UnitedNations launches pioneering website on global state of the environment

The launch of a new website by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was a highlight of its Governing Council meeting, where the possible future power and insufficient funding of the body were also up for debate.

The 21st session of the UNEP’s Governing Council, its most important gathering, in Nairobi, Kenya from 5-9 February, with ministerial participation from over 100 countries, witnessed the launch of a new on the state of the environment and the effects of degradation globally. The ‘one stop’ service provides the most up-to-date environmental information on every country and territory in the world, together with satellite maps, making it the probably the most comprehensive global environmental database on the internet.

For each nation or territory the website provides:

  • satellite maps showing all protected areas, with information on every site and global rankings of hectares protected, number of areas and percentage of land area protected;
  • information on each country or territory’s ecology, human impact and climate, with maps for each;
  • UN recognised priority zones for each area listing biological importance, conservation, human pressure and research for flora and fauna, demonstrated by maps;
  • a UN environmental outlook for each nation or territory, considering the impacts of climate change;
  • a national governmental outlook for each nation or territory, detailing policy and upcoming relevant legislation;
  • contact information for relevant national NGO’s and the minister of the environment.

At its conference, the UNEP also decided to attempt to boost its own power globally by establishing “an open-ended intergovernmental group of ministers or their representatives to examine how to strengthen international environmental governance and the funding of UNEP” in the run up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio + 10) to be held in 2002 in Johannesburg. This would be especially useful for many developing countries, not sufficiently empowered by existing institutions. The body also attempted to address its financial difficulties, as current funding, which decreased in 2000, is insufficient to provide for its core functions. All nations, but especially Arab states, were particularly singled out for greater contribution. However, there were no new financial pledges: only the EU, which is already responsible for 60% of UNEP’s core funding, pledged to consider an increase.

The most important decisions taken at the conference also included a global study on the health and environmental impacts of mercury, including a cost assessment of mercury anti-pollution measures and technologies. Governments were urged to ratify the recent “critical” treaty on Persistent Organic Pollutants treaty covering 12 chemicals  by 2004, and to eliminate the use of lead in petrol. Assistance will be given to developing countries to phase-out leaded petrol through funding, capacity building, information and technical assistance. Many nations expressed their frustration at failure over means of acceding to the Kyoto Protocol.

One controversial issue which was voted on, and subsequently approved, was an assessment of the environmental repercussions of recent unrest in the occupied Palestinian territories and assisting the Palestinian Authority to address urgent environmental challenges. Israel and the US had objected, but other nations considered the action necessary.

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