Press Releases February 2005 - 23rd Governing Council To Focus on Environment and the MDGs - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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23rd Governing Council To Focus on Environment and the MDGs

Protecting the Environment: The Thread that Runs Through the Millennium Development Goals

Nairobi, 18 February 2005 – The importance of a healthy environment for realizing the Millennium Development Goals will take centre stage next week when more than 100 environment ministers meet at the world headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya.

A five-year review of the Goals, which cover poverty eradication and safe water supplies to promoting women and conserving wildlife, will take place in New York in September at a Summit-level meeting of the UN General Assembly.

Next week’s meeting in Nairobi, involving environment ministers from six Continents, will be looking at how to bolster global, regional and national environments so as to improve the prospects for achieving the Goals by the target date of 2015.

Studies to support September’s five year review, produced under an initiative called the UN Millennium Project, are already making clear that the environment is one of the pillars on which many if not all the Goals will stand or fall.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said today: “In the past, the environment was viewed as something of a luxury. The philosophy was that economies must first grow before countries clean up the land, the air and the waterways”.

“I think this one dimensional view is fast receding and that it is becoming clearer and clearer that without a healthy and stable environment long lasting economic and social development, let alone eradicating poverty and hunger, will not be possible. This is particularly clear in developing countries where so many people are reliant on nature for everything from food and medicines to energy and water supplies,” he said.

“I would not be so bold as to claim that achieving all the Millennium Development Goals rests solely on the environment. Achieving equal girls’ enrolment in primary and secondary school will require investment, awareness and other practical measures to realize,” said Mr. Toepfer.

“However, we do know that in developing countries it is women and girls who often bear the burden of finding water and fuel for their families. Cleaner and more plentiful supplies of water and more reliable and sustainable forms of energy cannot but help in boosting the chances of girls achieving a regular attendance at school. So even here, the environment has some part to play, as it does in areas of child mortality, maternal health and in reversing the spread of disease,” he added.

Law and the Millennium Development Goals

These points were also hammered home in a global gathering of chief justices and senior judges who met this week at UNEP in advance of next week’s gathering of environment ministers.

In their report they call on governments to strengthen UNEP’s work in promoting the rule of law as being among a range of steps needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

The judges argue that there is a critical relationship between the environment, the law and legal rights and the delivery of clean and sufficient water supplies, the fair allocation of land, poverty eradication, maternal health and a reduction in the spread of disease.

“We affirm that the judiciary is a crucial partner in achieving the appropriate balance between environmental, social and developmental considerations to achieve sustainable development. Moreover ensuring an informed and active judiciary is crucial to achieving the MDGs,” argue the judges.

They are calling on UNEP to take their findings forward to the September Summit-level meeting on the review of the Goals.

“The law and its implementation and enforcement cannot be underestimated. We have over 500 international environmental treaties, agreements and deals covering everything from shared water resources to the trade in endangered species. If these are not incorporated into national legislation, if judges and lawyers are not aware of them or unable to act on them, then we have only paper tigers, not tigers with teeth. I am sure their conclusions will make a valuable contribution to our work and the September review of the MDGs,” added Mr. Toepfer.

The Governing Council

He said next week’s 23 UNEP Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum will focus on poverty, gender and women and the environment goals.

The conclusions will feed into the upcoming Commission of Sustainable Development as well as the September Summit-level meeting.

The latest data from the UN indicates that in some parts of the world real progress is being made in achieving the targets agreed in 2000 by the 2015 deadline.

For example Northern Africa, Eastern, Southeastern and Southern Asia which includes countries like China, Thailand and India, have either met or are generally on track to meet Goal One--the halving of extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

Northern Africa along with Eastern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Asian states of the former Soviet Union are also on track to achieve Goal Two. This covers universal primary education.

But one region stands out for showing almost no progress across the entire breadth of the Goals, which is sub-Saharan Africa. All the indicators here are pointing in the wrong direction.

