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Welcoming remarks by the UNEP Executive Director to the VI World Conference on Sport and Environment

Sport, Peace and Environment
Nairobi, Kenya 9 - 11 November 2005


• His Excellency Moody Awori, Vice-President of the Republic of Kenya

• Honourable George Ochilo Mbogo Ayacko, Minister of Gender, Sports, Culture and Social Services;

• Gunilla Lindberg, Vice-President, International Olympic Committee;

• Pal Schmitt, Chairman, IOC Sport and Environment Commission;

• Alfred Khangati, Vice-Chairman, Kenya National Olympic Committee;

• Honoured guests from the world of sport,

• Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

First, allow me to welcome you to Kenya.

Kenya is known for many good things, not least its outstanding athletes.

I am sure you will all join me in congratulating Paul Tergat on his thrilling victory in last weekend’s New York Marathon.

I had the pleasure of meeting Paul recently when he was guest of honour at the opening of our new UN Recreation Centre.

I also saw the reception he received from our local and international staff here.

He is a true national hero. He is an ambassador for his country and his sport.

This ability of sport to reach out to ordinary men and women throughout the world is a theme I will return to shortly, and I am sure it will be central to your discussions in the coming three days.

Which brings me, ladies and gentlemen, to the purpose of today’s events.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you here for the opening of the sixth World Conference on Sport and Environment, organized by UNEP and the International Olympic Committee.

UNEP and the IOC have a long-standing partnership. Both organizations understand the importance of environmental sustainability and the important role sport can, and does, play in promoting it.

I believe that role can only grow.


The theme of this conference is ‘Sport, Peace And Environment’.

Peace and environment is, of course, the special preserve of one of tomorrow’s honoured guests, my dear friend Professor Wangari Maathai.

Some of you may know her as Kenya’s assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources.

Many of you will know her as a lifelong campaigner of environmental protection and human rights.

The world knows her as the winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize for Peace.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In honouring Professor Maathai last year, the Nobel Committee made a global statement about the connection between environment and peace.

It was the clearest sign yet of the increasing acceptance by the international community that environmental security and human security are closely linked.

It is something we at UNEP feel strongly about.

It is no coincidence that 90 per cent of current conflicts are found in the poorest 30 per cent of countries.

Nor is it a coincidence that the poorest countries have the greatest environmental challenges.

Poverty destroys the environment. Environmental degradation breeds poverty.

As global resources come under increasing pressure from soaring production and consumption, and as environmental conditions continue to deteriorate in some parts of the world, we will have to be increasingly alert for the warning signs of potential conflict.

It is plain to me that protecting and sustainably managing the environment is the peace policy of the future.


Ladies and gentlemen,

I think the link between environment and peace is clear.

There is also a very strong connection between sport and peace.

The message of peace is embodied in the five interlocking Olympic rings.

The sight, last year, of the two Koreas marching under one banner at the opening of the Athens Olympic Games went far beyond symbolism.

It communicated to people across the globe that, despite our differences, we can indeed look forward to a future of cooperation and harmony.

I am pleased to note that only last week North and South Korea announced they would compete as a single team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

It is clear that sport and the Olympic ideal have a major role to play in building a peaceful and better world.

This is something the United Nations recognizes and wholeheartedly endorses, for example through its support for the concept of the Olympic Truce.

I am happy to observe that Professor Wangari Maathai was this year appointed to the Olympic Truce Foundation.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to close the circle.

I have spoken about the link between environment and peace, and I have talked about sport and peace.

Now let me turn to sport and environment.

This year is the International Year for Sport and Physical Education, declared by the United Nations General Assembly to promote education, health, development and peace.

Education, health, development and peace lie at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals, a set of time-bound achievable targets agreed by the international community at the Millennium Summit in 2000.

Just two months ago, world leaders reviewed progress towards these goals at the 2005 World Summit.

In preparation for the Summit, the UN Secretary-General issued a report in which he warned that all our efforts to achieve these goals—to defeat poverty and pursue sustainable development—will be in vain if we continue to degrade the environment and deplete our natural resources.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals and ensuring a future of peace and dignity for all means protecting the environmental base on which our development depends.

The Olympic Movement itself recognized this fundamental truth when it adopted the environment as the third pillar of Olympism, alongside sport and culture in 1996.

Since then, UNEP and the Olympic Movement have been working increasingly closely on incorporating environmental sustainability into sport.

For instance, we have forged a very strong partnership with the organizing committee of the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

Previous Olympic events, such as those held in Sydney and Lillehammer, provided a solid foundation for progress.

The Torino Games promises to break new ground in incorporating sustainability into sport.

