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Environment ‘now mainstreamed,’ says UNEP head

The environment is for the first time successfully being mainstreamed into decision-making, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner has asserted at an event reflecting on his decade at the helm of the organisation.


During a special session organised by the Geneva Environment Network on 26 April, Mr Steiner looked back at his legacy with UNEP ahead of the end of his tenure in June and laid out what he sees as the biggest challenges for the future. The Executive Director was interviewed by Claude Martin, former Director General of WWF International; and Liliana Andanova, Professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.


Whereas the Millennium Development Goals only included a specific goal on the environment at the last minute – Mr Steiner revealed - the format and content of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted last year demonstrate how an integrated approach is now being taken to the topic, he underlined.


A majority of the 17 goals are directly related to the environment and over 90 specific targets relate to the topic throughout the goals. The SDGs “respond to how the world has become more complex,” said Mr Steiner, and show how the UN is now “the universally accepted body for fostering an integrated approach,” he noted.


Crucial to achieving this, the outgoing Executive Director said he sees his main legacy as being the creation of the UN Environment Assembly, which broadened and increased membership of UNEP’s governing body from 58 members to all UN member states and the full spectrum of civil society. During his tenure, the UNEP head also oversaw several multilateral environmental agreements and conjured the Green Economy concept which states are now using as a tool for sustainable development across sectors without degrading the environment.


Looking ahead, Mr Steiner believes that the biggest challenge the next Executive Director will face may be the question of how to ensure that a global population of 10 billion people can be fed sustainably by the end of the century.


Meanwhile, If there was one issue UNEP could have focused on to a greater extent in the past it would be governance of oceans, he observed. Furthermore, science is not being used to support policymaking to a sufficient degree, Mr Steiner believes. If it were, the planet would not be losing species at such a high rate, he reflected.


For more information and to watch a recording of the event please click here or write to

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