UNEP Executive Director speaks to Daniela Chiaretti from Valor Econômico

The Danish economist, Inger Andersen, considers 2020 to be “a super year” for the environment. The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has high hopes for the international events planned for the remainder of the year and early 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic postpones some events.

While COVID-19 continues to dominate the international agenda, the threats posed by climate change and biodiversity loss remain and worsen despite the immediate reprieve national lockdowns are giving nature. Andersen remains resolute in pushing for drastic commitments and actions from governments and business leaders to ‘build back better’ in the coming months and years.

“I have high expectations because, now more than ever, the state of nature and what its decline means for humanity are clear,” stated Andersen, who was appointed to head UNEP in early 2019.

She is optimistic that the environmental agenda will break out from the multilateral arena and embed itself into the heart of every sector of society.

“I expect these events to take the conversation about biodiversity outside the corridors of the environment sector to companies, supply chains, finance ministries, infrastructure providers and urban development and beyond,” comments Andersen.

With over 30 years’ experience in economic development, environmental sustainability and public policy formulation, Inger Andersen was also the Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), founded in 1948, the world’s most famous body of governmental and non-governmental authorities concerned with conservation.

The busy environmental agenda for the rest of 2020 is encouraging, according to the Danish economist, who spent 15 years at the World Bank in a range of roles, including as Vice President for Sustainable Development and Vice President of the Middle East and North Africa.

The UN general assembly is scheduled to convene a Leader’s Biodiversity Summit of heads of state and government in New York to give The 15th conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) a political boost.  Following this, the IUCN’s four-yearly congress in Marseilles in January 2021 (postponed from June 2020 by COVID-19) is being widely tipped to be the ‘Paris Agreement’ for biodiversity and species protection.

On the theme of climate, a long-awaited summit will be held between the leaders of the European Union and China in August, in Leipzig, Germany. This meeting between two of the world’s largest polluters could create an impetus for more ambitious targets and encourage others to commit in the lead up to the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021.

“We need a lot more ambition and action, and we know that this will be difficult and will demand real leadership,” Andersen says.

During COP25 in Madrid, Andersen tweeted and filmed videos asking countries to step up ambition for their climate targets and to reach agreement on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which addresses global carbon markets. As we now know, this didn’t happen.

Before the conference, she retweeted an article published in The Guardian in which the author discusses the fires in the Amazon, Siberia, Australia and California and coins this current phase of humanity as “the age of fire”. The article retweeted by the economist is clear: “On any day, between 10,000 and 30,000 bushfires burn around the planet. We have only one rational choice: to choose to survive”.

In an article published in Time in December, she writes: “Greenhouse gas emissions need to fall over 7% each year. We must stop procrastinating.”

Inger Andersen was interviewed by Daniela Chiaretti on two separate occasions: over the phone when the fires in the Amazon were at their peak, and by email during COP25 held in Madrid in December. To read the extracts taken from these two interviews in which she speaks about the private sector, ideologies and the challenges we face, click here.

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About the author

Daniela Chiaretti is an award winning journalist based in São Paulo, Brazil. She has been a special reporter for Valor Econômico since 2005 covering major UN environmental conferences and climate change issues.


The information, views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum or the United Nations Environment Programme.

Featured image: Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UNEP

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