Goal 7, on ensuring environmental sustainability, also stands out for enjoying patchy progress at best.


Drinking Water

In respect of Goal 7, only Southern Asia, which includes countries like India but also Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, is on track to halve the proportion of people without improved drinking water in rural areas.

In 1990, 64 per cent of the rural population had access to safe and sufficient water. The latest figures indicate that 80 per cent now have improved supplies, an increase of 16 per cent.


Only Eastern Asia and the former Soviet Republics in Europe and Asia are on track to reverse forest loss by the due date. The latest figures show that, in Eastern Asia, forest cover has grown by over one and-a-half per cent since the mid-1990s and by a few tenths of a per cent in the other two regions.

Elsewhere the story is of continued forest loss with the largest decline in Southeastern Asia, which includes Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar. Here forest cover has fallen from nearly 54 per cent to just over 48.5 per cent.


While Northern Africa, Southeastern, Southern and Western Asia have either met or are on track to halve the proportion of people without sanitation in urban areas, the rest of the developing world is not.

For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 55 per cent of the urban population has access to improved sanitation, up from 54 per cent in 1990.

This compares with, say, Southern Asia. In 1990, only 54 per cent of the people in towns and cities had access whereas now the figure is around 66 per cent, an improvement of 12 per cent.

Meanwhile, only Northern Africa and Southeastern Asia are likely to improve the lives of slum-dwellers by 2015.

Protected Areas

One very bright spot is the area of the Earth’s surface now in National Parks, reserves and other protected areas.

The latest data, collated by the UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre and submitted to the UN Statistical Department in advance of the September review, shows that almost 13 per cent of the globe is under some kind of protection, up by nearly two per cent since the mid-1990s.

Some regions have now quite substantial areas set aside to maintain animal and plant life.

Close to 23 per cent of the surface of Western Asia, which includes countries like Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, is now in protected areas, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean at close to 18 per cent.

The lowest levels of protected areas are found in Oceania where only 2.5 per cent of the area is set aside for biological diversity, followed by the former Soviet Republics of Asia at around four per cent.

By far the biggest growth in National Parks and other protected areas has been in Eastern Asia, which includes countries like China and Mongolia. In the mid-1990s, just over eight per cent was held in such sites growing to nearly 14.5 per cent now.

There has been almost no change in sub-Saharan Africa including Kenya with protected areas standing at just over 11 per cent in the mid-1990s with a similar coverage now.

Ozone Layer Success

Another indicator of success for Goal 7 is the world’s consumption of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs), which are chemicals that deplete the ozone layer, the Earth’s protective shield.

Consumption in developed countries is now almost zero after legally agreed phase-outs. Consumption in developing countries stood at just over 150 tonnes in the mid 1990s but is now down to less than 90 tonnes.

Notes to Editors

The 23rd UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum will take between 21 and 25 February at the Gigiri Complex of the United Nations.

More details, including the Round Table Dialogue on Advancing the Millennium Development Goals Through the Rule of Law, are available at

There are daily UNEP press conferences scheduled at 1.00pm in the UN Press Centre.

Several new reports are set to be released. These include one on new scientific links between environmental degradation and a rise of infectious diseases which will be launched at a press conference on 21 February; the environmental impact of the Indian Ocean tsunami, scheduled to be launched at a press conference on 22 February and a strategy to crack down on the plastic bag and waste menace in Kenya, scheduled for a press conference on 23 February.

For more information please contact Eric Falt Spokesman/Director UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, e-mail: or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, e-mail:

UNEP News Release 2005/09




Further Resources

Official Governing Council Website

Opening Statement by UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer
View video

UNEP Resources for Government Officials

IISD/ENB Coverage of UNEP Governing Council Sessions

Global Civil Society Forum
18-19 February 2005, Nairobi, Kenya

TUNZA Global Youth Retreat
16-18 February 2005

UNEP and the Millennium Development Goals

Environmental Law

UNEP Resources on Freshwater

UNEP Tsunami Disaster Website

UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre


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