UNEP Executive Director Addresses the Rotarians

Nairobi, 22 February 2007 - The United Nations Environment Programme is one of the members of the United Nations family that you have hosted for a long time here in Kenya.

For so many of us it has become a home - for me over the last few months but for many of you it is indeed decades.

When I was invited to speak about the issues of environment and peace and conflict, I began to reflect on the speech and then as we came closer to the event, I was told 'can you please cover all of these issues in eight to ten minutes'.

So forgive me if I now go straight to the point because I think this is not a moment for in-depth reflections, but rather for focusing on some key challenges.

The first one is that we live today in a world of six and a half to seven billion people. It is only a hundred and fifty years ago, when we were just around one billion people.

We have increased our ecological footprints through industrialization but also by the intensity - one might say hunger - with which we consume on a scale greater than many of our parents or grand-parents.

We also have a planet today where consumption in one part of the world often exceeds that of most poorer nations put together.

It's an imbalance in the way that we use resources. It's an imbalance and a challenge of equity that transcends all international relations in each and every country and community on this planet. So when we talk about environment in the year 2007 it should not be surprising that it is very much associated with issues of peace, conflict and increasingly also geopolitical security.

We are stressing our planet and through stressing our planet we are stressing our communities. Many of you in this room here today, perhaps have more experience of that than I do.

You only have to open the papers, you only have to read about the daily competition for resources amongst different communities in Kenya, to see how a local community is ultimately bound up with the fate of the planet as a whole.

That is why I would wish to use the example of climate change which to some on the African continent and other parts of the world, still seems a very distant phenomenon-- an issue that is rather a concern of those who live in European or North American countries rather than here in Africa or here in Kenya.

Climate change, Excellency and Ladies and Gentlemen is perhaps the first time in the history of humankind that we have to truly face the fact that only an international community, working as a community has any hope of addressing this issue.

In the United Nations, we have lived for a long time with the notion of the "international community". To this day it is very often an aspirational term but climate change has turned it into a factual necessity. There is no nation on this planet, there is no community on this planet, that will escape the consequences of climate change.

There is no way that we can work as an international community without addressing the issue of equity when we address climate change. Because not everyone on this planet has an equal responsibility for why climate change has occurred. At least in historical terms.

And yet we struggle as an international community to take the next steps in working together across a hundred and ninety odd nations in facing what is a fundamental challenge to life on earth as we know it today.

In Kenya, your children may very well live in a world where there is no longer a glacier on Mount Kilimanjaro or indeed Mount Kenya.

Your children, or perhaps even we in our lifetime will experience the implications of what it means to lose a reservoir of water that used to sustain tens of thousands of people through the ingenuity of nature - of capturing water when it is plentiful, storing it through a simple process of forming glacier and then releasing it when we need it. This is just one very simple example.

But the consequences of climate change could very easily lead to about 30 per cent of Africa's coastal infrastructure being affected by sea level rise by the end of this century. It does not take much imagination to realize that, for some countries it represents a significant slice of their national economy.

Many people still doubt these scenarios and I was struck when I was reading the four way test of the Rotary club about why we so often make simple truths so complicated in practice. And if you take the Rotarians "four way test" and you apply it to climate change it is actually very revealing.

Is it the truth? Anyone who today still claims that there is no connection between human activity and climate change is not arguing on the basis of science but on the basis of his own ideology or some other motivation.

We now have evidence going back six hundred thousand that were released just a few weeks ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that puts - and this is the work of 2500 scientists – an unequivocal connection between human activity on this planet and the change in climate.

Second test, Is it fair to all concerned? Well the first terrible truth about climate change is that it is a terrible and inequitable reality.

We are leaving behind a planet for our children that will be fundamentally affected and changed in terms of infrastructure, stability and the kind of communities we live in today.

We will leave them with the legacy and the financial bill that Nicholas Stern, the economist, estimates as being somewhere around five percent of Gross Domestic Product.

The third Rotarian test is, we build goodwill and better friendship.

Climate change at the moment is a divisive issue. It is a divisive issue between Europe and North America. It is a divisive issue between developed and developing countries.

It is already a divisive issue between people who live upstream and downstream in a River Basin. It is already a divisive issue between people who have livestock; are trying to make a living out of it and are now faced with the situation where grazing lands are scarce in times of drought.

Climate change and its implications are all pervasive. So when we talk about goodwill and better friendship, there is no more important time in the history of the United Nations, I believe than now.

And the issue of climate change must prove that our multilateral system is capable of helping us, as a community of nations - to be able to face a challenge that is truly planetary and reaches into every last household on this planet.

The final Rotarian test is, will it indeed be beneficial to all concerned. Environmentalism of the 20th century became perceived - out of frustration, misunderstanding and mutual doubts - to be often anti-developmental, a tax on development, a concern of the few at the expense of the many.

Perhaps environmentalists of the 20th century had to pass through this phase of opposition as societies were reluctant to face the fact that nature cannot just be exploited but must be managed sustainably.

Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen - we live in the 21st century! We have reached in some parts of the world the limits of what our ecosystems can sustain if they are exploited in the ways that we have done for the last 100 or 200 years.

The tragedy of the past 3 decades, is that we have failed to comprehend that the environment is in many ways the foundation for sustainable economic development.

