UK’s new plans for sustainable development, by Klaus Toepfer

Ladies and Gentleman, distinguished delegates, colleagues, friends

Let me say how delighted I am to be here to learn at first hand the United Kingdom’s new plans for sustainable development at home and abroad.

The UK has always been at the forefront of imaginative policies and decisive action.

Its first sustainable development strategy was published in 1994, making it one of the first countries to carry out such an important exercise just two years after the Rio Earth Summit and the birth of Agenda 21.

In terms of UNEP, the UN organization I have the privilege to head, the UK is now at over $7.6 million the biggest donor to our core funding.

I would like to thank the government for its continued and generous support.

The UK Strategy

The draft strategy, unveiled today, is an honest, forward thinking document that recognizes the country’s achievements in areas such as river and air quality at home.

It also accepts that not all is perfect or heading in the right direction and that there is a great deal left to do.

The document also highlights the country’s achievements in respect to the biggest challenge we all face, which is of course climate change.

The UK stands almost alone in being set to meet its emission cut backs outlined in the Kyoto Protocol.

Indeed it is likely to go well beyond its international responsibilities for the first commitment period of 2008 to 2012.

It was the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton who said ‘No Man is an Island”. Clearly, geographically, the UK is!!!

But the thinking underlined in the government’s strategy echoes Merton’s sentiments, clearly marking the UK as a nation fully aware that its responsibilities do not end at Dover or the borders of the European Union.

That in this globalized world “Every Man and Woman is Neither an Island nor a Continent” but ever increasingly part of a global community, mutually impacting on each other socially, economically and last, but not least, environmentally.

Sometimes it is not easy to persuade populations in developed countries that helping our fellow human beings in poorer ones is deserving of significant funds and political will.

We can play the moral card and appeal to their better natures.

But all too often this is not enough when the citizens of a developed country have their own struggles in making ends meet, securing employment and raising and educating their families.

However, the UK government recognizes that delivering sustainable development to the developing world is also one of urgent self-interest.

It has direct consequences that even the disinterested or selfish members of developed nations may find compelling.

Namely that sustainable development and the eradication of poverty is the peace policy of the 21st century.

In other words, achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and delivering the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation in areas such as water, education, biodiversity and health, will contribute markedly to reducing the tensions in the world that have the potential to destabilize nations, even entire regions.

New Science Initiative Linked with Conflict: Post Conflict Assessment Branch

A few weeks ago on the island of Jeju in the Republic of Korea, we held the 8th Special Session of UNEP’s Governing Council.

Indeed I was delighted to see there Elliot Morley and admire his skills as a moderator.

I am pleased to advise you that in Jeju, governments formally approved important new dimensions to our scientific work.

One is in the area of conflict and the environment or, what we might also call environment and security.

We hope to unravel the links between these two issues, or more precisely try and identify which factors in a declining environment can trigger the tensions that may spill over into conflict.

In a sense this will be the other side of the coin to our existing work by our Post Conflict Assessment Branch.

From the Balkans to Iraq, we have looked at the environmental impacts of war so that part of the reconstruction includes a clean up of the water, soil and air –the life support systems—upon which a long term peace and long lasting development depends.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the UK Department for International Development for contributing over 700,000 pounds to our post conflict work in Iraq.

I am delighted to say that the first fruits of this partnership will be evidenced this week when nearly 20 Iraqi experts will be in Switzerland to acquire the latest laboratory skills in testing soil, air and water samples for pollution and toxic chemicals.

We are now being urgently requested by African countries to carry out similar post-conflict work, and recently completed an assessment of Liberia’s environment.

I hope the UK can also partner us here too and use its influence next year as President of the G8 and European Union to support those African countries needing our help.

Part of our new science initiative will also include unraveling the links between poverty and the environment.

We urgently need a better understanding of the precise environmental services that contribute to overcoming poverty and delivering sustainable development.

UNEP is part of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment which, I sincerely believe, will shortly bring some clarity and hard numbers to this currently poorly understood field.

However, while more science is welcome and even better science means better decision making, it cannot be an alibi for inaction. We know enough already to act.

UNEP’s motto, coined just before WSSD in Johannesburg, two years ago is Environment for Development.

Too many people are against this or that, we want to be FOR something!!

