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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 17:36 GMT
UN environment champ in cash crisis
Klaus Toepfer
Klaus Toepfer opens environment talks in Nairobi
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby in Nairobi

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) is facing a cash crisis severe enough to imperil key parts of its plans.

It says it cannot do some of the work it believes necessary on climate change.


What we need is what I'd call bread-and-butter money, the sort of funding that will let us get on with the job we're here to do

Klaus Toepfer
With ministers from more than 80 countries due here this week to attend its governing council meeting, Unep says it is proving hard to persuade their governments to pay up.

Yet it is facing ever-rising demands on its expertise.

Unep's director, Dr Klaus Toepfer, Germany's former Environment Minister, spelt out the problem in a policy statement at the start of the meeting.

"The financial resources available to support international and national actions for environment and sustainable development continue to fall far short of what is required", he said.

"It is anticipated that the 2000-2001 work programme, authorised at US $120 m for the biennium, may not secure full funding.

"This contradicts the commitments that governments have made to increase the financial base of Unep.

"It is increasingly clear that new mandates and responsibilities continue to be given to Unep by member states, but that lack of funds will prevent their meaningful implementation in the long term."

Shortfall

Later Dr Toepfer told BBC News Online: "What we need is what I'd call bread-and-butter money, the sort of funding that will let us get on with the job we're here to do.

"So much of our money comes in funds tied by governments to particular projects. I'm not knocking that: it's essential.

"But we have to have general funds that are not tied in this way, or we shall not be able to do some of the things we regard as vital.

"If we want to hold a regional meeting of African ministers on climate change, for example, we often have to pay their air fares and give them a per diem during the meeting, or they simply wouldn't be able to attend.

"We want to be doing more work on land use, both on desertification and on the possible use of land for sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

"We worked hard to help to achieve last year's international treaty on persistent organic pollutants. We'd like to keep that knowledge and expertise about chemical pollution in being. But we may not be able to afford to."

Climate change

Part of Unep's problem is that it is not a UN organisation, but a programme. That means it has always had to rely on governments' willingness to contribute to its Environment Fund, as its core funding is known - and their contributions are entirely voluntary.

Yet the fund pays not only for salaries and other overheads, but for all the activities Unep undertakes which do not attract specific project money. This central budget pays for much of its work on climate change, ozone depletion, the loss of species and habitats like coral reefs, and much more.

Dr Toepfer's statement described the problem: "The volume of resources available to the Environment Fund has fluctuated widely in the period since the Rio conference."

But that is putting it mildly. The fund peaked in 1993, the year after the Earth Summit, at about $65 m - "an index of the world's post-Rio guilt", in the words of one Unep staffer.

Since then, apart from a slight upturn in the late 1990s, the fund has steadily declined. It now stands at little more than $40 m, less than it was attracting a decade ago.

The largest donor is the US, which pledged more than $7 m for 2000. Next came the UK at over $6 m, with the bulk of the fund's money coming from Europe and North America. Comparing pledges to Unep with a country's gross national product, though, gives a very different picture. That shows Finland, Monaco and Norway as the most generous supporters, with the US behind Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest countries, in the amount it gives.

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04 Sep 00 | World
UN's green corps tries hard
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