Address by Mr. Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme to the Regional Ministerial Meeting for the World Summit on Sustainable Development

Geneva, 24-25 September 2001

Mr. President, Honourable Ministers, Executive Secretary of the UNECE,Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Less than two weeks ago the world was shocked by a terrorist attack which took the life of over 6000 innocent people and threatened the very foundations of modern society and democracy.

We all feel deep compassion for the families of the victims and those who lost their lives in the rescue operations. As has been mentioned by Kofi Annan, this was an attack on humanity.

In Nairobi, Kenya, where UNEP is headquartered, the terrible events brought back memories of the attack on the US Embassy there where over 220 people lost their lives.

Fighting and preventing terrorism now requires our common attention and commitment. Its challenges are new and manifold.

On our way to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg next year we should not shy away from the consequences but explore ways to see how we can support the unfolding world wide campaign against terrorism. And, I totally agree with what the President has said here today: there can be no justifications at all for terrorism.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We know that the combination of poverty and environmental degradation contributes significantly to feelings of marginalization and despair.

Therefore, tackling these underlying causes will help to promote sustainable development and responsible prosperity for all people around the world. It will make the world a safer place for all of us and for future generations to come.

This is the most important goal of next year's Summit - the goal that co-operation and solidarity can overcome poverty in a responsible way.

We in UNEP consider it both our duty and privilege to assist you in striving towards reaching tangible results. Results that will present globalisation with a human face, to quote Kofi Annan once more.

This meeting is the first of five regional preparatory meetings for the WSSD, bringing together countries of highly different levels of development, ranging from the wealthy regions in North America and Western Europe to those in abject poverty in some of the NIS.

In that sense your deliberations have a special meaning and significance for the work in the other regions and at the global level.

I am therefore confident that you will succeed in negotiating a political message and providing constructive input to the forthcoming discussions in preparation of the Summit in Johannesburg.

I am aware that the negotiation process has generated a wealth of information, ideas and clarifications of prevailing priorities and positions on issues of major environmental concern. Again, this is a real help for all the other regional preparatory meetings.

I want to pay special tribute to the contributions and inputs of major groups and other members of civil society.

In UNEP, we were privileged to assist and facilitate the meetings and activities of some of them, including ECO-ACCORD and ECOFORUM, the Northern Alliance for Sustainability, the European Partners for Environment, the (REC) Regional Environment Centre for Central and Eastern Europe, and the coalition of Women's groups. And, I am also extremely happy that we have a very close co-operation with indigenous groups, such as the Inuit in the Arctic region.

The results of their efforts, meetings and analyses, which also benefited from generous financial support from Norway, Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, have been widely distributed and have many times prodded us to critically review our own preparatory work.

For this meeting, we prepared a special issue of UNEP's Teen Planet's magazine that is available at the UNEP stand outside this Conference Room. I am grateful to Minister Larsen from Sweden for the support from his country for this publication.

I also want to underline our very close and intensive co-operation with private business.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We in UNEP highly welcome the assessment report which points to and confirms concerns emerged in our own GEO process about the state of sustainable development in the ECE region.

The major trends identified in the environment of the ECE region and its management have significance not only for the priority setting and policy debate in the region itself.

The fact that later this week many of the same delegations will meet here in Geneva to discuss and establish the agenda for the next "Environment for Europe" Conference in Kyiv in May 2003, already signals the obvious interdependence and the links between the European process with the WSSD and its preparatory process.

The trends also coincide and impact on developments in other regions and on the world more broadly.

As part of the WSSD preparation process, I just had the pleasure to be for two days in Central Asia, in Almaty, where we launched the regional environmental action plan for this region.

Coming back to the trends I want to mention the increasing pressure on natural resources, the need for promoting the decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressure and degradation, including the consequences and impact on the resource rich and exporting countries, the international trade negotiations and technology development and transfer.

I also agree with the reference to the parallel trends and the call to vigorously promote science for decision-making including its linkage with the use and application of the precautionary approach, and its potential impact on the global debate on trade and environment.

The combination of technology progress, the use of human capital, inventions and innovations must be used for sustainable development in a responsible balance between risk and precaution. Science must play a very important role in Johannesburg. And, we have to be aware of principle 15 of the Rio Declaration.

What is significant furthermore is that in this region, with so many developed countries, the Ministerial Statement recognises that environmental problems and their solutions cannot be separated from the overall need to alleviate poverty, promote equity and foster economic growth.

There needs to be a continuous translation of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities into real assistance and support for poverty alleviation and sustainable development in the developing countries and economies in transition, in particular in the NIS.

Living up to the promises of Rio for increasing ODA for this purpose is a commitment for developed countries which urgently needs to be put in practice and which will underscore and mark the success of the WSSD.

