7 questions for Bruno Pozzi, Director of the Europe Office of the United Nations Environmental Program
8 June 2019
This year, the UN in Geneva is celebrating 100 years of modern multilateralism. Can you give us an example of how multilateralism has succeeded?
One of the most striking examples is the success of multilateralism in every area of politics. From its initial focus on peace between nations – a concept that is of course still central to multilateralism today – it has evolved to include many different facets. The founding fathers of multilateralism never imagined that one day States would come together to agree on what do to about challenges to world health or the environment, for instance. Multilateralism is sometimes described as under threat, when in fact it is very much alive and well, and part of every aspect of our lives.
That is its greatest success. On a more personal note, I believe that the future of multilateralism lies in its potential to impact areas such as the environment, which has become a vital political issue for all countries.
The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 and ratified since 1989, is one of the most successful multilateral agreements in history. Thanks to the Protocol, the ozone layer will likely reach full recovery in the Northern Hemisphere and mid-latitude regions by 2030, followed by the Southern Hemisphere in the 2050s and the Polar regions by 2060.
This resounding success demonstrates that multilateral action is essential, since environmental challenges like this are almost impossible to address at the State level.
What will world governance look like 20 to 30 years from now?
No one can predict the future, but as an international civil servant, I’m quite optimistic. The United Nations system is going through a process of reform, and the level of cooperation between agencies has increased considerably since this began. These reforms will enable us to reaffirm the role of the United Nations as a key player in world governance, by setting a high bar for our shared ambitions, while meeting our Member States’ demand for improved efficiency.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Geneva with regard to the development of world governance in the coming years?
Geneva is one of the historical birthplaces of world governance, and the city has evolved in tandem with multilateralism. It has both the necessary infrastructure and the political will to continue to serve as a global center of multilateralism. If I had to point out one weakness, it would be housing, which remains difficult to find, despite the Geneva government’s proactive policy of welcoming the international community.
What internal reforms does UNEP need to implement to adapt to a fast-changing world and realize the SDG?
The first thing we need to do is to fully integrate UNEP in the reform process initiated by the Secretary-General of the UN. As a standard-setting, “non-resident” agency, our priority is to provide the scientific foundations necessary to understand key environmental issues and to encourage political decision-makers to come to grips with them based on science and to support them in implementing their decisions. To do so, we don’t need to be present in every country where we have activities, but rather the UN reforms are an opportunity for us to work together as one by improving cooperation between resident UN coordinators. We need to strengthen our synergies with other UN agencies, and for this, being in Geneva is a real plus.
Lastly, the way we work with politicians and decision-makers can be extended to the private sector: we need to deliver a clear, easy-to-understand message about the environmental challenges facing businesses and offer solutions (or potential solutions) that are long term, renewable, and support sustainable consumption and production.
How do we need to communicate today to increase global awareness of climate challenges?
The challenge is to deliver a complex message in a simple way. We need to focus our communication efforts on issues that ordinary citizens can understand. That’s one of the main challenges for our organization, whose central purpose is to produce science. Our most important publication, the “Global Environmental Outlook” (GEO), is the bible of environmental science, but it’s 400 pages long! It contains everything you might want to know, but that information needs to be communicated simply. So we decided to “translate” this report into a short document of a dozen pages targeted at economic and political decision-makers. That’s the first step. The next step is to continue educating the public. Education is as vital as communication: the aim is to increase environmental awareness and encourage behavioral change. That isn’t as utopian as it might seem. Look at carpooling 30 years ago versus today. The reason it has become so popular is due in large part to the fact that people now are better informed about urban pollution and its causes. What seems like a pipe dream at a given time often becomes the norm just a few years later.
There are more than 399 NGO in Geneva. How do you plan to work with them?
We already work closely with many non-governmental organizations, in Geneva and elsewhere. These relationships are essential for us, both to define projects and to implement them, but also to engage in a dialogue with civil society. As environmental questions are becoming central to our societies and starting to be seen as key political issues, we can expect NGOs to increasingly take an interest in them and get involved. We are always open to engaging with these organizations, as well as academia and citizen’s groups.
The canton of Geneva recently launched a public consultation to define Geneva in 2050. How do you imagine Geneva in the future?
As a recent resident of Geneva, I’m impressed with the level of citizen engagement I observe here. If you ask me to imagine Geneva in 2050, I see a city that is open to the world and fully integrated within a cross-border, multicultural space. A space that is enriched by its diversity and its unique ecosystem, between the lake and the mountains. Its air quality is outstanding, thanks to the innovations and steps taken today, which will benefit the generation of 2050.