April 17, 2007 / 9:53 AM / 12 years ago

U.S. rejects call for tougher U.N. environment role

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United States supports moves to strengthen the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) but sees no need for a new, more powerful U.N. agency, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

France led 46 nations calling in February for the creation of a U.N. Environment Organisation (UNEO) to fight threats like global warming, water shortages and the extinction of species.

Critics often say that UNEP, based in Nairobi, has too little power. But Washington says it remains the best forum to help countries comply with a raft of environmental treaties on topics ranging from toxic waste to marine life and hunting.

“There are dozens of these multilateral agreements. Our view is they should be administered by their respective memberships,” said Gerald Anderson, deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Bureau of International Organisations Affairs.

“The U.N. did not write these treaties. Its membership is not the same as that of the treaties, so it is not appropriate for a U.N. organisation to administer their implementation.”

The proposed UNEO would be modeled on the World Health Organisation, which has more clout than UNEP, and could help promote funding and research and coordinate government action.

Climate experts have issued their starkest warning yet about the impact of climate change — widely blamed on human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels — with dire forecasts from hunger in Africa to a fast thaw in the Himalayas.

A U.N. report this month said warming would cause droughts, desertification and rising seas. The U.N. Security Council was due to discuss climate change on Tuesday for the first time.

In February, French President Jacques Chirac said the “very survival of humankind” hung in the balance. His call for a new U.N. body was backed by European Union countries and others including Algeria, Ecuador, Cambodia, the Seychelles and Gabon.

But the United States, China, Russia and India — the four biggest emitters of carbon dioxide — were absent from the list.

Washington sees UNEP as being in a very good position to “add U.N. value” by helping developing nations build capacity, manage their environments and meet their treaty obligations, Anderson told Reuters at a U.N. meeting in Kenya.

“We are very much in favor of UNEP,” he said. “Our concern is if you create new, bigger institutions, the people at the top get further from that kind of expertise at the ground level.”

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