I believe this echoes the UK’s thinking.

In other words that a healthy environment cannot on a planet of six billion and counting be seen as luxury, something you address when your economy has prospered and your GDP is strong.

A healthy, well-managed environment is instrumental for delivering long- term, long lasting economic improvements of the kind so urgently needed across Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, large parts of Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and the so called Economies in Transition.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

CSD 12

I have literally just stepped off the plane from New York, from the opening of the Commission on Sustainable Development’s 12th meeting.

We are taking stock of our achievements and our failures since WSSD and the birth of its Plan of Implementation.

There are really things happening. We appear to be moving from talking to walking, especially in some key areas such as tackling HIV/AIDS and delivering safe and sufficient water supplies and sanitation systems in Asia including East Asia.

However, in Africa and large swathes of Latin America and the Caribbean, our goals on halving the number of people without access to safe and sufficient water supplies and the proportion without access to sanitation will not be achieved at current rates unless action is taken to step up investment and political will.

I know Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister, has along with other G8 leaders taken a keen interest in Africa’s fate.

Mr Blair has described the situation on this continent, from where human kind evolved and took its first faltering steps, as a “scar on the conscience of the world”.

He is right.

Sustainable Energy Critical

That is why we are so pleased to be headquartered in Africa, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Each day we can see the clear links between poverty and the environment.

You only have to fly over the coast and see the muds swirling down the rivers.

These are choking the region’s world famous coral reefs, upon which many depend for fisheries and tourism income.

It is happening because of massive deforestation in the interior.

Why, because only nine per cent of Kenyans have access to electricity and depend almost wholly on charcoal and fuel woods.

Kenyans know the consequences of these actions, they do not need awareness training.

But when you are poor, your family is on the bread line, and you have no choices, then you are forced to destroy even your last tree rather than conserve your precious natural resources.

Unless we can overcome the energy crisis facing Africa and facing many parts of the developing world, we will never overcome the poverty that fuels environmental degradation.

In the Secretary General’s report to CSD 12 we are reminded that 1.6 billion people or one quarter of the world’s population remain without access to electricity. (in Kenya it is over 90 per cent).

Nearly 2.5 billion rely on biomass for cooking and heating. At least one study estimates that $5 trillion is needed to achieve an electrification rate of 78 per cent in developing countries by 2030.

What we must ensure, however, is that we do not repeat the dirty pattern of electricity generation that occurred during the industrialization of the North.

Currently, the global share of renewables is just 1.7 per cent if you exclude hydroelectricity.

UNEP, with the Global Environment Facility, have launched a solar and wind energy mapping project for 13 developing countries including Kenya.

The maps will be used to encourage investors to develop alternative energy sources in such nations by giving them the best sites so they can maximise their returns.

We also urgently need better and more efficient biomass stoves so that less wood is wasted.

But we need to prove to developing countries, as was made clear by the G8 Renewable Energy Task Force in its report three years ago, that these kinds of alternative energy sources and resource efficient technologies are first rate.

Many eye the stacks, giant turbines and power transmission lines of developed countries’ coal, gas and nuclear-power stations, and wonder again whether they are being sold short.

Only by developing and using greener generation at home will we prove to developing countries that cleaner and renewable forms of energy are first class not second class technologies.

I was delighted to be in London last year with the Secretary of State for the Environment to forward the UK’s important Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) initiative, again born at WSSD.

In some areas of renewables we have barely dipped our toes. I am thinking of wave and tidal power.

Sustainable development is not just about cash and collective political will. It is also about unleashing the imagination and creative skills of our young people, of our budding engineers.

I am sure that the great universities of the UK, of the developed world as a whole, could generate new technologies that can put us on a less polluting path given the right incentives and guidance.

Certainly one technology appears to be within our grasp. Namely hydrogen power and the fuel cell.

Most people would be shocked to learn that the fuel cell was actually invented in 1839 by Sir William Grove, the Welsh judge and scientist.

So, this revolution in motive power has been a long time in coming.

Nevertheless, most car companies now have demonstration hydrogen powered vehicles under test.

California, for example, has plans to roll out a hydrogen filling station network in around 10 years.

But nothing is free or without consequences. The question remains where the energy will come from to make the hydrogen in the first place. One source being mentioned is nuclear.

