New UNEP Chief talks priorities, refocusing agency post-scandal

World Today

In February, the United Nations Environment Program welcomed a new leader. Inger Andersen took over after the former chief resigned for mishandling and mismanaging resources.

Now, the Danish economist and environmentalist is tasked with restoring health to the planet – and to the agency.

Andersen spoke to CGTN’s Liling Tan about plans to get the agency back on track.

As the new Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Inger Andersen’s appointment comes at a crucial time for the planet, and her first priority is the climate.

“We must work on stabilizing climate conditions,” said Inger Andersen in interview with CGTN’s Liling Tan.

A big part of that means trying to get the world to increase efforts to curb global warming, which the U.N. hopes to do at a major Climate Action Summit this September.

“What we really want to see is a high level of ambition and a commitment to action. This is the Secretary-General who has said, ‘Look, it’s one minute to midnight, and we need action. Can I get all the member states to commit, and do we have leaders of the pack? And who’s willing to stand up and lean in,” Andersen said.

Fighting climate change is a crucial challenge for the agency, but not its only priority.

Protecting nature is another critical challenge. With the U.N. estimating up to one million species may be at risk of extinction in the next decade, protecting the planet’s biodiversity has become a race against time.

“It is absolutely critical,” Andersen said, adding that an upcoming summit hosted by China in 2020 will guide efforts.

“China has been taking a big role here because in 2020 China will host the Conference of Parties, the COP for biodiversity. And here, that COP will be the Paris moment for biodiversity. This next COP in the fall of 2020, hosted by China, deals with nature. But that nature, we need to safeguard it. Because it’s the nature that gives us our water, our food, our air.”

Fighting pollution is part of that solution, and the third priority for Anderson, who underscored the need for what’s known as a “circular economy.”

“We can no longer afford the extract-use-discard kind of economy. We need to think about everything that we produce, how it can go back to a circularity. Because we are now in 2050 we’ll be nearly 10 billion on this good planet, so we can’t extract and emit our way to wealth,” Andersen said. “And that means therefore, that the way we produce and consume, that means therefore that our pollution has to be non-existent, and we simply circulate our waste back into productive use. That’s the only way.”

Andersen takes over U.N. Environment in the wake of a scandal involving her predecessor Erik Solheim of Norway, who resigned after allegations he had spent half a million dollars on air travel and hotels all in a span of under two years.

His conduct had prompted several nations to withhold tens of millions in agency funding.

Andersen’s task has been to undo that damage, and bring U.N. Environment back on track by restoring confidence among member states.

“We’re saying ‘okay, thank you for this audit, now where can we build muscle? Where did we have weaknesses? And the areas we needed to strengthen were around fiduciary controls, travel policy, things of this nature. I’m very happy to say that all those that had withheld funding have come back. And some of them with considerable increases, so that certainly should be a vote of confidence.”

Restoring confidence among her staff is also a priority.

“Staff are here to do the job and my job is to ensure that they can do that and to inspire them as best I can and to allow them to do what we have to do because that challenge that we have to face in terms of stabilizing the planet on which we live, in terms of its climate, in terms of its nature, that window is a ten-year window.”