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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Opening Statement at the 25th Governing Council United Nations Environment Programme

Daniel A. Reifsnyder
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
25th Governing Council United Nations Environment Programme
Nairobi, Kenya
February 16, 2009


Thank you Mr. President and congratulations on your election.

For the global environment, 2009 holds the promise to be truly an historic year. Not only is this the year of the Copenhagen Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, but it is also a year in which we hope to see renewed interest in our environment broadly and a new spirit of partnership and collaboration in addressing the many environmental challenges we face. On behalf of the new Administration of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, I want to assure you that we will work cooperatively and energetically to achieve the goals that all of us share.

With specific reference to the vital issue of global climate change, please allow me to quote one paragraph from the remarks of our new Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, on announcing the appointment of Todd Stern as our new Special Envoy barely six days after the inauguration. She said:

“So the urgency of the global climate crisis must not be underestimated, nor should the science behind it or the facts on the ground be ignored or dismissed. The time for realism and action is now. And President Obama and I recognize that the solutions to this crisis are both domestic and global, that all nations bare responsibility and all nations must work together to find solutions. Under President Obama, America will take the lead in addressing this challenge, both by making commitments of our own and engaging other nations to do the same.”

Turning to the specific issues at this important meeting, the Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GMEF), we will continue our productive discussions on Global Environmental Architecture, keeping in mind that this architecture will be changed by the decisions that we take here as well as by decisions taken in other intergovernmental bodies such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) replenishment discussions and at Copenhagen.

The United States is ready to continue these ongoing discussions, examining the productive steps that we have taken thus far, such as the synergies work with chemicals agreements and the efforts to mainstream environment through the Poverty and Environment Initiative. Throughout these ongoing discussions, it will be important to maintain flexibility and openness in order to respond to evolving situations and adapt our actions to changing circumstances. Above all, we should seek to build on what works and to be prepared to jettison approaches that have not borne fruit.

In the Governing Council (GC), we have many important decisions before us including those on chemicals, law, biodiversity and ecosystem science, and others. In particular, we believe that a solid basis may now exist for moving forward with a decision to develop a legally binding instrument on mercury and we will have more to say on this issue this afternoon in the Committee of the Whole.

Also critical at the GC is the evolving budget and Program of Work process and the implementation of the Medium Term Strategy. We fully support the reform process and the use of results-based management. At the same time, we should explore this new ground in a transparent and consultative manner, engaging actively with governments throughout the decision-making process.

We must also make certain that UNEP continues to strengthen its commitment to the areas and programs where it has a comparative advantage, such as chemicals, the Regional Seas and Global Program of Action, the Poverty and Environment Initiative, and especially in bringing sound peer-reviewed science to the important challenges we face.

UNEP should have a comparative advantage in helping countries bring sound science and environmental data to the decision-making process. In this regard, UNEP needs to pay particular attention to building the scientific capacity of developing countries in these matters.

Thank you, Mr. President. We look forward to a productive session.

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