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Swiss see expanded role for environment body

Tackling deforestation is high on the Swiss agenda (www.afrol.com)

Countries attending an international environment meeting in Beijing have pledged SFr4.5 billion over four years to tackle environmental degradation.

Switzerland said it would contribute SFr99 million to the Global Environment Facility, which provides money to help implement environmental conventions.

On the first day of the meeting, delegations also agreed to extend the GEF's mandate to include harmful chemicals and to combat deforestation and desertification - key Swiss objectives.

Extending the mandate

The GEF was established in 1991 to forge cooperation and to finance activities which address four main threats to the environment - loss of biodiversity, climate change, degradation of international waters, and ozone depletion.

"Our main interest was getting approved an extension of the mandate of the GEF," Anton Hilber from the Swiss Environment Agency told swissinfo.

"In the area of chemicals, the first step is to clean up persistent organic pollutants, which accumulate in the body and in the environment and basically cannot be degraded naturally. They have to be cleaned up and this is an urgent task.

"The other focal area is land degradation. It's a very severe problem in many countries, primarily Africa where we have deserts expanding and stress on environments due to soil degradation.

"The other aspect covered there is deforestation so this is our top priority to see that this gets adopted as planned."

Action plan

The director of the Swiss Development Agency, Philippe Roch, who is heading the Swiss delegation to Beijing, said that after September's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the emphasis now was on implementation.

"In Johannnesburg, we just set targets but without any responsibility to achieve them and any timetable. GEF is a concrete organisation doing things in the field," he told swissinfo.

During its first decade, GEF allocated $4.2 billion, supplemented by $11 billion in co-financing, for more than 1,000 projects in 160 developing countries and countries with transitional economies.

GEF's partners include the World Bank, the UN development and environment programmes and the European Bank for reconstruction and development.

swissinfo, Vincent Landon

Key facts

Delegates from 171 countries - including Switzerland - are attending.
The Swiss are keen to tackle the dangers of chemicals and land degradation.
The GEF provides money to help implement environmental conventions.

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