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Achim Steiner
UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UNEP

This year marks a first for the long standing relationship between India and the United Nations. For the first time ever India will host World Environment Day (WED). With a population of 1.2 billion people, a rapidly growing economy and a diverse cultural past, present and future there is enormous potential for India to catalyze and to champion sustainable development nationally and internationally.

This year's WED theme is 'Forests: Nature at Your Service'. It speaks to the intrinsic connection between livelihoods and human well being and the health of forests and forest ecosystems.

India has shown leadership by, for example, instituting a treeplanting system to combat land-degradation and desertification, including windbreaks and shelterbelts to protect agricultural land. The recently launched Mission for Green India, as part of National Action Plan on Climate Change, aims at qualitaitive as well as quantitative improvement in forest cover over 10 million hectares, with an estimated outlay of about US$10 billion over the next 10 years.

India has successfully introduced projects that track the health of the nation's plants, animals, water and other natural resources including the Sunderbans - the largest deltaic mangrove forest in the world, and home to one of India's most iconic wildlife species: the tiger.

Meanwhile the country is increasingly at the forefront of some of the 'green shoots' of a Green Economy that are emerging across the globe.

From its manufacturing of solar and wind turbines to its Rural Employment Guarantee Act which underwrites paid work for millions of households via investments in areas ranging from water conservation to sustainable land management, foundations are being laid in India towards a fundamental and far reaching new development path.

UNEP's recent report - A Transition to a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication underlines that such a transition not only possible but relevant to developing nations as it is to developed ones.

WED 2011 comes in advance of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 or Rio+20. Its twin themes are the Green Economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and an institutional framework for sustainable development.

Rio+20 comes against a backdrop of rapidly diminishing natural resources and accelerating environmental change - from the loss of coral reefs and forests to the rising scarcity of productive land; from the urgent need to feed and fuel economies and the likely impacts of unchecked climate change.

India is among a range of nations spotlighting different choices that represent an opportunity to fulfil the promise of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in order to deliver development that meets the needs of seven billion people, rising to nine billion by 2050.

One that delivers growth, greater equity and employment opportunities: one that keeps humanity's footprint within planetary boundaries in order to ensure that Nature can remain at our service for current and future generations.

Minister for Environment and Forests, India

"We need a strong ethic of conservation and in this role, World Environment Day is a powerful catalyst and voice. There must be limits on how and where we encroach on the natural world for without them habitats will be paved over, rivers ruined, corals bleached and forests unwittingly plowed for agriculture."

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