My Vision for UNEP - why I am standing to be the next Executive Director of UNEP
The quotes below do not indicate an endorsement for me for the position of UNEP Executive Director they were comments made on my work over the past thirty years.
“Felix Dodds has been a close partner of mine with whom we liaised on many issues around the UN environmental governance reform as well as during the entire period of the OWG. His passion for all matter’s environment and his great network particularly with NGOs and all the various experts that work on the Multilateral process around the environmental agenda is extremely impressive. He is one of the most committed professionals that I have had the pleasure to work with.” Macharia Kamau co-facilitator of the 2015 SDG negotiations (2019)
"Felix Dodds is a passionate and articulate campaigner for environmental sustainability. He has in-depth familiarity with the major international negotiations on sustainable development and has helped to shape the critical policy debates which gave rise to, and accompanied, these processes. He also played an important role in mobilising the contribution of multi-stakeholder groups to these negotiations". David Donoghue co-facilitator of the 2015 SDGs negotiations (2019)
UNEP – Vision and the 50th
The next Executive Director will be overseeing the 50th anniversary of UNEP and that offers a great opportunity to promote a global conversation among the public on the inter-woven stories of the Earth’s ecological systems, our collective environmental resources, and their integrated impact on nations, institutions, and every individual human being’s lives. It also provides an opportunity for a conversation among governments and stakeholders on what UNEP should prioritize in the near - and mid-range future as its contribution to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals and gaps and challenges in relation of the environment. Those are important and complex conversations that require confident and capable facilitation.
The 2030 Agenda makes clear that it is about all countries addressing the goals and targets, and building greater policy integration to address those interlinkages. To effectively do this it is essential to implement an integrated science approach. It’s also about the entire UN family working together to address the Sustainable Development Goals, and their mutually-supportive roles in helping to see them implemented.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development thereby speaks to the core mandate and values of the UN System. In that context, my vision for UNEP is to re-establish the powerful role it should be playing as an intergovernmental body directed by member States, particularly in helping to deliver the 2030 Agenda, and to participate in the repositioning of the UN development system.
“Felix has been a passionate campaigner for people’s involvement in the central challenges of our time – how to balance our consumption of natural resources with the earth’s capacity, at the same time as addressing global inequality and poverty. He has enormously enriched the global intellectual debate on sustainability issues, and has been a “thought leader” of his age.”
Dr Crispian Olver, Former South African Director General Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism for WSSD (2012)
Science and UNEP
I would seek to continue the important work of Dr. Klaus Toepfer and Achim Steiner in strengthening its solid science foundation, and in building the global environmental early warning system which UNEP was assigned as part of its core mandate. I have been a consistent advocate for the comprehensive, extremely well-produced Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) reports that UNEP produce. Stakeholder Forum and I have had the pleasure of hosting and organizing the launch of four of those in London: GEO-1 in 1997; GEO-2000 in 1999; GEO-3 in 2002 and GEO-4 in 2007. I have also sat on the review and engagement committees for the development of two of the GEOs (GEO4 and GEO5).
I believe that better targeting of the GEOs’ conclusions to all stakeholders can help enormously in orchestrating effective and coordinated policy responses and the development of legitimate, ethical partnerships that address pressing challenges. Improved and clearer targeting can also enhance the role that stakeholders play in helping to deliver the UNEP Medium Term Strategy.
Multilateral Environmental Agreements
There have been over 700 Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) negotiated over the past nearly 50 years (ranging from bilateral water treaties to global climate pacts). They are a clear example of why UNEP is a vital part of the intergovernmental family. On issues like ozone, biodiversity and chemicals, UNEP has played an indispensable role in addressing environmental challenges as they arise. It is now addressing a similar challenge with the proliferation and disposal of plastics. On the profoundly critical and complex issue of climate change, UNEP must play an active supporting role, providing supplemental science input, exploring interlinkages with other environmental areas, and helping identify real-world strategies that each government can apply within its own capacity and needs.
