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Infusing ‘Intelligence’ into the Globalized Economy Key Theme at Annual Gathering of Environment Ministers

24th Session of UNEP’s Governing Council-Global Ministerial Environment Forum 5 to 9 February

Nairobi, 1 February 2007 --The environmental risks and opportunities posed by globalization and booming transnational trade will be brought into sharp focus next week at an international gathering of environment ministers.

The ministers, attending the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), will be searching for ways to put globalization on a more sustainable and intelligent path.

Globalization and trade is creating unprecedented wealth and lifting millions out of the poverty trap.

But some of the wider costs, including those to economically important forests, wetlands, coral reefs and other central ecosystems are often factored out of the balance sheets.

Similarly the true economic value of the goods and services provided by nature can be all but invisible in national and global accounts.

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist writing in a special Governing Council edition of UNEP’s Our Planet magazine calculates that tropical forests are worth at least $100 billion a year just for their carbon storing value alone—an economic benefit lost when trees are unsustainably logged for timber and wood products for a fraction of their wider, true value.

An increasing body of opinion argues that the pace at which finite natural resources are being lost could mean that the engine of globalization may stutter and eventually run out of fuel triggering potential tensions between nations and aggravating rather than alleviating poverty.

Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary-General and UNEP’s Executive Director, said: “It is akin to a company living off its capital rather than its interest or a farmer growing bumper crops but failing to save or invest in seeds and agricultural machinery for coming years”.

“A worst case analogy might be a family, heating their home by throwing the living room furniture onto the fire. Unless we better value natural resources and better calculate the external costs of international trade we risk killing the proverbial goose and her golden eggs,” he added.

“There are however numerous example of intelligent ways of sustainably managing globalization from the certification of resources like timber and fish and green procurement strategies to new and creative financial and trading mechanisms like those enshrined in the climate change treaties,” said Mr Steiner.

“We need to harness the power of the consumer, match calls for international regulation from the private sector and sets realistic standards and norms for the globalized markets. This is above all the responsibility of governments who have the ultimate responsibility to define the wider aims and goals of a globalized world and devise the mechanisms and route maps need to achieve these,” he added.

UN Reform

This year’s annual gathering is set to be a landmark in several ways. In the growing spirit of UN reform and the request by the international community for greater cooperation and cohesion across the UN, UNEP will be joined by leading figures from several agencies.

These include Kemal Dervis, UN Development Programme Administrator who will join Mr Steiner in launching a joint Poverty and Environment Facility and Kandeh Yumkella, Director General of the UN Industrial Development Organization—UNEP is working with UNIDO on areas including biofuels and persistent organic pollutants.

Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organisation, will also be attending to help spearhead a special discussion on “Ensuring Coherence between the Trade and Environment Regimes”.

“I believe the presence of Mr Lamy at UNEP’s Governing Council shows there is no longer one-way traffic in respect to trade and the environment. But a clearer and growing understanding that both sides have a tremendous amount to gain in working hand in glove to solve the challenges of a globalized world,” he said.

Civil Society

Mr Steiner said he was also delighted that Gunter Pauli, founder of Europe’s first ecological factory and pioneering visionary behind the Zero Emissions Research Iniative (ZERI) would be attending to deliver a dinner address to delegates.

“Gunter Pauli is one of the most provocative and inspiring thinkers and speaker on creating a truly sustainable society in which waste is not waste but an input to another agricultural or industrial process—ideas now being actively pursued by governments, like China, through their circular economy initiative,” said Mr Steiner.

Civil society including senior figures from the trades unions, will also be part of the debate prior to and during the GC/GMEF. Those scheduled to attend include Mr Guy Ryder, the General Secretary of the International Trade Unions Confederation.

Climate Change and World Environment Day

The ever accelerating challenge of climate change will be underlined on World Environment Day 2007 in early June Norway with the theme Melting Ice-A Hot Topic?.

At the Governing Council Helen Bjornoy, the Norwegian environment minister, will host a side event previewing WED where UNEP will also launch its strategy for International Polar Year.

GEO Year Book 2007

UNEP, as requested by governments, will release its latest Global Environment Outlook Year Book on 5 February at an opening press conference.

The Year Book will cover the state of the global and regional environment while addressing emerging issues like nanotechnology—the engineering of coatings and particles at sizes slimmer than a human hair.

The Year Book will also sketch out the current globalization landscape as related to the environment and suggest some routes towards a more intelligent path. It is among several reports and papers that have been produced to inform next week’s ministerial debate.

A further report, this time linking globalization, the rapid global demand for biofuels from crops and pressure on the last habitats of the orangutan in south East Asia, will also be launched at a press conference on Tuesday.


Other issues before ministers, some of which link into the globalization debate, include discussions on how best to take forward the world-wide effort to reduce emissions from mercury.

Mercury, a heavy metal that can enter the food chain via fish, is linked to a wide range of human and animal health and wider environmental problems.

The government of Spain is scheduled to present an initiative on the establishment of a Global Technological Centre for the Decontamination of Warehouse and Stored mercury.

Note to Editors

Information on the 24th Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum being held at UNEP headquarters between 5 and 9 February go to http://www.unep.org/gc/gc24/

This also holds a calendar of events, side events, press conferences and other key information including on the 8th Global Civil Society Forum being held between 3 and 4 February.

World Environment Day 2007 go to http://www.unep.org/wed/2007/english/

For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

UNEP News Release




Further Resources

UNEP Governing Council 24th Session
Official Website

“Investing in the UN: For a Stronger Organization Worldwide”
Official UN Reform Website

UNEP Global Civil Society Forum

UNEP Resources on Climate Change

Pole to Pole (video)
A Global Journey through Climate Change

GEO Year Book 2007
Available from 5 February 2007

UNEP chemicals Branch


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