As the minister in Germany once responsible for nuclear issues, I know how fraught and polarized this subject can be.

So if we are to have hydrogen as a clean fuel, we must have the debate about how we make it sooner rather than later.

Lead-Free Africa

We are, I am pleased to say, close to healing at least one wound, of closing one running scar in Africa.

UNEP is a key player in the Clean Fuels and Vehicles Partnership that was launched at WSSD as a Type II Partnership.

One of its first aims is to rid the developing world of the scourge of leaded petrol or gasoline. Europe has been lead-free for some time.

But Africa in particular still adds the heavy metal to fuels increasing the risk of damage to the nervous systems of the very young, the very people who are the hope for this continent.

Since Johannesburg, we have been working with countries in Africa and the petroleum industry.

I can tell you that Africa as a whole is well on track to be lead-free by the target date of the end of 2005. (South Africa has indicated that it will be lead-free in early 2006)


That such initiatives are bearing fruit is in no small part due to Africa itself, to a new determination by nations there that the practices of the past really must come to an end.

African countries are really taking their development and environment seriously. Good governance are the words on everyone’s lips.

The environment component of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development or NEPAD has been endorsed by Heads of State.

Over 800 experts continent-wide have been involved in drawing up the environment action plan.

In five days time I will be in Paris meeting with President Jacques Chirac and West African leaders.

Here we will discuss details of a new, capacity building project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNEP and countries including Belgium, Norway and Denmark.

It aims to build the skills and knowledge base in the five African economic regions so they can deliver their own, tailor-made, environment action plans.

I would urge other donor countries to back this or similar schemes. Africa is keen to act but she needs the know how and the tools to do it.

Again and again, the call from Africa is for capacity, capacity, capacity.

She does not have sufficient well-educated, well-resourced civil services and universities to implement the existing international and regional environmental treaties.

Let alone the new Conventions that are or have just come into force.

I refer of course to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety addressing international trade in genetically modified organisms.

The Persistent Organic Pollutants or Stochkholm Convention banning 12, the so called Dirty Dozen, chemicals which comes into force in May.

And the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedures for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

We should all be rightly proud that these are no longer paper treaties, but ones now with legal standing.

But implementing these will be an additional burden for African and many other developing nations unless they have additional capacity.

Other areas where we are set to fall short unless we pull up our collective socks are in the fields of trade and subsidies, fisheries, the marine environment and biodiversity.

Commodity Prices, Trade and Subsidies

World prices of non-fuel commodities have fallen in the past half century by 50 per cent. A major blow to development in many poorer countries.

The stalling of the World Trade Organization’s Doha Work Programme in Cancun, Mexico, has brought the issue of subsidy reforms to a grinding halt.

This is another blow to developing countries trying to compete with and export to richer parts of the world.

Total support for agricultural producers in OECD countries rose from $227 billion in 2001 to $235 billion in 2002.

Agricultural tariffs in the OECD area still average about 60 per cent. New barriers have emerged to developing world exports such as stringent health and anti-pest measures.

Many poorer countries lack the capacity (again capacity!!) and finances to meet these tough new standards.

The little bright sparks here are that some least developed countries have been granted tariff-free and quota-free access to the markets of the rich.

The scheduled elimination of quotas for exports of textiles in January 2005 should result in export gains of $40 billion a year for developing countries.


Some progress has been made with respect to fisheries, but no where near enough.

Fish may be a luxury for some developing world dinner plates, but for many poorer, coastal communities, fish is essential protein.

Since WSSD, 20 additional countries and the European Union have ratified the 1995 UN Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.

Some progress has been made on reducing fishing capacity.

Since 1991, the number of large fishing vessels operating has fallen from 26,000 to 22,000.

The number of new big fishing vessels being built has fallen from 2,000 a year in the 1970s to about 300 a year.

However, the number of smaller coastal vessels continues to climb.

Few, if any, developing countries and only a limited number of developed ones are on track to put into effect by this year the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.


Meanwhile, the report by the Secretary General to CSD 12 uses the term “glacial” to describe efforts to reduce the rate of loss of wildlife globally.

Again, I can only thank the UK government for its support particularly for UNEP and the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Great Apes Survival Project or GRASP.

