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United Nations Environment Programme on the occasion of the World Environment Day ceremony

Speech by Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the occasion of the World Environment Day ceremony, 5 June 2004, Barcelona, Spain.

Your Royal Highness Infanta Cristina,

Mr. Maragall, president of the Catalan Autonomous Government,

Minister Narbona,

Minister Mila,

Mayor Clos,

Excellencies, distinguished honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honour to be with you today for the thirty-first celebration of World Environment Day, being held this year here in the beautiful city of Barcelona.

This is the first time that World Environment Day has been held in Spain.

We could not have celebrated this most important day in the United Nations calendar in Barcelona without the support of the City of Barcelona, the Catalan Autonomous Government, the Government of Spain and, of course, the Universal Forum of Cultures

World Environment Day -- observed in more than 120 countries around the globe – is an opportunity to reflect on the many environmental challenges that the world faces.

It is also a time to rise to those challenges by working together to see how we -- as individuals, communities and institutions – can make the world a better place.

Today I looked at UNEP’s web site to see what people are doing for World Environment Day across the globe. I must confess, I was amazed.

Each year, World Environment Day seems to motivate ever more people to organize activities -- ranging from community clean-ups to high-level conferences – that serve as an example and an inspiration to all.

For instance, in Mauritania, a local environment group is organising a beach clean-up and an awareness campaign for the protection of turtles.

Across the Atlantic in Guyana a business is organizing a banner competition for schools to promote awareness and action on the World Environment Day theme, which is “Wanted! Seas and Oceans: Dead or Alive”.

The theme holds special significance for more than half the world’s population who depend on the oceans for their primary source of food.

We need to find a way to reverse the decline in coastal and marine habitats worldwide that is affecting the health and livelihoods of billions.

The facts are disturbing:

· Three-quarters of commercial fisheries are exploited up to or beyond their sustainable capacity.

· Coastal habitats are being degraded at an alarming rate.

· A growing number of coastal seas are becoming dead zones due to excessive concentrations of nutrients that cause algal blooms.

· Pollution and litter are endangering growing numbers of wild animals and people.

· Fragile habitats, such as corals, are facing pressure from climate change, pollution and wasteful exploitation, from which they may not recover.

· While over 11 per cent of the land is protected, less than 1 per cent of the oceans is under protection.

Seas and oceans cover 70 per cent of our planet, yet we know far too little about them.

Yesterday, UNEP released a report on cold water corals, yet another example of a relatively unexplored but crucially important marine habitat that may disappear before we can even begin to appreciate its true value.

The sad truth is that we are losing biological diversity -- on land and sea --much faster than we can afford.

During last four years the world adopted a number of internationally agreed development targets, including the Millennium Development Goals and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.

We have a blueprint for a sustainable future. The challenge is in the implementation.

Protecting the marine environment is an essential part of the solution – for food security; for health and for the livelihoods of the billions who depend to one degree or another on the sea.

However, protecting the marine environment also means addressing human activities on land, which is where 80 per cent of marine pollution originates.

Issues like poverty, urban development; sustainable management of water resources and river basins; and climate change must be tackled head-on to benefit the marine environment.

This message, I know, is not lost on the people of this region.

Spain’s history, its culture, its cuisine, cannot be separated from the sea.

Which is why it is so appropriate that we are holding this year’s global celebration of World Environment Day here in the city of Barcelona in collaboration with the Universal Forum of Cultures.

One of the three pillars of the Forum is sustainable development.

One of the three pillars of sustainable development is the environment.

Protecting the marine environment is essential to life on Earth.

The sea, literally, joins us. Whether we live at the coast or in the mountains, we are connected to the sea. Our rivers flow into it. Our weather comes from it. Our lives depend on it.

On this World Environment Day, I call on everyone to ask themselves the question: what do we want: dead seas or living seas.

I do not think that is such a hard question to answer.