Nicholas School Internship Blogs

UNEP – “The voice for the environment in the United Nations system.”
by -- July 18th, 2011

Contrary to popular belief, I have been working as well as traveling this summer. My experiences within UNEP’s Chemicals Branch have reinforced my belief in the UN system and its ability to effect change within member states. My work has focused on UNEP’s forthcoming mercury treaty and the interim activities to reduce the impacts of mercury pollution.

I suppose I should start off by saying that the views I express in this blog are not the views of UNEP nor are they in any way representative of UNEP’s position on the material discussed below.

The United Nations Environmental Program has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, but runs a regional office here in Geneva, Switzerland. I have been working for the Chemicals Branch here in Geneva which is under the Division of Technology, Industry, and Economics (DTIE). DTIE is one of the five divisions of UNEP (see graphic below, designed by yours truly!). At the Chemicals Branch, we deal with persistent organic pollutants, lead, and mercury (my personal favorite).

UNEP's Hierarchical Structure

UNEP's Hierarchical Structure

It is a very interesting time to be working on mercury pollution and use, because in 2013 countries will conclude an intergovernmental negotiating committee which has been working to draft a UN mercury treaty. While it is still unclear what the final treaty will look like, it will aim to set up criteria and regulations to limit the use or release of mercury in coal combustion, consumer products, small-scale gold mining, and chlor-alkali plants, just to name a few.

Aspiring to be a representative to the international negotiating committee... if only I was a citizen of Swaziland.

Aspiring to be a representative to the international negotiating committee... if only I was a citizen of Swaziland.

The international negotiating committee is supported by the Chemicals Branch of the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry and Economics as secretariat. This means that we assist the negotiations in drafting texts, creating reports, presenting relevant studies, and the like. My role in all of this is drafting some of the “guidance materials.” I have been working on a few documents that are aimed to help countries start preparing for the treaty to be presented in 2013. Functioning as a secretariat for international negotiations is one of the key functions of UNEP. The resources UNEP offers its member countries are incredibly valuable and help ensure a successful decision-making process. That being said, UNEP also relies on its partners (NGOs, local cooperatives, government agencies, other IGOs, etc.) to help create and distill information.

In addition to writing a lot, I have  been updating and streamlining the branch’s website. I have a bit of experience with such tasks and offered my time to updating a few pages. I always enjoy this type of work for it allows me to use a different side of my brain, the creative and visually oriented part. I have also worked a bit with the public relations office to design and print large banners for conferences. While this may seem like menial work to some, I have really enjoyed seeing this side of the UN. It’s a bit difficult because everything we produce is heavily regulated and reviewed multiple times (and rightly so). I have been forced to distill the entire purpose and activities of the Global Mercury Partnership into three sentences, not an easy task. This is echoed in the Mark Twain quote “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I’ve written a long one instead.” Its pretty easy to write a long explanation, but much more difficult to write three bullet points that captures the same information.

And even now I am finding it hard to explain everything I am doing here in Geneva in just one blog post! All in all I have enjoyed my time here at UNEP and with only two weeks left of work I am realizing that working for this organization has been such an amazing experience that has better prepared me for my professional and academic career.

Thank you UNEP!!!

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