Press Release and Information Note:
Sound Science Key to Saving the Planet
Researchers and Governments Meet in Nairobi to Help UNEP Boost its
Capabilities in Early Warning and Environmental Assessment
Nairobi, 9 January 2004 - Links between global warming and heavy metal
pollution, soil microbes and bumper crop yields and the degree to which a
degraded environment can trigger instability even war, are likely to be
among the pressing issues facing scientists trying to unravel the fate of
Next week, some of the world's leading experts will gather at the
headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to try and
pin point "knowledge gaps" in a bid to better forecast the impact of
human-kind's actions on the environment of the 21st century.
Areas in need of strengthening include the health effects of chemical
hazards, the impacts of urbanization and megacities on the wider world and
improved understanding of the variety and range of plant and animal life in
the planet's lakes, rivers and other freshwater systems.
Scientists are also keen to address the impact of actions taken to solve
one environmental crisis on other areas of environmental concern.
Many countries, for example, are keen to plant new forests to soak up
carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a way of fighting global warming.
But some experts are concerned that the knock on effects on wildlife, water
supplies and other key environmental areas need to fully understood,
particularly in some sensitive areas, before massive re-afforestation
schemes are launched.
The overall aim of the two-day meeting, which will be followed by one
involving governments and another attended by members of intergovernmental
organizations such as the European Environment Agency and the Convention on
Biological Diversity, is to assess how best to boost UNEP's science base.
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: " Sound science is vital.
Governments cannot be expected to change industrial, agricultural and other
practices without accurate and authoritative evidence that these are not
only cost effective but will genuinely make a difference, that they will
help deliver sustainable development. So we need to plug the remaining gaps
and better understand what is known in the jargon as 'interlinkages', in
essence the consequences of our actions, across a wide range of issues ".
In advance of the meeting, UNEP surveyed the scientific community to pin
point areas of concern.
Between a third and half of those who responded cited issues such as
environment and poverty, environment and trade and environment and conflict
as important areas for improved scientific research.
Other areas in need for strengthening include studies on the disturbance of
the global nitrogen cycle as a result of agricultural fertilizers and
traffic fumes; biodiversity assessments of marine and fresh water
environments; the wider impacts of changes in land cover as a result of
forest loss and agriculture and the health and environmental effects of a
build up of toxic chemicals.
Governments were also questioned about their views on a proposed
Intergovernmental Panel on Global Environmental Change, mirroring the
existing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The IPPC was established by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization
to assess the impacts and suggest solutions for combating climate change.
Over 30 governments expressed support or considered a global environmental
change panel useful. Almost 20 governments rejected the idea.
Notes to Editors
Scientists will be meeting at UNEP headquarters from 12 to 13 January, an
estimated 100 ministers and government experts meet from 14 to 15 January
and the intergovernmental consultations will take place on 16 January.
General Assembly Resolution 2997 (XXVII) of 1972 established UNEP and
provided it with a very broad mandate that amongst others called on UNEP to
keep the global environmental situation under review. UNEP's catalytic and
coordinating role puts the organization at center stage to ensure that the
global assessment process is carried out in a timely, policy-relevant,
cost-efficient and cost-effective manner.
Environmental ministers at the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial
Environment (GC/GMEF) Forum in Cartagena in February 2002 agreed that the
increasing complexity of environmental degradation required an enhanced
capacity for scientific assessment, monitoring and early warning. The
ministers recommended that: "Further consideration should be given to
strengthening UNEP's scientific base by improving its ability to monitor
and assess global environmental change including, inter alia, through the
establishment of an intergovernmental panel on global environmental
The GC/GMEF at its 22nd session (Nairobi, February 2003) discussed the
issue of the intergovernmental panel but could not reach consensus on
whether or not the Panel was needed. GC/GMEF decided that further
consideration of this issue was needed and initiated a consultative process
outlined by GC/GMEF decision GC.22/1/1A. It invited governments,
intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and
scientific institutions to submit to the Executive Director their views on
the following questions:
What are the likely gaps and types of assessment needs with respect to the
environment and environmental change?
How are the United Nations Environment Programme and other organizations
currently meeting those assessment needs?
What options exist with respect to meeting any unfulfilled needs that fall
within the role and mandate of the United Nations Environment Programme?"
UNEP had an excellent response to the questions. An independent analysis
and synthesis of responses was carried out under the auspices of the
Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE). The key
findings were then presented in a synthesis report that is available on the
web at http://science.unep.org/synthesisfinal1.pdf together with all
individual responses http://science.unep.org/searchquestionnaire.asp.
For More Information Please Contact Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of
UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20
623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, E-mail: [log in to unmask] or Nick
Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733
632755, E-mail: [log in to unmask]
UNEP News Release
(See attached file: SI-mtgs-pre-PR.doc)
Head, Assessment Documentation Unit
Division of Early Warning and Assessment
United Nations Environment Programme
P.O. Box 30552
Nairobi, 00100, Kenya
Tel: (254-20) 624299 (+2hr GMT)
Fax: (254-20) 624269
Email: [log in to unmask]
Web: www.unep.org and www.unep.net