leverages his multidimensional character.END
By By Rajendra Shende, IIT-Alumni, Chairman TERRE Policy Centre , former Director UNEP.