Aniket Ghai

Aniket Ghai, a Kenyan national, studied political science and economics at Oxford and Columbia Universities. He has worked for a range of UN agencies on environment and development, from UNCED to the UN Climate Change Convention. He recently coordinated UNEP's environmental assessment and capacity building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Israeli-Palestinian environmental cooperation, and is currently coordinator of the Geneva Environment Network.


Geneva Environment Network / International Environment House

The Geneva Environment Network promotes cooperation and networking between its 50-plus members, policy dialogues to find innovative solutions on key and emerging environmental issues, information dissemination and outreach, and common efforts at capacity building and training. Meanwhile, the original International Environment House has been extended to a second building and together they give a home to more than 40 institutions.

Collaboration and networking have become indispensable tools in tackling the environmental problems of our time. Because environmental issues are cross-cutting and cross-sectoral, most solutions require the involvement of several institutions. An array of multilateral environmental agreements addresses environmental problems individually, with institutional structures reflecting this thematic approach. By exploiting synergies we can bridge institutional divides and tackle several environmental problems at the same time.

Planting forests absorbs carbon dioxide and combats desertification. Conserving wetlands reduces flooding and protects biodiversity. Negative synergies, on the other hand, can also arise. Answers to one problem can undermine solutions to another. Chemical replacements for ozone-destroying CFCs, for example, are contributors to global warming, while efforts to protect intellectual property rights can threaten conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources.

Collaboration and cooperation are central to exploiting positive synergies and resolving negative ones. Today this is easier to implement because of electronic communications and a realization that environmental sustainability must involve all sectors of society, not just public authorities but also civil society and business. Networking also helps institutions to identify common goals and values, to find win-win solutions and mutually beneficial partnerships, as well as ways of working together to save costs, to foster innovation and new ideas, create consensus, share knowledge, provide a forum for dialogue, and a clearing house for information. The Geneva Environment Network (GEN) is a cooperative partnership of over 50 environment and sustainable development institutions based in the International Environment House and elsewhere in the Geneva area, including United Nations offices and programmes, local authorities and non-governmental organizations.

GEN actively promotes increased cooperation and networking between its members, on policy dialogue to find innovative solutions on key and emerging environmental issues, information dissemination and outreach, and common efforts at capacity building and training. The roundtable series explores the state-of-play in critical environmental negotiations and the options way forward, from the perspective of different stakeholders.

The GEN disseminates information and promotes public awareness of environmental issues in several ways. The environmental resource centre and cybercafé at the International Environment House provides a welcome centre and single access point to the wealth of environmental information and knowledge of its members and House residents. It includes a library open to the public with books and periodicals on chemicals, endangered species, hazardous wastes, climate change, desertification, human settlements, Agenda 21, and more. The website provides an internet portal to the rich collection of data, publications and information of the environmental organizations in Geneva.

The newsletter Environment House News contains a round-up of topical essays by GEN members on the environment and sustainable development, highlights new reports and findings, and provides updates on members' recent activities. This is complemented by the Geneva Green Guide, a handy desktop directory to Geneva-based organizations working on the environment and sustainable development.

International Environment House

Even in a highly networked workplace, however, face-to-face contacts remain essential. The groups working on common issues must meet, educate each other about their concerns, and coordinate activities. This was the thinking behind the decision to set up Geneva's International Environment House and the launching of the Geneva Environment Network in 1999, with the support of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).

This unique experiment in bringing together different «partners for the planet» under a common roof has catalyzed numerous joint activities and partnerships, several of which are described in this publication. In response to the high number of requests from organizations for office space in this complex, the original International Environment House has since been extended to include a second building with offices for sustainable development organizations and conference facilities. This experiment has been a success - it is currently home to an interlinked critical mass of over 800 staff working in more than 40 institutions.