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Press Release

Republic of Korea to Host Asia’s first Global Ministerial Environment Forum


Water and Sanitation to Top Agenda; Dead Zones in Oceans Highlighted as Major Emerging Threat

Nairobi, 18 March 2004 – Delivering safe and sufficient water to over one billion people and providing better sanitation services for nearly two and half billion people will take centre stage at international environment talks taking place at the end of the month.

Dust storms and the growing number of ‘dead zones’ in the world’s seas and oceans will also be among the issues facing delegates attending the Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GMEF) and the Special Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The meeting, to take place on the island of Jeju in the Republic of Korea, will also focus on human settlements, including air pollution in so-called mega cities.

Environmental threats to small island developing states and opportunities for delivering sustainable development to these fragile and vulnerable nations will be on the three-day agenda.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said it was right and appropriate that Asia was hosting its first GMEF. With Asia’s economic growth now a major factor in the global economy, it is important that resources and responsibility also shift to address the environmental legacy that is being created, he added.

“The historical pattern of development in the economies of Europe, North America and Japan was to industrialize first and clean up later. Such outdated thinking is not possible in a world of six billion people and counting. We need to marry strong economic growth with conservation of the air, land and water supplies upon which we all depend. In other words, we need environment for development. For without a healthy and stable environment, long term economic growth will falter and our goals of eradicating poverty will fail,” said Mr Toepfer.

“Water and sanitation are among the key issues on our agenda in Jeju, taking forward the Millennium Development Goals and World Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation. Ministers will discuss concrete examples of where countries and communities are rising to the challenge of reducing by half those without access to these vital services, with a view to replicating them across the globe,” he added.

“Human settlements, with all their complex relationships to people and the natural world, are also high on our agenda. So I am delighted that we will be joined by Mrs Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, which, like UNEP, is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya,” said Mr Toepfer.

Kwak Kyul-Ho, the Republic of Korea’s Environment Minister, said: “This meeting represents the growing understanding, cooperation and partnerships being developed in this region as a result of unprecedented economic dynamism and the associated environmental challenges.”

Writing in a special edition of Our Planet, UNEP’s flagship magazine, he added: “ High population density and an explosive increase in consumption-coupled with rising demand for water-related recreation-have posed many new challenges, making water management a top priority on the Republic of Korea’s environmental agenda.”

Other contributors to the magazine, which will be issued to delegates at the Jeju meeting, include Borge Brende, the Norwegian Environment Minister; Ronnie Kasrils, the South African Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry and Gurisankar Ghosh, Executive Director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.

An opening press conference will be held on Jeju on 29 March to launch the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) Year Book 2003, prepared by UNEP to analyze the key issues and developments over the past year.

It will also highlight emerging threats, including the rise of oxygen-starved areas in the world’s oceans and seas. These so-called ‘dead zones’ could be a greater threat to fish stocks than over-fishing.

The Year Book will highlight the large number of insurance claims against weather-related disasters, and important debates about the control of genetically-modified organisms under the Cartagena Protocol.

Significant progress in the phase-out of leaded vehicle fuel in Africa and new regional agreements to control haze pollution in South East Asia and protect the marine environment in the Caspian Sea will also be underlined.

A special section of the Year Book focusing on the role of water in development shows that without concerted action a third of the world’s population is likely to suffer from chronic water shortages in a few decades.

Among several other events being held during the GMEF, which will be attended by close to 100 ministers and delegations from over 120 countries, will be one on the dust and sand storms that are a significant health, economic and environmental threat in the region and beyond.

The storms are caused by land degradation and desertification in Mongolia and northern China. Scientists have recently linked similar storms, originating in the Sahara, with damage to coral reefs in the Caribbean.

Hosted by the Government of the Republic of Korea the eighth Special Session of the council will be held at the International Conference Centre, Jeju between March 29-31.

The GMEF will be preceded by the fifth Global Civil Society Forum, at which 200 representatives from the non-governmental sector will examine the same agenda issues and inform the ministerial meeting of their views.

Notes to Editors:
The Context of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF)
The United Nations Millennium Declaration adopted by the Heads of State and Governments in 2000 undertook “to halve, by 2015 the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or to afford safe drinking water.” A new target on halving the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation by 2015 was set at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002. These are major challenges requiring national, regional, global and United Nations system-wide actions.

The meeting in Jejuis taking place at a critical juncture in the development of international environmental and sustainable development policies. The objective of the ministerial discussions is to identify workable approaches, based on actual experiences, for expediting the goals of the Millennium Declaration and the WSSD commitments related to the environmental aspects of water, sanitation and human settlements, and the centrality of ecosystem approaches in water management.

These deliberations will inform the 12th meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) to be held in New York in April 2004. This meeting will review progress towards the commitments related to the water, sanitation and human settlements cluster of issues made at previous international meetings.

The CSD is also the forum for final preparations for a 10-year review of the Barbados Plan of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (BPoA+10). This international meeting will be held in Mauritius in August-September 2004 to discuss specific actions and measures at the national, regional, and international levels to support the sustainable development of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

UNEP’s GC/GMEF meets annually with its venue alternating between UNEP’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, and another host country.

Some of its responsibilities include “To promote international cooperation in the field of the environment and to recommend, as appropriate, policies to this end” and “To keep under review the world environmental situation in order to ensure that emerging environmental problems of wide international significance receive appropriate and adequate consideration by Governments.”

The Water, Sanitation, People edition of Our Planet will be available on-line at http://www.ourplanet.com after 21 March 2004

For more information please contact Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP’s Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, E-mail: eric.falt@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org; or Tim Higham, Regional Information Officer, UNEP, Bangkok, on Tel +66 2 288 2127, Mobile +66 9 1283803, E-mail higham@un.org.

Or visit http://www.unep.org/GC/GCSS-VIII/index.asp

UNEP News Release 2004/