However, as MEAs have been established, each with its own governing council, those have weakened the role that UNEP should be playing as the global advocate for the environment. I would continue to expand the strategy of grouping the related environmental conventions together into clusters – to create more synergy, ensure more effective reporting, and provide a clearer picture of the state of the environment. Under Mr. Steiner, this was achieved in the area of chemicals and, in part, biodiversity. This work should continue in order to increase sectoral coherence and create management efficiencies, and to simultaneously help identify gaps in programme coverage which UNEP – with the assistance of member States – or other UN bodies can fill.
Clustering is also one of the ways to most effectively address the risks of creating science silos that miss the essential overlap between science sectors, and the importance of finding the appropriate responses while not impacting on other areas by mistake. The clustering would also ensure that UNEP can then build an integrated global science platform that can provide member States and the global public a clearer and more usable overview of the state of the world’s environment
There is also, of course, still much work UNEP must do to strengthen capacity building around the environment for developing countries. This should be undertaken within the new development framework as pioneered by the Secretary General by working with the UN family and the UN country teams to address the needs that developing countries have identified, but also should be accomplished by more effectively identifying and working closely with stakeholders.
“Felix has been a true global leader, a unique person with the capacity to define global issues, based on an indepth understanding of the concerns and priorities of stakeholders at all levels. Such a breath of vision is rare, and we feel privileged to have been able to work so closely with Felix throughout the Rio+20 processes.”
Paula Caballero Gomez, Director, Directorate of Economic, Social and Environmental of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Columbia. The instigator of the Sustainable Development Goals (20120.
Partnerships and Industry
“Felix Dodds was one of those and I am truly grateful to him for his decades of work in and for the United Nations. He truly accepted the spirit of the stakeholder concept and helped to give it practical organizational expression. I am particularly grateful for his support for the idea of partnerships which was an important part of the Johannesburg process.”
Nitin Desai, Secretary General World Summit on Sustainable Development and Under Secretary General UNDESA (2012)
UNEP should play its role in advocating and that these emerging technologies are not only environmentally sustainable but are economical - and socially beneficial for the communities they are being produced in and consumed by.
The more recent cooperation of the UN and governments with industry has resulted in the funding for work with other key stakeholders being reduced. A much closer alignment of all stakeholders to help UNEP deliver its Medium-term Strategy would accomplish three important things. First, it would bring into relationship with UNEP a number of delivery stakeholders which are not yet present in numbers at UNEA. Second, it would see additional funding provided by those organisations to help deliver the Programmes of Work in the Medium-Term Strategy. Third, it could help to give UNEP a large, public-facing campaign as those organisations’ media departments act as a promoter of UNEP and the activities it is engaged in.
UNEP has been through a damaging public episode the past few months and, unfortunately, over recent years areas of its work have deteriorated and staff morale has suffered (as has, I might add, member States’ confidence in the institution’s ability).
I have had the pleasure of working with many UNEP staff over my career and have found them to be some of the most committed in the UN system. Urgently, the organization’s staff need to be clearly valued and – in light of what has happened – there will be a need for extensive, proactive team-building. This will allow the organisation to more effectively deliver the UNEP Medium Term Strategy and its Programme of Work. It will help it to play its role as a full partner in delivering the 2030 Agenda. UNEP needs to be able to play its full and robust role in order to achieve all those goals agreed to by the international community. Empowering UNEP staff to help achieve this will go a long way.
UNEP and 2030 Agenda Campaign
The next two years – with the review of the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Agreement, the SAMOA Pathway in 2019 and the UNFCCC review in 2020 – provide a tremendous opportunity to establish a positive narrative for multilateralism. In order to effectuate it, UNEP can and must be able to play a series of vital, parallel roles. I suggest utilising and linking the High-Level Political Forum in September 2019 and the Climate Summit in 2020 as communications opportunities to organize a 16-month campaign that highlights, in sequence, each of the Sustainable Development Goals – with climate change and leave-no one behind being addressed by all SDGs. This would become part of a solution agenda of partnerships and initiatives that can help provide a roadmap for the next two years. UNEP would play its essential role, working with other UN bodies engaged on the environmental and sustainable development agenda.
