Remarks by Mr. Klaus Toepfer Executive Director, UNEP on the occasion of the 20th anniversary celebration of the Sasakawa Environment Prize

Diao Yu Tai State Guest House Beijing, People’s Republic of China

(Monday 27 September 2004)

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Vice-Premier of China, Mr. Zeng Peiyan,

former Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto,

Mr. Xie Zhenhua, Minister of the State Environment Protection Administration,

President of the Nippon Foundation, Mr. Yohei Sasakawa,

distinguished and honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 20th anniversary celebration of one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards — the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize.

I would particularly like to thank our hosts, the Government of China, represented by the Vice-Premier of China, Mr. Zeng Peiyan, who I would also like to applaud for his illuminating comments.

I would also like to welcome my friend, Minister Xie Zhenhua of the State Environment Protection Administration who, as you will recall, became a Sasakawa Laureate last year.

I have known Minister Xie for several years. I have admired his commitment to the environment, and his ability to get others — not least other ministries of the Chinese government — to commit to the same cause.

We are also honoured today by the presence of His Excellency Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto, former Prime Minister of Japan, who is himself an outstanding example of a leader who understands the importance of placing the environment high on the development agenda.

I would also like to extend a special welcome to Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, President of the Nippon Foundation, which has so generously funded this prize.

The unwavering support of the Foundation over twenty years has enabled UNEP to honour and publicize the environmental achievements of thirty outstanding individuals and institutions from every region of the world.

I would also like to thank Mr. Sasakawa personally for the Foundation’s pledge of continued support for this important environment prize.

I am also pleased to welcome Lord Clinton-Davis, the Chairman of the Prize Selection Committee, and his colleagues, Mrs. Maneka Ghandi and Ms. Adriana Hoffman.

The wise choices they have made along with their colleagues and predecessors over the years are the reason this award has such prestige around the globe.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Over the past twenty years the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize has been awarded to some of the brightest, most innovative and most influential talents in the field of environment and sustainable development.

They are the people who have, to a large extent, set the environmental agenda and laid the foundations for the many areas of progress we are able to see and celebrate today.

Of the thirty prizewinners, we are fortunate to have eleven represented here today.

(Mr. Ghazi Al-Otaibi, representing the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, Saudi Arabia; Drs. Wolfgang Burhenne and Francoise Burhenne-Guilmin; Professor Qu Geping; Mrs. Barbara Pyle; Mr. Ian Kiernan; Professor Mario Molina; Mr. Huey Johnson; Mr. Ashok Khosla; Mr. Dener Giovanini and Minister Xie Zhenhua.)

Some of the other recipients could not come because of conflicting engagements. Others have sadly passed on. However, their legacy lives with us.

I would like to thank those who have taken the time to be with us today, and I look forward to their special contribution to this afternoon’s four panel discussions on Energy, Water, Air and Land.

As proven groundbreaking thinkers — and doers! — I expect them to come up with some truly thought-provoking and important suggestions on how we can continue our march to a sustainable future.

Let me stress that word continue.

There are a lot of doomsayers in this world.

There is a lot of negative talk.

Of course, the challenges we face are profound.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that, thanks to the work of people such as the UNEP Sasakawa Laureates, we are making progress.

At the risk of offending our other honoured guests, let me single out just one as an example of what I mean.

Professor Mario Molina’s work — which we honoured in 1999 — led directly to the adoption by the international community of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol.

To this day the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer remains the world’s most successful multilateral environmental agreement.

Its embodiment of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, its financial commitment to helping developing countries meet their obligations, and its history of negotiation and compromise towards a common end provide a model for the solution of other important and sensitive environmental issues — for instance climate change, which I am sure will feature in all this afternoon’s panel debates.

Without the impeccable work of Professor Molina and his colleagues I am sure there would be no agreement.

His clarity of thought and commitment are qualities shared by all our Sasakawa Laureates.

All of them have contributed greatly to global progress.

All of them are leaders by example.

By meeting here today we honour them.

We also ask them to give us the benefit of their collective knowledge and experience as we look afresh at some of the great challenges of sustainable development.

For, ladies and gentlemen, our Laureates have certainly not been resting on their laurels!

Each of our special guests here today is at the top of their field.

So as we honour them, we too are truly honoured by their presence.

Thank you.


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