Steiner bids farewell to UNEP after decade-long tenure

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner (left) and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya arrive for the opening of the high-level segment of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-II) in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: UNEP

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner (left) and President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya arrive for the opening of the high-level segment of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-II) in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: UNEP

Achim Steiner wrapped up his last day as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) after a 10-year term that saw UNEP brought to the fore as the voice for the environment in the UN system, and the global authority on the environment.

Steiner’s tenure was marked by numerous historic global environment success stories, not least the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015. Several other international agreements on the environment preceded this, including the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, which saw UNEP upgraded to universal membership.

It was this upgrade of UNEP under Steiner that resulted in the United Nations Environment Assembly, a biennial meeting of the world’s environment ministers to chart the way forward on global environmental issues. The most recent meeting of UNEA resulted in a record 25 resolutions passed by member states, further establishing the Assembly as the de facto “World’s Parliament for the Environment.”

A focus of Steiner’s career at UNEP was the confluence of the environment and the economy, a result of his background as a development economist. His decision in 2007 to launch a project called the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), which was the first UN initiative to analyze the economic value of our environment, was an early move to bring together the orbits of the global economy and sustainability.

This underlying environmental foundation of the global economy was presented as a response to the financial collapse in 2007 and 2008 in the form of UNEP’s “Global Green New Deal”. This proposal underlined that economic stimulus packages could be directed towards investing in cleaner technologies and greener infrastructure.

In 2010, UNEP published its landmark “Green Economy” report, which highlighted both the centrality of environment to the future development of economies and the rapidly evolving policy innovations implemented by many countries.




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