The organizing committee’s sustainability report—which is being made available to the public for the first time at this conference—demonstrates a detailed understanding of the environmental implications of staging such a large-scale sporting event.

It also shows the organisers’ commitment to integrating the principles of sustainability into all aspects of planning the Games.

Examples include implementing green procurement policies, reducing water consumption and wisely managing its use, and monitoring a wide range of environmental indicators, such as air quality and the production of waste.

The report also highlights the importance of minimizing energy use.

With winter sports particularly vulnerable to global warming, the organizing committee plans to reduce and offset carbon emissions through its Heritage Climate Torino (HECTOR) project.

It also plans to use the Games to promote awareness about climate change, as well as the many other environmental challenges that must be faced if we are to ensure a sustainable future.

By employing the latest in environmental management thinking and tools, and involving a broad partnership of stakeholders, the Organising Committee for the Torino Olympic Winter Games has built on the example provided by previous Games organisers and, in the spirit of the Olympic motto citius, altius, fortius—faster, higher, stronger—gone one step further

UNEP is also working closely with the organizing committee of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics to promote environmental sustainability.

Later this month I will travel to China where I will sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will further cement the cooperation between the two organisations.

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games has already been the impetus for an air quality campaign to combat air pollution.

Beijing’s five-year pollution control plan for the Games includes developing public transport, controlling vehicle emissions and cracking down on polluting businesses.


Ladies and gentlemen,

These are practical examples of how the world of sport can benefit the environment.

I am sure we will all learn of many more such examples over the next three days, as well as coming up with new ideas, initiatives and partnerships.

I believe it is important that we do so for two clear reasons.

First, the world of sport has a considerable environmental footprint.

I have already mentioned the potential impact of major events such as the Olympic Games, or the FIFA World Cup—with whom UNEP is also developing a strong working relationship.

These examples are just part of a massive worldwide industry built around sport.

I understand that sport-related turnover amounts to three per cent of total world economic activity.

I have already mentioned the growing pressure on the environment of global patterns of production and consumption, and its implications for human security and sustainable development.

It is clear, then, that we must pay special attention to how sports goods and equipment are manufactured and disposed of, as well as looking at how venues are designed and events are organised.

The second point I would like to make is that sport can benefit the environment through its popularity.

Sport has an appeal that transcends political and cultural boundaries.

Sports stars are among the most famous and respected of people.

They display qualities we all need: courage, willingness to work hard and accept sacrifice, refusal to submit to adversity, leadership.

We need to harness their largely untapped potential as ambassadors, as promoters of sustainable ways of living.


Ladies and gentlemen,

In closing, allow me to summarise.

Peace and security, environmental sustainability, reducing poverty and promoting human well-being are all linked.

Sport can have a major role to play.

Sport can help bring people and nations closer together.

It can bring dignity and hope to the poor.

And it has tremendous potential for not only promoting the ideals of education, health, development and peace, but—we believe—for raising environmental awareness.

One example, which you will learn more about in the next three days, lies here on our doorstep.

Just across the city, on the edge of Kibera settlement, reputedly Africa’s largest slum, lies the Sadili Oval Sports Centre, the site of UNEP’s Nature and Sports Camp.

This camp gives children from Kibera the chance to learn sports, offering them equipment and training that they would not normally have access to.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the International Olympic Committee for its generous donation of $40,000 dollars worth of equipment to the Camp.

As well as teaching sport, the Nature and Sports Camp also helps children to become environmentally conscious and responsible citizens.

To complement their sport, the children take part in a wide range of activities—such as drama, debating and dance—to build their confidence and help them discuss and look for solutions to the issues that directly affect them, such as the environmental problems of waste, sanitation and pollution, and other issues such has HIV/AIDS.

Through the project, children have become involved in cleaning up their environment, planting trees and recycling.

At the same time, levels of drug taking and truancy have decreased, and girls are staying in school and getting better results.

Their sporting results are also impressive: Twenty-six children have reached the national tennis leagues, and the Sadili Flames are the youngest team in the national basketball league.

These boys and girls come from one of the toughest and most underprivileged areas of Nairobi. Their example is inspiring.

We believe the UNEP Nature and Sports Camp is an excellent model for combining sport and sustainable development, especially for less privileged communities.

It is a model we would like to replicate in other countries.

It not only provides leadership training and sporting opportunities, it also enables young people to do something concrete and long-lasting to benefit themselves and their communities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

UNEP’s motto is Environment for Development.

We believe that by working together and harnessing the power of sport we can build a world where children will grow up with a clean and healthy environment, in an atmosphere of peace and mutual respect, where everyone can lead productive lives with equal opportunities for work—and play.

I wish you a successful conference.

Thank you.