The great apes are flagship species.

By saving them, we can save key habitats such as African and Asian forests and the millions of other species of plants and animals that inhabit them, for the benefit of the people living there.

The marine environment is a particular source of concern.

Figures from UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, located in Cambridge, England, show that less than one per cent of the seas and oceans are in protected areas.

Business and Industry and Sustainable Tourism

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to see so many faces from the private sector, from business and from industry here today.

For delivering sustainable development is a communal effort involving all sectors of society.

Foreign direct investment is, far and away above overseas aid, the biggest source of finance for developing countries.

In 2003, it amounted to $156 billion, down by a quarter from the 2001 level.

But it still dwarfs official development assistance which, despite the good news that it has risen by seven per cent from 2001, stood at $58.3 billion in 2002

One of the biggest industries on the globe is the tourism industry.

Studies show that most of what tourists want is nature based - -be it a beautiful, sunny beach and azure blue sea, mountains or wildlife safaris..

We have, I would suggest, barely scratched the surface in terms of tourism’s ability to deliver the sustainable development agenda.

Two years ago we had the International Year of EcoTourism.

What we really need is an international year of mass, sustainable, tourism so that holidays that respect nature and local people are no longer seen as a niche activity, but a mainstream one.

Here UK industry and UK citizens can play their part.

I understand that, in 2003, UK citizens made nearly 16 million ‘visits’ abroad spending over seven billion pounds.

Harness these kinds of sums for sustainable development and you have a powerful new source of ‘development aid’.

Another key role for the UK must be in the financial sector. The City of London is one of the great economic and financial power houses in the world.

The investment choices made by pension funds, insurance companies and the like, can have a huge influence on the sustainable development policies of the corporations they invest in.

I am pleased to note the energetic activity of UK government and business in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Many UK firms are also partners in UNEP’s Finance Services Initiative which seeks to harness the power of the markets for sustainable development as well as economic good.


The other great market is the consumer one. Indeed the consumer is King. How do we influence the King?

At WSSD world leaders agreed to promote a 10 year framework of programmes ‘to accelerate a shift towards sustainable consumption and production’.

Appealing to consumers from the pulpit, exhorting them to reduce their consumption of goods and services, is one tactic.

But one, I would suggest, with limited appeal and possibilities.

What sells to the consumer of the both the developed and developing world is life style, is chic, is fashion.

We need to make being environmentally sound, cool. So we need more than stern messages, we need the modern messages of the marketing men, of the ad women of the media gurus.

Fortunately it is not up to the Executive Director of UNEP to be a fashion icon. Being cool to me, means taking off my tie at the end of a busy day.

Instead, we are trying to address these issues through an initiative called Shopping For a Better World.

We are working with fashion magazines, psychologists and others to try and define and sell the messages that will sell sustainable consumption to the young and the old.

Green Procurement

Governments also have a role, as role models. Many developed countries now have green procurement strategies.

Many developing countries would like to follow suit, but do not know where to go to make sound choices.

UNEP is now drawing up 'green procurement' information material for governments and local authorities.

This is being done alongside an information network and Internet service so that if they want to buy environmentally-friendly pens or vehicles they will now know where to go.

UN Reforms

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have talked a lot about the need for collective action. This applies to the UN as much as to governments, the private sector, NGOs and society as a whole.

UNEP is pressing ahead with the UN’s reforms and I can assure the audience that we are working ever closer with our sister agencies such as UNDP, WHO and FAO.

We are all, in the UN family, keen to minimize the duplication of effort, harness jointly our creativity, focus our work programmes and maximize the best use of out funds for slaying poverty, for putting the world on a sustainable track.

Thank you again for allowing me to address this gathering. It is always a pleasure to be in London, to be in the UK.

Maybe you would allow me to make one small plug to those of you interested in our GRASP partnership with the UK government.

Next month, we will be jointly hosting a special fund raising dinner here in London for the great apes and indeed I believe we have some information on this at the back of the room.

The tickets are not cheap, but neither is the cost of saving human-kind’s closest relatives. So I hope as many of you that can, can join us on 24 May at London Zoo and maybe we can sustainably consume a few glasses of wine in a good cause!!!

For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 733 632755 or E-mail:


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