Speeches - February 2005 - Environment is The Golden Thread:GC Opening Statement by UNEP Executive Director - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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Environment is The Golden Thread:GC Opening Statement by UNEP Executive Director

21 February 2005

Before I begin, I would like to first congratulate and thank Rachmat Witoelar, State Minister of the Environment for Indonesia, for accepting to be the new President of the Governing Council.

We are all looking forward to working with you in close cooperation for the next two years on the global environment agenda.

I also want to express my gratitude to the out going President, the Honourable Minister Ntagazwa of the United Republic of Tanzania.

He took up the Presidency of the Governing Council at short notice but has contributed hugely to the great success of our Special Session in Jeju last year.

Minister Ntagazwa also played an important part in the successful outcome of negotiations for the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building.

His dedication and commitment was especially deserving of praise as, in this period, he also had to deal with a great and personal tragic loss.

Thank you again.

I must also thank the members of the out going bureau for all their hard work.

The Committee of Permanent Representatives here in Nairobi deserve praise too, especially for their involvement in the preparations of this Governing Council.

I would like to thank the chair of the Committee. That is His Excellency, Mr Habeeb Mohamed Farook, the High Comissioner of Sri Lanka and the vice-chairs of the sub-committees.

They are His Excellency Mr Andrew Kiptoon, Ambassador, Permanent Mission, Republic of Kenya, and His Excellency Mr Frederic Renard, Ambassador, Permanent Mission, Belgium.

We are all in your debt.

It is 2005.

It is the 60th anniversary of the United Nations.

It is the year of responsibility. It is the year of accountability.

In eight short months governments meet in New York to review the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

Our Global Ministerial Environment Forum’s conclusions have to be important inputs to the upcoming Commission on Sustainable Development.

They have to be vital ones for the success of this September Summit-Level meeting to help realize the UN reforms.

The UN Millennium Project, requested by the Secretary-General to help deliver the Goals, makes this clear.

Makes it clear that environment is the golden thread, the red ribbon, running though and round all the Goals.

One of its Interim Reports states: “A considerable body of scientific data points to environmental degradation—the erosion of genetic diversity, the loss of species, the degradation of ecosystems, and the decline of ecosystem services—as a direct cause of many of the most pressing issues we face today, including poverty, declining human health, hunger, undrinkable water, emerging diseases, rural-urban migration and civil strife”.

At the end of this Global Ministerial Environment Forum we will have the chairman’s summary of the ministerial discussions.

It is our responsibility to make this a strong and robust Nairobi Communiqué to the Millennium Summit.

A central component of this Communiqué should, and must, cover the rule of law and its role in meeting the Goals.

Last week our group of legal experts, including chief justices and senior lawyers, met here at UNEP.

We are honoured to have Justice Guy Canivet, the Premier President de la Cour de Cassation of France, with us.

Later today he will deliver the report of last week’s meeting to the the Committee of the Whole

They conclude that the law has a pivotal role to play.

And I quote: “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 MDG’s,” they declare.

Taking responsibility must also extend to a successful reform of the UN as a whole during this anniversary year.

Here again the environment is part of the solution, part of the package for a more stable, secure, world.

The UN reform document by the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change cites environmental degradation, alongside issues such as poverty and disease, as among the important security issues.

The High-Level Panel also cites climate change.

Here I am happy to say we have begun shouldering the responsibilities and finally implementing what was agreed in Japan just over seven years ago.

Last week the Kyoto Protocol came into legal life.

An important first step towards reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases and for helping the developing world adapt to what is already underway.

Now we have the right to chart the way forward, to inspire creativity and new solutions, forge new partnerships, bring to markets new technologies and devise novel financial instruments.

The pessimists are, for now, silenced. A pleasant change. Let’s keep it that way.

During my last visit to India Mr A Raja, the Hon'ble Minister for Environment & Forests, Government of India, made me a present of the Tamil Book of Culture and Heritage.

One quote:” It is ruinous to leave undone what should be done”.

So let’s make 2005 the year where we put all the eight Millennium Development Goals on track too.

In one way or another, all eight of the MDGs have strong links to the environment.

We only have five days in this Governing Council to deal with the wide numbers of issues facing us including our Work Programme, chemicals including heavy metal, water and International Environmental Governance.

Therefore we have to prioritize.

