The Secretary-General’s Remarks at the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize Ceremony New York, 19 Nov 2003
The annual UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize recognizes outstanding contributions to the improvement of the global environment. This year, the judges chose to reward two individuals from countries whose influence on the worldwide effort to achieve sustainable development cannot be overstated. They are:
* Mr. Xie Zhenhua, from China, and
* Mr. Dener Jose Giovanini, from Brazil.
Let me say a few words about each in turn.
China is going through a period of rapid economic growth that is transforming the lives of one quarter of the earth’s population. Managed sustainably, this growth could contribute significantly to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. But if sustainability is instead regarded as a luxury or afterthought, as already happens so often in the developed world, the consequences could be dire indeed, extending well beyond China. For more than 20 years, Mr. Xie has worked to prevent that from happening. As the inaugural head of China’s State Environment Protection Administration, he has shown great zeal and imagination in promoting the concept of sustainable development in China.
Mr. Xie’s efforts have been carried out from within government. His co-winner, Dener Giovanini, comes from a different but no less significant background, that of civil society. Brazil, too, as a populous, industrializing nation that is home to some of the world’s most vital expanses of rainforest, is likewise an important bellweather for sustainable development. Mr. Giovanini’s work to combat illegal wildlife trafficking not only benefits the embattled Amazon Basin, it helps to address the causes and impact of rural poverty, which is one of the main threats to this precious resource. His willingness to champion the cause of the environment despite the risk to his own personal safety echoes the struggle of another renowned Brazilian winner of the Sasakawa Prize, Chico Mendes, who remains an inspiration to everyone who strives to build a better future for humanity, especially for the poor and the marginalized.
Both of this year’s winners have displayed courage, innovative thinking, and a willingness to forge partnerships beyond borders and sectoral boundaries. Brought together to share this prize, one might say they represent the classic Chinese image of yin and yang: apparent opposites -- one from government, one from civil society -- that together form a harmonious whole.
I would also like to thank William Reilly for delivering tonight’s Pastrano Borrero lecture. As Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund here in the United States, and a former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, his voice remains an important part of this debate.
I have just returned from an extended visit to Latin America, during which I had the privilege to spend a day in the Galapagos Islands. I was moved -- not only by the spectacular display of beauty and biodiversity, but also to learn of the legal and other steps that Ecuadorians have put in place to protect this treasure.
Every country inhabits a natural environment of resources and ecosystems that have life-giving and life-saving significance. And every country has a responsibility to move from an era -- and a mindset -- of exploitation, to an ethic of stewardship. The transition need not wait for tomorrow's breakthroughs. We have the science and the green technologies to begin the job. We know what policies are needed to strike the right balance between economic growth, social development and environmental protection. And the cost of inaction is high. So let us all do our part -- as citizens, consumers and voters -- to give the survival and security of future generations the priority they deserve.
It is now my great pleasure to invite the Executive Director of UNEP, Dr. Klaus Toepfer, and the Nippon Foundation’s Director of International Affairs, Mr. Shuichi Ohno, to join me in presenting this year’s UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize to two individuals who are helping to build the sustainable future for which we all yearn.
Thank you very much.