.Realizing the vision
At their core, the most pressing challenges facing our world are political – not merely technical. Our response, therefore, requires political leadership.
Given the constant need for political will, all the good policy in the world will be ineffective without the active understanding and support by significant numbers of the global public. Mobilizing the public – through creative and carefully-targeted communications – must be a priority of any UNEP Executive Director’s strategy. The critical challenges facing the planet simultaneously require the effective communication of both clear, unambiguous warnings of the catastrophic consequences of global inaction, as well as credible empowering visualizations of the positive future scenarios that are attainable if people and nations cooperate and act.
UNEP is the essential ally and resource of the UN Secretary General in conveying such messages, by providing the science-based analyses on which they must be grounded; by building consensus among national, sub-national and non-governmental actors; and by providing those actors with the programmatic and communications tools to expand that consensus and implement it.
I have organised and run a series of global NGO and multi-stakeholder coalitions which faced and met significant challenges of structuring, coordination, and management. Those typically involved gaining cooperation from all nine Major Groups (business, trade unions, NGOs, youth, women farmers, indigenous peoples, scientists, local authorities), including organisations from the North and South, that were large and small, experienced and novice, highly political and primarily academic.
Besides the process-oriented training and facilitation, that coordination often involved negotiating detailed agreements on the full range of environmental and sustainable development policy issues (which, I can confidentially inform you, can be at least as pains-taking and complex as negotiating among governments).
My frequent projects with UNEP and direct cooperation with most of its departments and regional officers over 25 years has provided me with a broad understanding of UNEP’s dynamics, both in its internal structures and in its interactions with (and perceived effectiveness by) governments and stakeholders.
The new Executive Director should, in part, be judged by his or her ability to create an inspiring and supportive human environment, in which the skilled UNEP staff can excel. It is the social capital of the staff as a whole that we should be tapping into. That should include the Executive Director, playing a role in working with the different teams in the UNEP Divisions to help motivate them. I would welcome the opportunity to implement these and the other reforms proposals mentioned above and feel confident in my ability to do so.
“Felix Dodds has been a welcome fixture of the sustainable development process since the 1992 Earth Summit and Agenda 21. No author I know has the capacity and talent for analyzing the agonizing negotiations over decades. His insight, contacts and ability to conceptualize made him the person to truthfully record the SDG history and intricate negotiations leading to the hopeful 2030s.”
Andrey Vavilov, formerly Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to UNEP and HABITAT (2016)
To date, I have authored or edited 17 books on wide-ranging aspects of environmental and sustainable development policy and process, including a trilogy which tells the history of sustainable development at the intergovernmental level from the 1960s to the present day. I had the honour of co-writing the first volume of that series with Maurice Strong, the founding director of UNEP, and the last with Ambassador David Donoghue, the co-chair of the negotiations for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The final chapter of the book about the negotiations of the Sustainable Development Goals was ‘Understanding the Future: From 2015 to 2030, The Challenges Ahead’. In addition to traditional issues such as climate change, urban expansion, the nexus, global migration, peace and security, and health, we also identify the challenges that the new disruptive industries might have on social coherence. UNEP and the UN need to be aware of these and to help governments better prepare for the huge changes that will be coming over the next five-to-ten years.
The inspirational ability and great professional competence of such individuals as Strong, Tolba, Dowdeswell, Toepfer and Steiner – and of many of the quietly dedicated leaders throughout the UN and UNEP – is what informs my own desire to lead an organization with such extraordinary potential as UNEP, and to empower it to achieve its potential to mobilize hope, resolve crises, and achieve a positive vision for the future in a world in desperate need of that.
Adjunct Professor in Environmental Sciences and Engineering and Senior Fellow, Global Research Institute, University of North Carolina and Associate Fellow, Tellus Institute, Boston
City of Bonn International Ambassador