Thank you. I would first like to express my appreciation to our host, the Government of Serbia, and to the UNEP secretariat for their hard work in preparing logistics and papers for this meeting. We welcome this first meeting of the consultative group, as well as the opportunity to participate, and we anticipate fruitful discussions.
In February, at the UNEP Governing Council meeting, my delegation supported decision 25/4 on International Environmental Governance, both because it seemed to us that other efforts to move forward in this area had stalled and because an effort in UNEP to develop options for further consideration by the Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum might be very productive, particularly in view of the leading role that UNEP plays within the United Nations system.
At the same time, we are conscious that we are now in an extremely fluid period, one that continues rapidly to evolve. As Argentina so ably noted, we are moving towards the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December, which inevitably will exert a profound influence on further consideration of international environmental governance. Unfortunately, our work under decision 25/4 will need largely to have concluded before Copenhagen. For this reason, we believe that our efforts now must be somewhat tentative and that the GC/GMEF next February may well want to extend the mandate of this effort. In our view, such an extension should be one of the options submitted to the GC/GMEF Special Session in February.
We are also conscious of the grand dilemma facing all those who have sought before us to come to grips with this issue: namely that all options – from dramatic reform to maintaining the status quo – have been criticized for being either too ambitious and therefore infeasible or too limited and therefore irrelevant.
“For this reason and because of the rapid evolution of variables external to UNEP, we would here urge a very focused, practical approach. Let us begin at the center with UNEP and consider first what role it now plays and what role it should play in the future. “. . . before seeking to move beyond the center to consider more broadly what role UNEP now plays within the UN system and what role it should seek to play in the future or to consider the complex relationship between UNEP and the MEAs. While these other, broader issues also need to be addressed, an initial focus on UNEP itself and seeking to develop a series of practical, timely options in this regard would seem to be the sine qua non of reform and a necessary condition precedent to moving into other, broader areas.”
As we go about our business here in Belgrade over the next two days, let us seek to set aside – if not to dispel forever – a shibboleth that has for too long cast a spell over discussions of international environmental governance – namely that this issue is about environment or that this issue is about development. Can we now agree, nearly 40 years after Stockholm, that it is about both – that it is about promoting sustainable development, which itself “marries two important insights: that economic development should be ecologically viable and that environmental protection does not preclude development.” In this regard, we would stress the importance of fully implementing the Bali Strategic Plan.
Co-chairs, we are open to having a second meeting of this consultative group before the Special Session of the GC/GMEF in February. At the same time, we are aware that the calendar of meetings this fall is already extremely full with immediate, pressing issues – Copenhagen foremost among them. It may be difficult to find dates that will work for all participants. Still, it is important that the options we will develop for the Special Session be well-prepared. To this end, we would favor establishing an ad hoc working-level group under the auspices of of this consultative effort to engage electronically with the Secretariat in preparing options for February.
And finally, co-chairs, while we are extremely pleased to be here in Belgrade for this meeting, and we are extremely grateful to the government and people of Serbia for their gracious hospitality, we believe it would be a distraction at this first meeting to seek to prepare a declaration. Our decision at the Governing Council in February called for the development of options – and that should be the focus of our efforts here and for the period leading up to the Special Session next winter.