United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director, Achim Steiner, to Serve Two More Years, By General Assembly Decision


Nairobi -- Acting on the recommendation of the Secretary-General, the General Assembly extended for two years the appointment of Achim Steiner as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Before joining UNEP, Mr. Steiner served as Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) from 2001 to 2006, and prior to that as Secretary General of the World Commission on Dams. His professional career has included assignments with governmental, non-governmental and international organizations across the globe, including India, Pakistan, Germany, Zimbabwe, USA, Vietnam, South Africa, Switzerland and Kenya. He worked both at grassroots level as well as at the highest levels of international policy-making to address the interface between environmental sustainability, social equity and economic development.

Mr. Steiner, a German and Brazilian national, was born in Brazil in 1961. His educational background includes a BA from the University of Oxford as well as an MA from the University of London with a specialization in development economics, regional planning, and international development and environment policy. He also studied at the German Development Institute in Berlin and the Harvard Business School.

During Mr. Steiner's tenure as UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, UNEP has made significant strides?from the launch of the Green Economy Initiative in 2008 to the strengthening of UNEP as part of the Rio+20 outcome, the establishment of the first international science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystems (IPBES), the adoption of the milestone Minamata Convention on mercury, and the production of authoritative and influential environmental assessments and tools to guide political negotiation processes as well as policy development and implementation at the global, regional and international levels.

The Strengthening of UNEP

The Rio+20 Summit, followed by a UN General Assembly resolution, approved the upgrading and strengthening of UNEP.

As a result, the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) will be held in June 2014. It will be the highest-level global platform for environmental policy making ? with universal membership and full participation from all 193 UN member states ? feeding directly into the General Assembly.

At the same time, there has been a steady increase in funding for UNEP since 2006, with record levels of resources mobilized for 2013/14.

The Green Economy

At Rio+20, more than 190 nations gave the green light to an inclusive Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. An inclusive Green Economy has the potential to improve human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Today, the Green Economy is at the heart of efforts to design an equitable and effective Post-2015 development agenda.

The initiative was first launched in October 2008, at the height of the economic crises. It aimed to mobilize and re-focus the global economy towards investments in clean technologies and 'natural' infrastructure such as forests and soils as the best bet for real growth, combating climate change and triggering an employment boom in the 21st century.

At the time, Mr. Steiner said: 'The financial, fuel and food crises of 2008 are in part a result of speculation and a failure of governments to intelligently manage and focus markets. But they are also part of a wider market failure triggering ever deeper and disturbing losses of natural capital and nature-based assets coupled with an over-reliance of finite, often subsidized fossil fuels.'

'The flip side of the coin is the enormous economic, social and environmental benefits likely to arise from combating climate change and re-investing in natural infrastructure - benefits ranging from new green jobs in clean tech and clean energy businesses up to ones in sustainable agriculture and conservation-based enterprises,' he added.

In early 2014, Mr. Steiner launched in Davos an inquiry into policy options for guiding the global financial system to invest in the transition to a green economy. The inquiry aims to engage, inform and guide policy makers, financial market actors and other stakeholders concerned with the health of the financial system and its potential for shaping the future economy. Ultimately, it will lay out a series of options for advancing a sustainable financial system.

The Minamata Convention

International efforts to address mercury? a notorious heavy metal with significant health and environmental effects ? were delivered a significant boost with governments agreeing to a global, legally-binding treaty to prevent emissions and releases in January 2013. The Minamata Convention on Mercury? which will reduce emissions and releases of the toxic metal into air, land and water and phase out many products that contain mercury ? was opened for signature on 10 October 2013. It has since been signed by 96 countries and ratified by one (the United States).

New International Science-policy Platform

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was set up to assist governments and citizens to better understand the state, trends and challenges facing the natural world and humanity in the 21st century.

The Platform will bridge the gulf between the wealth of scientific knowledge on the accelerating declines and degradation of the natural world, with knowledge on effective solutions and decisive government action required to reverse these damaging trends.

Its various roles will include carrying out high-quality peer reviews of the wealth of science on biodiversity and ecosystem services emerging from research institutes across the globe in order to provide gold standard reports to governments.

These reports will not only cover the state, status and trends of biodiversity and ecosystems, but will also outline transformational policy options and responses to bring about real change in their fortunes.

IPBES will achieve this in part by prioritizing, making sense of and bringing consistency to the great variety of reports and assessments conducted by United Nations bodies, research centres, universities and others as they relate to biodiversity and ecosystem services.

On the Road to a New Climate Change Agreement

Under Mr. Steiner's leadership, UNEP has issued four editions of its authoritative annual Emissions Gap Report, detailing the amount of CO2 equivalent emissions that must be cut in order to keep the planet on track within its 2°C target and head off a host of negative impacts.

The Emissions Gap Report 2013-involving 44 scientific groups in 17 countries and coordinated by UNEP-was released ahead of the Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Warsaw.

It finds that although pathways exist that could reach the 2oC target with higher emissions, not narrowing the gap will exacerbate mitigation challenges after 2020.