MDGs One, Three and Seven

It has been decided to focus on three key Goals at this, the 23rd UNEP Governing Council/GMEF.

Goal One—Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger has increasingly been the focus of our work since the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and become central since the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

It is the basis of our motto—Environment for Development.

Poverty is the most toxic element in the world.

So we must overcome poverty.

Environment has its role.

The planet’s environmental services, its natural capital, are as important for overcoming poverty as the world’s human and financial capital.

We must overcome hunger. I could cite many links between environment and food, between a degraded environment and starvation.

But let me mention just one, one especially crucial in Africa.

Globally and annually, six million hectares of land is being lost as a result of land degradation.

It is both an environmental tragedy and an economic one with losses amounting to an estimated $42 billion a year.

Goal Three—Gender and the Empowerment of Women has some of the strongest links to environment to the delivery of the MDGs.

UNEP’s first Global Women’s Environment Assembly (WAVE or Women as the Voice of the Environment) took place here in October just hours after Wangari Maathai had won the Nobel Peace Prize.

It was a prize for a great women, for her Green Belt Movement, and a prize for the dignity and fortitude of women, for African women, for women around the world.

It was also global acknowledgement of the important link between environment, democracy and peace.

I will be delighted to welcome the Kenyan assistant environment minister and UNEP’s dear friend to our Governing Council later in the week

So the WAVE meeting, which Wangari personally attended, began with a carnival atmosphere.

But have no doubt it ended with formidable and concrete recommendations that are before this Governing Council.

This takes on special significance, is set against the background, of 2005 being the year of women as a result of the Beijing plus Ten meeting in some months to come.

Goal Seven-ensuring environmental sustainability should come as no surprise.

It has been at the heart of UNEP’s work since we were born 33 years ago.

We must redouble our efforts in areas such as sane and sensible management of natural resources of biological diversity including forests, of soils, of especially water.

It has been often thought that we need water for the environment, but the opposite is true.

We need the environment for water.

Degraded forests and lands, pollution, climate change, they all challenge our ability to deliver safe and sufficient quantities of that most precious of precious resources.

They also challenge the marine environment including coral reefs and mangroves and the need to overcome the depletion of fish stocks.

We must reaffirm the ecosystem approach and push forward Integrated Water Resource Management.

We must further bolster our Global Programme (GPA) Action on curbing land base pollution to the sea for the sake of freshwaters.

But also for the sake of the marine environment including corals, mangroves and fish stocks.

Water, a new and updated strategy which is before you this week, is also intertwined with the another major problem-- sanitation.

This is an issue that affects 2.4 billion people, especially women and especially their dignity.

The Jeju Initiative, developed last year in South Korea and printed and bound for you here today, makes it clear that delivering water and sanitation is not just a question of taps and toilets but about environment too.

Water also goes to the heart of urban issues underpinning MDG Seven.

If we cannot handle water and energy in the rural areas, if we cannot deliver poverty reduction in the countryside, we can never hope to stem the tide of migration to urban areas.

So we face an even tougher task to avoid new slums and reduce the spread of uncontrolled, informal settlements in the cities of the developing world.

This is not just an issue for UNEP, but one for our close collaborators and colleagues UN –HABITAT led by its Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka. Thanks Anna for being with us today.

We have the Millennium Development Goals and we have the progress reports from the UN Millennium Project led by Jeffrey Sachs, the world famous economist an special advisor to the Secretary-General.

We know that in some areas, in some parts of the world real progress is being made and that some of the Goals are on track to be met.

We also know that there are some Goals and some regions where implementation is more patchy.

And we no there is one region in particular where the dials and indicators are pointing in the wrong direction.

This is sub-Saharan Africa, our continent, where we are well off track and we must do much, much, more.

I want to concentrate on three areas for action—technologies, capacities and solidarity.

Let me start with technology.

We urgently need higher efficiencies in the use of natural resources. For that we need more environmentally sound and sustainable technologies.

Efficient Use of Resources

The wasteful use of our resources from energy, chemicals and wildlife to the land, the air, to the waterways and to the seas, translates into a wasted environment, wasted lives and wasted opportunities for meeting the MDGs.

If the MDGs are our aim, the WSSD Johannesburg Plan of Implementation is one of the most important blue-prints for action.

One part of this plan of implementation is the over arching issue that cuts across all others.

The “ 10-year framework of programmes in support of regional and national initiatives to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production”.