Allow me to quote the figures from your own assessment report. ODA in the ECE region in 1992 was $US 48.5 billion. In 1999 it was $US 39.9 billion. It was not as promised in Rio - an increase from 0.4 to 0.7. It was really a decrease and I believe it is absolutely necessary that we must have a common conviction to reverse this trend, integrated of course in a policy to strengthen good governance around the world.

And I also want to underline what was mentioned by the ECE Executive Secretary concerning the Foreign Direct Investment. We have a huge increase but the OECD countries have a share of 79.4 per cent while the share of Africa is only 1.5 per cent.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me say a few words about the preparatory process which you have put in the hands of UNEP, that of International Environmental Governance.

We have come a long way since UNEP's GC decision 21/21 creating the framework for the negotiations on international environmental governance.

Many of you welcomed the progress made when we met in Algiers around two weeks ago.

The wealth of reports and documents as well as of our discussions and the ideas proposed, form a sound foundation for the building blocks that we have been asked to develop for the next meeting; building blocks, with the Global Ministerial Environment Forum, with the Environment Management Group, with Finance, with the Multi-lateral Environment Agreements and, as added in Algiers, with regard to sustainable development.

We are happy and encouraged by the unequivocal support of this region for a stronger UNEP with a predictable and secure financial base.

We stand ready to continue and strengthen our relationship, service and support to the MEA's, the UN system and the environmental community at large.

Talking about priorities, I have to return and add a few words to what I said earlier about fighting poverty and managing the environment as being two sides of the same coin.

UNEP as you know is headquartered in Kenya in the middle of a continent where poverty prevails and economic growth and development is and has to be the first priority.

But at the same time, through our daily contacts we appreciate the way in which developing countries look at and perceive the environment agenda of Europe and the ECE region at large.

To the countries of the South, sustainable development first and foremost requires policies which respond to their social and economic needs.

As the person in the United Nations system responsible for the environment I have to underline again and again that in Johannesburg we won't have an environment summit, we will have a summit on sustainable development.

Global environmental policies and priorities should be made conducive to meeting those needs.

The ECE and its member countries can demonstrate leadership in overcoming the hurdles on that road, not only by making their consumption less resource intensive and internalising the related environmental costs, but particularly through providing technical assistance, technology transfer and making their markets more accessible for products from the South.

The challenge of the Summit therefore is how to construct, agree upon and carry forward such a global deal.

The WSSD also provides a unique opportunity for us to support the fundamental values and targets embedded in the Millennium Declaration and make sustainable development the business of all stakeholders involved. I believe sustainable development indicators and targets should be developed parallel to the development goal in the Millennium Declaration.

Through the Global Compact we should work to ensure that the private sector becomes a full partner in the efforts to secure lifestyles and development patterns which are environmentally sound and sustainable in the long run.

Jointly we should develop a new culture of environmental accountability; one of a full acceptance and rigorous application of the polluter pays principle and the precautionary approach in investment and technology decisions, while promoting cleaner and more resource efficient technologies.

We must also strive to enhance the implementation of the global chemicals agenda.

The quest for strategic approaches to international chemicals management should be part of the hallmarks of the WSSD preparatory process.

We may look at Johannesburg as a momentum and a step forward towards establishing and improving enforcement and compliance regimes which hold polluters accountable and promote packages of positive measures for those economies in transition and developing countries which need assistance in this field.

I want to highlight the importance of liability and the lifecycle approach.

A last issue which I want to briefly highlight concerns access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters.

You in the ECE region have developed a convention to help ensure these public rights.

The principles underlying the convention were earlier formulated and endorsed in the Rio Declaration and in Agenda 21.

Their crucial relevance for sustainable development is undisputed, and the Summit should help to shape the framework and enhance the potential for their application worldwide.

Your continuous support to UNEP's information resource network and its outreach and capacity building programmes will certainly facilitate this process.

The road to Johannesburg is not going to be easy.

Many questions remain to be answered.

I have just elaborated a number of them.

How can we alleviate the poverty of the majority of the world population without increasing the consumption that is depleting our natural resources?

How can we achieve, especially in the developed world, sustainable consumption patterns?

Can we turn commitment to environmental goals into action?

Can we ensure compliance with multilateral environmental agreements?

Can we link the environment with the international trade and development agenda, without any green protectionism, but with the responsibility for the poor?

Does the international community have the political will to put in place and carry out a greatly strengthened institutional structure for international environmental governance for sustainable development?

Together with our partners and colleagues in ECE we have undertaken with enthusiasm to assist you in tackling these questions and preparing for the global debate, anticipated at the WSSD.

We in UNEP look forward to continuing servicing the preparatory process in this and other regions and next year in the context of the CSD, which acts as the global preparatory body for the Summit.


 © United Nations Environment Programme | privacy policy | terms and conditions |contacts