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Statement by Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme at Third UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-III), Brussels, 16 May 2001

Introduction

First I should like to thank you for the opportunity to address this important Third UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries.

This is a vital forum for addressing the needs and hopes of more than 600 million people in the 49 least developed countries. (This is more than 10 per cent of the global population and the deliberations here this week must be followed by concrete actions).

34 of those countries are in Africa, where UNEP itself is headquartered. (With Habitat, we are the only UN organizations with headquarters in Africa). I believe this makes our institution particularly competent and obligated to address those needs and hopes. Every day we are confronted with the experience that the most toxic substance in the world is poverty.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

This conference is both timely and highly relevant.

Allow me first to pay tribute to UNCTAD for their efforts in addressing the multi-faceted concerns of the developing countries and in particular those of the LDCs.

Commitment 6 in the Draft Programme of Action for the LDCs for the Decade 2001-2010 stresses that:

"Poverty eradication should be the first and overriding priority for LDCs and their development partners. Eradicating poverty is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development and has to be addressed in an integrated and comprehensive manner."

I could not agree more. To this end UNEP is working in an integrated manner to ensure that environmental policy is seen as a powerful tool for overcoming poverty.

In May 2000, over 100 Environment Ministers adopted the Malmö Ministerial Declaration at the Sixth Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/First Global Ministerial Environment Forum. The ministers declared: "At the dawn of this new century, we have at our disposal the human and material resources to achieve sustainable development, not as an abstract concept but as a concrete reality".

At the second Global Ministerial Environment Forum held in Nairobi in February there were ministerial discussions on the lives and livelihoods of the people of the developing world, especially the LDCs.

Ministers underlined that the root causes of global environmental degradation are embedded in social and economic problems such as pervasive poverty, unsustainable production and consumption patterns (linked to the minority), inequity in distribution of wealth, and the debt burden (linked to the majority).

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The mandate given to LDCIII to consider the formulation and adoption of national and international strategies for sustainable development is crucial in our globalizing world.

Yet, to have any real meaning these strategies must bring hope to the millions who live on or near the margins of existence.

The billions who must chop firewood to meet their meagre energy needs. The rural and urban majorities in developing nations who lack access to safe water and sanitation. The millions who live in the shadow of creeping deserts. And the millions of drought victims and those who suffer from natural disasters.

They have been forced to discount tomorrow in the struggle to survive today.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

These burdens, and more, are especially heavy for women in developing countries and it is important that development policy fully reflects gender topics like micro-credit schemes.

The LDCs are especially vulnerable to the impacts of global warming and natural disasters. Adaptation is necessary if countries are to overcome the negative consequences of climate change.

(Note. Africa has 14 per cent of the world's population, but is only responsible for 3.2 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. We urgently need an adaptation fund to finance necessary responses in Africa and the Small-Island Developing States).

Ladies and Gentlemen:

LDC-III precedes the World Summit on Sustainable Development taking place in Johannesburg next year.

We have to ensure that the Summit properly addresses the special needs and conditions of LDCs.

Formal sessions in this conference already address key topics of sustainable development, including poverty eradication, international trade, health, education and human resources development. (All these are importantly inter-linked to environmental policy questions).

Over the past decade or so, assessments undertaken or supported by UNEP have demonstrated that the LDCs' ecological base is fragile and under various threats.

Yet, most of their economies are also critically dependent on maintaining the integrity of this natural resource base.

Agriculture and other sectors of their economies are directly dependent on environmental goods and services.

Maximizing the benefits of globalization to LDCs

Globalization, and the rapidly expanding trade and investment flows that accompany it, present all countries with both opportunities and challenges.

Trade in particular is a vital engine of development.

LDCs have to sustain and expand it in a responsible manner that supports their future.

In 1997 primary commodities accounted for nearly 70% of the export earnings of LDCs.

34% of their combined GDP was provided by agriculture.

UNEP is expanding its work with LDCs to enable them to enhance the productivity of these sectors, while also achieving sustainable management of natural resources, and the protection of the environment.

UNEP's work is guided by our awareness of the limited access of LDCs to international markets, private investment and clean and efficient production technologies.

Our policies must be designed to address the widening income gaps between rich and poor countries, and the following specific challenges:

· Between 1980 and 1998 the Least Developed Countries' share of global exports dropped from 0.6 to 0.4 per cent, yet these countries are home to 10 per cent of the world's population.

· The 49 LDCs attracted less than US$3 billion of foreign direct investment in 1998, a mere 0.4 per cent of global flows of more than US$600 billion.

· Approximately 1.2 billion people in South Asia and Africa struggle on less than US$1 per day, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, 74 million more people than twenty years ago now live on less than US$1 per day.

The recently created UNEP-UNCTAD Capacity-Building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development (CBTF) will be central to UNEP's efforts to help LDCs overcome their limited access to trade, while conserving their environment and natural resource base.

The task force launched last year has initiated projects in seven developing countries, and one regional level training project for African LDCs.

Briefing sessions with LDC Permanent Missions in Geneva have shown that there is high demand for such services.

Therefore UNEP and UNCTAD have prepared a proposal for a major new programme tailored to meet LDC needs.

This programme will be presented at a side-event this afternoon (Room 3G3, at 4.00p.m.).

CBTF projects, based on proposals submitted by the countries that are benefiting, will address a combination of market access, poverty alleviation and environmental protection objectives.

I hope that many of you will be able to attend the briefing this afternoon.

Building on existing UNEP work

The capacity-building work on trade, environment and development builds on existing UNEP programmes delivering concrete support to LDCs.

A few examples of this include:

· Identifying, documenting and disseminating best practice in integrated land and water management, to increase agricultural outputs, while conserving soils, water and biodiversity. This has a particular focus on Africa.

¨ Preparing national biodiversity strategies and action plans. These both conserve biodiversity, and increase the economic benefits of its use.

¨ As part of a wider UNEP initiaitve to promote renewable energy technologies, providing solar cookers and fuel-efficient ovens, which mitigate the effects of climate change, and help maintain food security and the productivity of ecosystems.

¨ Providing technical assistance to LDCs on the development of environmental legislation and institutions, especially for the use of sustainable resources.

Conclusion

I believe that innovation and partnership are the keys to securing the development priorities of LDCs, and sustaining their environment and natural resource base.

I cannot underline enough how much protecting the environment underpins that same development.

I look forward to expanding our work with you to achieve these objectives.

We all have to recognize that they are too challenging for any country or institution to tackle alone.

Thank you very much.