UNEP at Work                


Maurice F. Strong first worked with the United Nations as a junior officer in 1947, when he was just eighteen, and returned in June 1972 to lead the Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden. It was the UN’s first major conference on international environmental issues and resulted in the founding of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Six months later Mr. Strong was elected by the UN General Assembly to become UNEP’s first Executive Director at its new headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, where until 1975 he played a critical role in globalizing the environmental movement.

Mr. Strong served on the board of directors for the United Nations Foundation, a UN-affiliated organization established by Ted Turner’s historic $1 billion donation. He is also a director of the World Economic Forum Foundation, Chairman of the Earth Council, former Chairman of the Stockholm Environment Institute, and former Chairman of the World Resources Institute

In his native Canada, Mr. Strong’s career has spanned over five decades at some of Canada’s most prestigious companies. He has run several companies in the energy and resources sector, including the Power Corporation of Canada, Ontario Hydro, and Petro-Canada (the national oil company). He is currently the chairman of Technology Development, Inc., which funds research in the groundbreaking field of applying nanotechnology towards creating energy sources that are both affordable and ecofriendly.

Mr. Strong’s deep interest in for China over the past 40 years has taken him to the country in various capacities. He is currently an active honorary professor at Peking University and Honorary Chairman of its Environmental Foundation and Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Research on Security and Sustainability for Northeast Asia.



Mostafa K.Tolba led Egypt’s delegation to the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, hus starting a lifetime commitment to environmental issues. Immediately after the meeting, he was nominated as Deputy Executive Director of the newly established UN Environment Programme. Within two years, he became its Executive Director — a post he held until retiring at the end of 1992.

Under his leadership, UNEP became the core organization within the UN family which acted as the catalyst for spurring governments, businesses, academia, and non-governmental organizations, to take meaningful action in protecting the environment.

Few if any in the global community would dispute the singular role played by Mr. Tolba in the creation of the Montreal Protocol. For that reason, he has certainly earned the moniker of “father of the Montreal Protocol”. His knowledge as a scientist, his skills as a negotiator, and his techniques of persuasion enabled him to bring people together to achieve what was thought to be unachievable and which contributed to UNEP’s most widely acclaimed success — the Montreal Protocol — the historic 1987 agreement to protect the ozone layer, which is recognized as setting a precedent for international preventive rather than corrective environmental action.

In 1994, he established in Egypt the International Center for Environment and Development (ICED), a non-profit organization, which finances environmental projects in less developed countries through an endowment fund administered by an independent board of trustees.



Elizabeth Dowdeswell has had an extensive career in government, education and international affairs. From 1993 to 1998 she served as UNEP Executive Director where she was instrumental in developing programmes in state-of-the-environmental assessments and reporting, environmental law, and tackling new issues of trade and globalization.

Before joining the United Nations, Ms. Dowdeswell was the Assistant Deputy Minister of Environment Canada from 1989 to 1992, responsible for the national weather and atmospheric agency. In that capacity she played a leading role in global efforts to negotiate the treaty on climate change adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. She was also Canada’s permanent representative to the World Meteorological Organization; a principal delegate to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and the Canadian Chair of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board.

More recently, Ms. Dowdeswell’s professional activities have included being a Visiting Professor in Global Health, Genomics and Ethics at the Joint Centre for Bioethics in the University of Toronto; Commissioner of the Commission on Globalization; and Associate Fellow of the European Centre for Public Affairs.

Ms. Dowdeswell serves as a Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation mentor, helping to guide the public policy research of Trudeau scholars, and is the author of numerous publications in both popular press and professional journals.


Yuyun Ismawati Klaus Töpfer, who is widely recognized as having spearheaded environmental policy as Minister of Environment in his home country, Germany, became UNEP’s Executive Director and Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi, Kenya, in February 1998. During his eight years as Executive Director, Mr. Töpfer presided over a period in UNEP’s history that has seen environmental sustainability become front page news and central to international development goals.

Among the milestones of his tenure are a number of important environmental agreements, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which addresses issue of genetically modified organisms, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Mr. Töpfer was also closely involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations in support of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which entered into force in February 2005.

Mr. Töpfer continues to stress his belief that environmental policy is the peace policy of the future and that it is crucial that we create a culture of cooperation and mutual respect between north and south, rich and poor in order to avoid ever-growing tensions in a world where water and other vital resources can no longer be taken for granted.

In 2009 Mr. Töpfer was appointed founding director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Potsdam, Germany, which does research on climate problems and sustainable economics. He is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the German Foundation for World Population and on the Advisory Board of the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction.