Transforming Geneva into an environmental hub

Geneva hopes to host the secretariat of the Green Climate Fund, which will help vulnerable island states like the Maldives adapt to climate change Reuters

Newly installed in a 19th century mansion in the leafy suburb of Versoix, a short hop from the city centre, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s non-profit environmental group R20 is the latest addition to International Geneva’s burgeoning green hub.

This content was published on May 17, 2012
Simon Bradley in Geneva,

The R20, an alliance of 30 city and regional governments and partners developing low-carbon projects worldwide, joins some 250 NGOs and 32 international organisations  - many in the environmental field - as well as the European headquarters of the United Nations and specialist agencies.

“It was quite a natural decision for us,” R20’s operations manager Liliane Ursache told

“We have to follow up closely what's going on in the environmental field and not lose sight of international negotiations. One of the most important actors here is the world of finance and investors, who are very interested in new projects,“ she noted.

“Geneva is also an important place for cleantech. There has been much progress made in this area, and we work closely with the networks and partners based here.”

On top of operational arguments and potential synergies, Schwarzenegger’s very public move to establish the headquarters in Geneva was most likely eased by the canton reportedly agreeing to pay almost two years’ rent at Versoix’s Villa Grand-Montfleury, tax-free income, and Switzerland’s “unique aftersales service” that stretches to expertise in the capital Bern to help NGOs settle in.

Clear strategy

Over recent years the Swiss and local authorities have been keen to develop Geneva as an international hub for both environmental and health matters.

The arrival of the R20 closely follows that of the secretariat of the Global Framework of Climate Services in 2011, and joins a long list of environmental institutions based there like the secretariat of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the headquarters of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The next organisation in Switzerland and Geneva’s sights is the permanent secretariat of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), an autonomous organisation under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, designed to channel up to $100 billion of aid annually to poor, vulnerable countries by 2020 to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Switzerland announced its official candidacy to host the fund and to run for a seat on its executive board in April. It is up against the former German capital Bonn, which is the temporary home to the secretariat, as well as South Korea, Poland, Namibia and Mexico. A final decision is expected at the end of 2012.

“Strong network”

Swiss officials are convinced Geneva offers the ideal location for the fund thanks to its growing environmental expertise, synergies and global financial centre.

“It also has a strong network of diplomatic missions, which is important if we want the GCF to grow and for countries to be able to follow up its activities,” Franz Perrez, head of international affairs at the Federal Environment Office, told

Environmental consultant Yves Lador agreed that other international environmental centres, like Nairobi, headquarters to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Bonn or Montreal, could not compete on synergies.


Geneva has lots of specialised environmental organisations and is a hub for economic and chemical questions with the three conventions, and there are other departments looking at this in the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and let’s not forget WMO and IPCC,” he said.

But the complex political decision over the GCF’s future is not in Switzerland or Geneva’s hands, he added.

Second global centre

Former Swiss ambassador François Nordmann echoed this: “I think the competition is fierce. Switzerland is up against five other countries, three of whom are G20 members, and one from Asia – a very attractive proposal. And Germany is so strong it can influence lots of votes. Also, there is the beginning of an environmental concentration in Bonn.”

Lador said one major problem for Switzerland was states’ resistance to global environmental governance, a topic for discussion at the forthcoming Rio climate talks in June.

“It faces a strategy of states breaking up environmental organizations. If politicians really wanted to do a serious job for the environment you could imagine them building hubs like climate, chemical or biodiversity. But in fact they splitting them up and sharing them between places like Bonn, Geneva and Montreal,” the consultant said.

Perrez said it was important to avoid a scattering of locations and to concentrate expertise, adding that it was not Switzerland’s wish to become “the” global centre for the environment.

“Nairobi is ‘the’ centre for environmental questions, as it is the headquarters of UNEP and it’s important that UNEP remains a strong institution there, but Nairobi cannot deliver on everything and there are strong benefits to have a second centre supporting Nairobi and that’s where Geneva comes in,” he added.

Geneva’s environmental and health hubs

Environment: World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the secretariat of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Earth Observation Initiative, the secretariat of the Global Framework for Climate Services, Environment Management Group, regional office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the secretariats of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste, the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent, Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also have their headquarters in nearby Gland.

Other organisations active in the financing of climate measures: the World Bank and the UN Development Programme.

Health: World Health Organization (WHO), Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNAIDS, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, International Hospital Federation, World Dental Federation, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, World Alliance for Wound & Lymphedema Care, International Pharmatical Federation, Gavi Alliance, the European Disability Forum, the Global Business coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. Médecins du monde, Union for International Cancer Control, Médecins sans Frontières, World Heart Federation.

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