Whether it be heavy metals like mercury, cleaner and greener energy schemes, better management of water resources, of forests, of animals…….

You name it, the ten-year framework touches all areas, goes to all parts.

I am therefore delighted to have listened closely to the address of His Excellency Mr Zeng Peiyan, Vice-Premier of China.

We indeed are honoured to have him here.

In Europe we once talked of the Cradle to Grave policy but that is no longer enough.

The Grave cannot be the end. There must be life beyond.

So Europe has pushed forward producer responsibility backed up with on measures including ‘Take Back’ schemes.

Johannesburg gave us the Life Cycle Economy.

China is pioneering the Circular Economy.

Meanwhile Japan has developed the 3R’s of Reduce, Re-Use and Recycle.

Maybe we should add a fourth R. Repair.

The target these approaches is greater efficiency and a revolutionin resource management.

If waste must arise, it must be minimized in quantity and toxicity and it should be given value.

It should be seen and used as a raw material not something to dump or through away.

So we have different approaches. But all rivers flowing into the same sea.

Let us now focus on capacity building.

Changing unsustainable consumption and production patterns cannot be implemented without capacity building and new technologies.

It is the responsibility of the developed world to be good partners.

We can show our solidarity in words, but we can show it best in concrete actions.

To meet the MDGs, to overcome poverty, needs a broad and concentrated sea change of the mind.

The developing countries, they want to take their share of the responsibility.

In Africa we see it in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development or NEPAD and in the determination of the young people to make a difference.

What is lacking are the chances to develop the skills and the know- how in order to take this new mood forward—to empower the most precious resource of these countries, their young people.

Before you is a key and new element that can deliver their aspirations and in doing so make the promises of the Millennium Declaration, real.

Bali Plan

So I am delighted to bring before you for formal adoption the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity-Building.

This is an extremely important step forward for UNEP, for this 23rd Governing Council.

It is the result of a broad based and transparent negotiation handled in an honest, professional and responsible way.

We now have the solid skeleton upon which we can hang real and meaningful action in our drive towards the MDG target date of 2015.

The Plan, which is integrated in our Programme of Work, also takes UNEP from the global and regional level to the national level so we can better target our work.

We need an enlargement of our finances to efficiently and fully realize the Bali Plan.

In order to get things moving, to kick start this bold new initiative, I will be immediately, in 2005, investing some 30 per cent of our reserve fund in our regional offices.

This will, in line with the initiative’s bottom up approach, help support governments and regional ministerial conferences so they can began reaping the benefits of the Bali Plan.

Our new partnership with the United Nations Development Programme will give the Bali Plan even greater momentum.

A problem shared is a problem halved.

It is not the only new partnership with UNDP.

Our new, joint, Poverty and Environment Initiative will allow us mainstream our work in national Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRSPs).

Science is also at the heart of the Plan. We need to build our own science base by building the scientific capacity of developing countries.

We will be concentrating these efforts through our flagship Global Environment Outlook or GEO process.

It is developing networks of experts and institutes around the globe and building capacity where needed.

Only through such steps can we keep the global environment properly monitored.

For without sound science, policy-makers may make the wrong decisions.

To have sound science, to have a living Bali Plan, also requires sufficient and predictable funding.

The promises from the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, held in 2002, need to be honoured.

The expectations, raised by the World Trade Organization’s Doha Environment Round of the same year, need to be met in this year’s negotiations.

Accountability equals credibility. It requires responsibility and requests solidarity.

It fits with this year of responsibility, with turning fine words into honest deeds, with putting the MDGs on track everywhere.


We know the world still believes in solidarity, that it can echo to the needs of needy and distressed people, from its reaction to the appalling events of 26 December 2004.

I can I can only express my sympathy for the victims and the families who suffered as a result of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

It was a shocking event of Biblical proportions.

UNEP, in partnership with the UN system, offered help within days of the tragedy.

I decided immediately to focus UNEP’s response through a Task Force located in Geneva cooperating with our Regional Office for Asia Pacific in Bangkok.

UNEP staff were also mobilized for the affected to offer humanitarian, technical and any other help required.

I can only pay tribute to Jan Egeland, the head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for his quite remarkable work.

We have worked closely with Mr Egeland’s office and I am confident that we will develop this cooperation further in the future.

Credit also goes to the staff of the joint UNEP-OCHA unit in Geneva for mobilizing an effective response.