Within a few weeks of arriving in Kenya, I remember reading the headline that tourism in Kenya is the single largest foreign exchange earner--$700 million of revenue and foreign exchange in 2005.

In fact just a couple of days ago, I read that Kenya will have had another record year in 2006, in terms of visitors and the same is projected for 2007.

The question to ask is whether anyone has made the connection between the investment that Kenya makes in its national parks-- in conservation, in wildlife, in the Kenyan Wildlife Service, in coastal zone protection, in designated marine protected areas-- and their fundamental value to attract overseas visitors to come in record numbers to Kenya, to spend overseas currency.

Why do we find it so difficult to take that investment in the environmental assets of Kenya and see it not as a detraction from the economic development prospects of this country, but perhaps as one of the most intelligent, far reaching and wise investments with the highest returns made in the history of this country. Without the investments made in conservation in Kenya during the past 40 years, Kenya would not have the vibrant tourism industry it has today.

It is one of my preoccupations to work on this nexus of the economy and the environment. Because I believe that we have allowed ourselves to be trapped in a false competition between environmental sustainability and sustainable economic growth.

Environmentalism in the 21st century cannot be the product of a well off urban middle class society somewhere in Germany or Canada or Japan.

Environmentalism of the 21st century has to be increasingly shaped by the reality of the livelihoods of people who to this day, live in conditions of poverty that are ultimately unforgivable in the modern civilized world.

And for that reason alone, I believe that the role of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) alongside its sister organizations of whom you have so many here in Nairobi-- and I see among us today Elizabeth Lwanga, who is sitting here with United Nations Development Programme, Inga Bjork-Klevby with UN-HABITAT, UNON and many others who are here from the World Bank family, IFC.

We are all in a deep process of having to rethink how we understand sustainable economic development.

I appeal to you, in particular, because here in this room are many who also represent the business community. It is not anymore a task that government alone can either lead on or accomplish.

Climate change is as much a challenge to the future of business and the viability of enterprise as it is to governments who are elected and have to lead their nations sometimes beyond the immediate realities of the day.

Wherever I travel I am struck by the fact that it is the business world and entrepreneurs that are beginning to realize more quickly and more actively that climate change and global warming are changing the fundamental prospects for economic activity in the future.

And therefore the willingness to adapt and to respond is in fact emerging out of the marketplace, and from you who are entrepreneurs, business men and women with great skills and the capacity to innovate.

I appeal to you to work with everyone in the Kenyan society but also with us in the United Nations and with NGOs to try and make the environment something that does not divide civil society activists, entrepreneurs and business people, but rather as a common cause that we can address together.

Let me end by referring to UNEP's presence here in Kenya. As was pointed out to me, it was in fact a Rotarian who many years ago wrote to Dag Hammaskjold, the then Secretary General of the United Nations, and suggested that the headquarters of the United Nations should move to Nairobi.

Well don't give up, it may still one day happen. But for the moment you have us instead, the United Nations Environment Programme, which was the building stone of today's extraordinary United Nations presence here in Nairobi, Kenya.

Three thousand professionals with their families, with their knowledge, with their expertise are resident here, have made their homes here and belong to you also as good neighbours.

In the media, you have seen some of the speculation recently about the United Nations Environmental Programme perhaps moving.

I can assure you that I have no indication nor any knowledge that this is on the agenda of anyone.

We are here to stay and we are here to stay not only as those who live out there in Gigiri; who block your roads with our big cars and red number plates, who frustrate some of you in the way that we sometimes drive and push up the housing rental market alongside all the other things I've been reading in papers in the last few weeks!

Nobody is perfect! Nor are we in the United Nations, but I can assure you from my personal point of view and from everyone in the United Nations Environment Programme, that we want to remain here dents in Kenya, and operate from here in fulfilling the global mission of UNEP, always mindful that the operational conditions and security and safety of our staff assured, determine our ability to do so effectively.

I would like us, in collaboration with you Your Excellency to also look at how UNEP and our fellow UN agencies could make another effort at making our presence here more relevant than it may have been in the past in order to assist the future development of Kenya.

It touches my heart when I live in the city where UN-HABITAT and UNEP have their world headquarters and see what is happening in terms of sustainable future for Nairobi.

Nairobi, as a rapidly expanding and growing metropolis in Africa is moving down the same erroneous path of allowing infrastructure, traffic and development to essentially forego the opportunities of being an example of what a sustainable city in the 21st century could be.

And I appeal to you and I commit us in UNEP to forge partnerships to try and turn, perhaps over the next 10-20 years, Nairobi instead into a first class example of a sustainable capital city of the 21st century in Africa and perhaps for the rest of the world.

It cannot be that you have some of the world's most qualified and professional experts residing within five miles of your government offices and yet we have not really succeeded in doing some of the things that I believe all of us would like to see happening here.

So when we talk about the United Nations Environment Programme staying in Nairobi, rest assured from me that you will not see any attempt to leave unless we are forced to by circumstances. On the contrary, we would like to make our presence more relevant and useful to you.

I just moved my family here and I did it with great joy. I look forward to living alongside you, with you, but above all to assist in ensuring that UNEP is a part of the message that today's meeting is about and that the Rotary club of Nairobi have put at the centre of this special day.

Environment is about peace, it is about peace making and the world has begun to recognize it – not least through the eyes and the life of one citizen who in fact comes from your midst, Wangari Maathai.

Thank you.


 

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