This will mean much higher rates of global emission reductions in the medium term; greater lock-in of carbon-intensive infrastructure; greater dependence on often unproven technologies in the medium term; greater costs of mitigation in the medium and long term; and greater risks of failing to meet the 2°C target. Even if nations meet their current climate pledges, greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are likely to be 8 to 12 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent above the level that would provide a likely chance of remaining on the least-cost pathway.

If the gap is not closed or significantly narrowed by 2020, the door to many options to limit temperature increase to a lower target of 1.5° C will be closed, further increasing the need to rely on faster energy-efficiency improvements and biomass with carbon capture and storage.

At the time, Mr. Steiner said, 'Delayed actions means a higher rate of climate change in the near term and likely more near-term climate impacts, as well as the continued use of carbon-intensive and energy-intensive infrastructure. This 'lock-in' would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a sustainable, green future.'

'However, the stepping stone of the 2020 target can still be achieved by strengthening current pledges and by further action, including scaling up international cooperation initiatives in areas such as energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform and renewable energy,' he added. 'Even agriculture can contribute, as direct emissions from this sector are currently responsible for 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions-more if its indirect emissions are taken into account.'

The Environment under Review

UNEP is mandated to keep the state of the global environment under review.

UNEP Live, a cutting-edge, dynamic new platform to collect, process and share the world's best environmental science and research, was launched in January 2014.

The platform provides data access to both the public and policy-makers using distributed networks, cloud computing, big data and improved search functions.

It will fill gaps between data providers and consumers and will focus on the latest information and emerging issues. Through the platform's apps, multimedia content and digital publishing tools, users will have access to data from UNEP, national and regional resources and other knowledge and data providers. Moreover, through these tools and resources, UNEP Live will extend the knowledge base for global environmental policy-making and evidence-based analysis.

It will also support the streamlining of national monitoring, reporting and verification of data for global and regional environmental goals, including the post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Public access to data is a fundamental element in the transformation to a vibrant green economy. Better access allows citizens to better understand - and even participate in the collection of - data on environmental changes.

The role of the public in 'citizen science', or the crowd-sourcing of data, is one of the most cutting-edge and exciting tools emerging in the global research arena. It provides people a greater voice in policy development and monitoring, which is crucial to an inclusive green economy.

Through the UNEP Live initiative, UNEP will work with a number of global partners (UN-DESA - on implementing frameworks for environmental data and statistics; UN Stats Division - in coordinating support to countries to improve access to information; the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization on integrated indicators for the sustainable development goals; as well as UN regional offices) to advise on which environmental data sets should be prioritized for collection and sharing with the public.

Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5)

GEO-5 is the most authoritative assessment of the state, trends and outlook of the global environment. The report is produced over three years in a process that involved more than six hundred experts worldwide, who collate and analyze data from every continent to build up a detailed picture of the world's wellbeing.

The fifth edition of GEO-5, launched on the eve of the Rio+20 Summit in June 2011, assessed 90 of the most-important environmental goals and objectives and found that significant progress had only been made in four.

According to the wide-ranging assessment, the world continues to speed down an unsustainable path despite over 500 internationally agreed goals and objectives to support the sustainable management of the environment and improve human wellbeing.

The report cautions that if humanity does not urgently change its ways, several critical thresholds may be exceeded, beyond which abrupt and generally irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet could occur.

'If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and 'decoupled', then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation,' said Mr. Steiner. 'GEO-5 reminds world leaders and nations meeting at Rio+20 why a decisive and defining transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient, job-generating Green Economy is urgently needed. The scientific evidence, built over decades, is overwhelming and leaves little room for doubt.'

'The moment has come to put away the paralysis of indecision, acknowledge the facts and face up to the common humanity that unites all peoples,' he added.

Notes to Editors

  • Mr. Steiner is the recipient of a number of international awards and prizes including:

2010 Leadership Award for Principled Pragmatism - Tällberg Foundation; Shark Guardian of the Year 2008 - Shark Project; Schubert Preis - 2008 Bruno H. Schubert Stiftung Steiger Award - Umwelt 2007. In 2009 His Serene Highness, Prince Albert of Monaco conferred upon Mr. Steiner the decoration of Officer of the Order of Saint Charles.

  • Back in 2006, the UN General Assembly unanimously elected Mr. Steiner as the Executive Director of UNEP for a four-year term, acting on the nomination of then Secretary-General Kofi Annan,. He became the fifth Executive Director in UNEP's history.
  • At its 83rd plenary meeting in 2010, the UN General Assembly, on the proposal of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, re-elected Mr. Achim Steiner as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme for another four-year term.
  • Mr. Steiner was appointed as Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON), where he served from March 2009 to May 2011.
  • Mr. Steiner also chairs two UN system wide entities:

HLCP - High-level Committee on Programmes of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB); and EMG - United Nations Environment Management Group. He serves on a number of international advisory boards, including the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED).

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