Our work in the affected countries has also been a partnership with the governments concerned and non governmental organizations (NGOs) such as IUCN and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

This cooperation with civil society underlines again and again the importance we attach to our relations with NGOs and other actors including private business.

NGOs played an important part in the creation of UNEP in 1972 and continue to play an important role.

Indeed, UNEP hosted over the weekend its Global Civil Society Forum and their recommendations are with us this week.

Private business plays a more and more important role in our work through partnerships and initiatives in areas like insurance and finance, energy and tourism.

One of our goals in the Tsunami Task force was to provide for governments an initial ‘screening.

The Interim Report before you on the environmental impact of this disastrous event is testimony to the remarkable and responsible effort of all concerned.

What the report makes clear is that country after country hit by the wave needs capacity, needs the technology to handle hazardous, construction and other wastes.

Capacity building in the reconstruction of the coastal zone, capacity building in the mapping of vulnerable areas and in strengthening hard pressed ministries and local authorities are also requested.

They need this to ensure that land use in the coastal zones and the new infrastructure being built is disaster proof and less vulnerable to future shocks.

Another fact that emerges from this Interim Assessment is that the environment was both a victim and a buffer against this aggressive, destructive, wave.

Those coastlines with intact coral reefs, mangroves, vegetated dunes and robust coastal forests came off better than those degraded by pollution and insensitive land use.

So the environment is not a luxury. Well nurtured, Nature is a life saver.

It is an economically important insurance policy whose wisdom we ignore at our peril.

UNEP Finances

We need to be responsible abroad and responsible at home.

We have to be and we want to be self-critical and open for your constructive criticism.

We have worked hard and steady at our, smaller, UN reforms here in Kenya.

The efficiency of the administrative services run by the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) are improving all the time.

Quality is up and costs are down.

UNEP’s own budget situation is also improving from the difficult days of the late 1990s.

The confidence expressed by countries in our work is, I believe evidenced by the increasing numbers of nations contributing to our Environment Fund.

In total, 50 countries pledged or paid higher contributions into the Environment fund than a year before.

In total 114 countries have paid or have pledged to pay to the Environment fund for 2004.

In 2004 we calculated this part of our budget at $55 million. The final funds paid and pledged are running at close to $ 60 million.

So I believe our calculations for the new programme of work are realistic.

I must thank all those who continue to fund our work.

It is in the end about partnerships. Contributions are coming from the big and small countries in line with the Rio Principal of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities.

I must also thank those countries who have in the past few years entered into strategic partnerships to fund specific aspects of our work programme and those countries who contribute ear marked funds.

The Principle of Responsibility

We have talked of responsibility to deliver the Millennium Development Goals and to successfully deliver UN reforms.

Responsibility to realize the WSSD Plan of Implementation and to increase the funding for the environment, the third pillar of sustainable development.

Above all we must be accountable for our actions and for our in-actions in a world where there is plenty to do and with the resources to do it.

I have the responsibility for UNEP.

And in that capacity I want to thank my staff, from the Deputy Executive Director to the messenger, for making their contributions to our work programme, for taking their responsibilities for this fine organization seriously.

Nothing remains the same, nothing is carved in stone. To achieve our aims requires flexibility of mind and an eye to the future.

So as we consider our collective responsibilities, so I must look to my personal contribution and ponder how best I can serve the organization for the time to come.

I have talked a lot about responsibility.

So I cannot end without mentioning Hans Jonas, this great philosopher of our time and his Imperative or Principle of Responsibility.

It talks of a new and more all embracing notion of responsibility so relevant to our globalized world.

Jonas argues that, in the past, our actions had limited short term consequences. We could only do a certain amount of harm. But that this has changed.

That the scientific and technological power of modern human-kind demands a new ethic, a new way of man looking at his relationship with the world.

He says: "No previous ethics had to consider the global condition of human life and the far-off future, even existence, of the race”.

These are now issues which demand a new concept of duties and rights, he concludes.

I believe his philosophical ideas were relevant when written a few decades ago.

I believe that, in this rapidly changing world of six billion souls, they are even more relevant today.

I thank you.




Further Resources

View video

Policy Statement of the Executive Director

23rd Governing Council To Focus on Environment and the MDGs
Press Release

Governing Council Official Site

UNEP and the Millennium Development Goals


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