Into the 21st century

OUR PLANET 10.2 - UNEP - Looking Forward

Into the 21st century


welcomes UNEP's reform and says that its importance
will increase as it tackles the issues of the next century


I am specially pleased that Japan has been accorded the privilege of holding the celebrations to commemorate World Environment Day this year. Appreciating the significance of the occasion as an opportunity to demonstrate to the world Japan's active involvement in working on environmental issues, and recognizing the importance of this occasion as an arena for rallying international spirit in anticipation of the United Nations conference on environment (Rio +10), to be held in 2002, the Japanese ministerial meeting of the Cabinet accepted UNEP's invitation to host the commemorative celebrations.

As everyone knows, environmental degradation first appeared mainly as localized problems in developed countries. But following the rapid expansion of human activities through the development of science and technology, the problems have grown into a serious global menace. Global warming, destruction of the ozone layer and, more recently, endocrine disruptors are problems that threaten the basis of human existence; indeed, these are issues that affect 'human security'.

The environmental issues of today are as diverse as they are serious. Since the Industrial Revolution, humankind has consumed vast quantities of fossil fuels and other resources that require extremely long periods of time to accumulate, and has produced waste in quantities far greater than can be absorbed by natural ecosystems. This has led to such environmental problems as global warming and environmental pollution. In most cases, the daily life and economic base of developing regions tend to depend upon natural resources such as forests, soil and water, so that many of the efforts to combat poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy inevitably result in the destruction of nature and the deterioration of living conditions, exacerbated by the effects of population growth and urbanization. In the midst of socio-economic globalization, all these problems are interconnected, and environmental damage is becoming ever more complex and serious.

Stress reduction

For a solution to such situations, we, humankind, must try to reduce the stress on the environment by fostering environmentally sound life-cycles for the substances we use and emit into the environment in the process of our own activities. We must try to understand the mechanisms of nature, and conduct our activities in ways that enable us to live in harmony with the natural world. In developing regions, the first priority must be to provide sustainable livelihoods by increasing funding, creating employment opportunities, eradicating poverty and encouraging policy making that gives due attention to the socially disadvantaged; by enhancing technology transfer and development; and by strengthening the development of human resources. These are all matters on which developed and developing countries must work together.

Japan considers global environmental issues a priority policy area, and contributes to both domestic and international efforts. The Japanese Government has established and been implementing the Basic Environment Plan, which prescribes long-term national objectives. This Plan aims to build a society based on the environmentally sound life-cycle of materials and on the harmonious coexistence of mankind and nature in its entirety, involving the participation of all members of society, as well as international activities.

Concerning international activities, the Japanese Government takes special pride in having hosted the third session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3) held in Kyoto in December 1997, and in having contributed as the host country to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, an historic step forward for humankind's work on global warming. Regarding support for developing countries, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Japan announced an allocation of 900 to 1,000 billion yen in environmentally related overseas development assistance (ODA) over a five-year period, and subsequently provided nearly 1,500 billion yen. At the special session of the United Nations General Assembly on Environment and Development in June 1997, Japan announced its Initiatives for Sustainable Development toward the 21st century, a comprehensive plan for ODA support for environmental cooperation; and on the occasion of COP3, Japan launched the Kyoto Initiative, an ODA support package for activities in the field of global warming. Such commitments represent Japan's keen determination to support developing countries in the environmental arena.

The Earth Summit of 1992, with the adoption of Agenda 21, carries special significance for global environmental issues in the 21st century, specifying action plans, in all areas, necessary for mankind to prosper in harmony with the other creatures on Earth. We are now at the stage where all the decisions made at the meeting should be put into action in a concrete form. To that end, United Nations organizations including UNEP have made ongoing efforts and achieved steady progress. Japan appreciates those efforts. In the meantime, global environmental problems are becoming more serious at an accelerated rate. In the 21st century, therefore, I believe that our most important task will be to seek ways to make various international actions more effective and to implement them more efficiently.

Meeting demands

There is no doubt that the importance of UNEP will increase in fulfilment of such a task. The international community expects UNEP to cope with the emerging demand to tackle worldwide environmental problems through its role as the leading global environmental authority within the United Nations system. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, and other concerned individuals are working for the reformation of UNEP; for its revitalization and improved efficiency. The Japanese Government has stressed the need for these changes, and I understand that the current reformation process is consistent with Japan's request. It is my sincere wish that the process will further progress and result in a significant contribution to the solution of global environmental problems.

World Environment Day celebrations in Tokyo this year offer an incentive to further enhance public awareness in Japan on global environmental issues. For instance, the Global Commons World Environment Conference, taking place from 3-5 June this year in conjunction with the celebrations and bringing together knowledgeable people from around the world, is being organized by Global Environmental Action, of which I served as Deputy Chairman. The aim of this Conference is to identify appropriate environmental policy directions which should go beyond the individual national framework, in the understanding that chronic degradation of the global environment is threatening the 'global commons'.

For the sake of human security, Japan is determined to do its utmost, in close cooperation with UNEP, to ensure the success of Rio +10 and to contribute to the progress of 21st century-oriented environmental policies, by taking every opportunity and bringing together all related knowledge and effort.

Keizo Obuchi is the Prime Minister of Japan.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Climate & Action 1998
Issue on The Way Ahead 1997
Robin Cook: Everything to gain (Climate Change) 1997
Hiroshi Ohki: Averting catastrophe (Climate Change) 1997
Robert Watson: The heat is on (Climate Change) 1997
Maurice F. Strong: The way ahead (UNEP 25) 1997
Mostafa K. Tolba: Redefining UNEP (UNEP 25) 1997

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