Speeches - March 2005 - The Passing Away of An Environmental Icon: Prof. Reuben Olembo - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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The Passing Away of An Environmental Icon: Prof. Reuben Olembo

Statement by Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director UNEP

It was with deep sorrow and profound shock that I received the sad news of the death on 13th March 2005 of Prof. Reuben Olembo.

Prof. Olembo was the Deputy Executive Director of UNEP and UN Assistant Secretary General over the period 1994-1998. He retired from active service in 1999 after undertaking a special assignment in Geneva as the Acting Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Prof. Olembo played a pivotal role as a member of the Kenya Delegation to the 1972 Stockholm Conference that led to the establishment of UNEP. He joined the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1974 as a Senior Programme Officer. He served UNEP with characteristic professionalism, humility and devotion. Due to his scientific acumen, managerial and administrative abilities, his responsibilities in UNEP diversified and increased progressively. At the time of his retirement, UNEP had attained its leading role as the principal body in the field of environment within the United Nations system, a status to which he made a significant contribution.

In dealing with issues ranging from the depletion of the ozone layer, climate change impacts; hazardous industrial toxic wastes, air and land based pollution; deep sea, marine coastal and terrestrial biological diversity; polar regions and tropical forest ecosystems, Prof. Olembo was relentless in the quest for modalities for effective conservation and sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of humankind and the smooth functioning of the biosphere.

He played key roles in the development and strengthening of biodiversity related Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

The global scientific community will remember him as a great geneticist and environmentalist whose immense contribution in global scientific fora led to a global focus on the importance of the conservation of plant genetic resources and the establishment of the Council of the Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centers.

He will be greatly missed by the scientific community, the United Nations family and UNEP in particular.

On behalf of the staff members of the secretariat of UNEP and UNON as well as on my own behalf, I convey our heartfelt condolences to his wife Prof. Nora Olembo and family during this period of bereavement.

Klaus Toepfer

Executive Director,

United Nations Environment Programme