Statement by Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme at the Opening Session of the Global Ministerial Environment Forum, Sixth Special Session of the Governing Council, Malmö, 29 May 2000

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this first meeting of the Global Ministerial Environmental Forum. It is fitting and most opportune that this historical meeting be held here in Sweden, the host of the Stockholm Conference which established the United Nations Environment Programme.

I would like to thank the Swedish authorities and their people for hosting us here in this beautiful city of Malmo whose history and location are a clear reminder of the solidarity among nations as evidenced by the bridge that we visited yesterday.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to all those that have contributed to bring us here to Malmo and in particular to the Committee of Permanent Representatives to the United Nations Environment Programme, the the Bureaux of the Governing Council and the HLCOMO. Their assistance to me in having a comprehensive understanding of the United Nations Environment Programme, their advice, their guidance throughout the preparation for this Forum has been invaluable, therefore I would simply like to say thank you.

Mr. President, this Global Ministerial Environment Forum is most significant. The Forum was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations following a wide ranging and intensive reflection underpinned by the determination of Member States to revitalize and strengthen global cooperation in defence of our environment. It is particularly auspicious that we are meeting at the dawn of a new millennium. It provides us with an opportunity in this, the largest gathering of Environment Ministers in the history of the organization, to pause, to reflect on where we are and to prepare ourselves to pave the way to our sustainable future.

It is also significant that this meeting is taking place a few days before the first World Environment Day of the new Millennium. It is also a few weeks before the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations and its Millennium Summit. Last week the Millennium Forum, a gathering of civil society in preparation for the Millennium Assembly took place in New York.

Today we have with us representatives of civil society some of whom were involved in those discussions. They had an opportunity yesterday to review the same themes that we will be examining and will bring to us their message. It is most appropriate that they take part fully because environment if foremost about people and for people and it was indeed the concern and organized expression of civil society that led the Stockholm Conference and the creation of UNEP.

Since Stockholm we have undeniably made great progress. We have a framework of international and national legislation and institutions that have been established in less than thirty years signalling our realization of the threats that we face together. However, it has become abundantly clear that this has not been enough. The Global Environment Outlook 2000, issued last year, informs us in detail of the growing problems that we still need to confront and provides a compelling assessment of the serious nature of the environmental threats. The grave imbalances in productivity and the distribution of goods and services, a rapidly growing population as well as the increasing inequity in the global distribution of economic and technological development, threaten the global social economic and political system.

At the same time environmental stewardship is lagging behind. The environmental threats resulting from the accelerating trends of urbanization and a development of mega cities, the tremendous risk to our future posed by the possibilities presented by climate change, the global freshwater crisis and its consequences for food security and the environment, the unsustainable exploitation and depletion of our natural resources and accelerating land degradation are all symptoms of this fundamental imbalances.

In order to confront these underlying causes of environmental degradation and poverty, we must intensify our efforts in developing a concerted response including national and international rule of law, improved environmental governance, an aware and educated population and to bring to bear our common commitment to design a sustainable future. We are here today because we all believe that our common goal is achievable and that we are here to begin this process on the basis of a collective course of action.

The Millennium Assembly of the United Nations meeting later this year will similarly discuss the future of the United Nations and its role in the twenty-first century. In introducing his report "We the Peoples", the Secretary-General remarked that the preparatory activities for this Assembly had not adequately taken into account the environmental issues. We have the opportunity to provide this perspective and to shape the environmental agenda of the twenty-first century. The significance of the message emanating from this Forum.

This process of review will continue with the ten-year review of the Rio Conference which underscores also the importance of the message of this Forum. We will be called upon again to ensure that we jointly provide the perspective of environmental sustainability to this important conference. We are therefore today at the start of a process of review and reflection that should be designed to address the challenges of the future in the full realization of past environmental threats.

We have gathered here today because we all share a common vision and a common commitment to ensure that we pass on to our succeeding generation a world in which they can find hope and a means to pursue a life in the full assurance that the basis to support life will be there for them. This is what we owe them, to those children of the world represented by those we have just heard. This is what should guide our work here.

Thank you very much.


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