Klaus Toepfer
United Nations Under-Secretary
General and Executive Director, UNEP

World Environment Day is an opportunity to celebrate biological and cultural diversity, and to reflect on the challenges of preserving them. Our use of non-renewable energy, our overextraction of timber, and the loss of biodiversity are all currently unsustainable. There are new challenges as well, including the development and use of genetically modified organisms.

The Global Ministerial Environment Forum – held just prior to World Environment Day in Malmö, Sweden – reflects a fundamental shift of the United Nations towards partnerships to promote peace and prosperity. Governments, international governmental and non-governmental organizations, the business community, and private citizens are all necessary partners if we are to meet these environmental challenges.

The Forum is a unique opportunity for environment ministers to bridge information and policy gaps on critical issues through informal discussions with global leaders from acadaemia, business and industry, and civil groups such as the media. Discussions will cut across a number of economic and social sectors and include debate on the roles of the private sector and civil groups in environmental protection. The discussions will also provide valuable input to preparations for the United Nations Millennium Assembly in September 2000, and the Rio + 10 meeting in 2002.

One of the major issues is globalization and the nexus between trade and the environment. The importance of finding the right bridge to integrate environmental protection and trade liberalization was brought sharply into focus recently during both the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle and the World Bank/International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington.

UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook 2000 highlights the immediacy of many environmental challenges and notes that time to avert some environmental crises is fast running out. Water – a principal indicator of development and environmental quality – is one of these. At the Forum, UNEP is presenting its new water policy outlining measures to bridge the gap between current policies and those that lead to the sustainable use of the world’s water resources.

The magnitude of this crisis is clearly seen in the fact that every year humans around the world use 160 billion tonnes more water than is replenished, yet 1.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water; annually there are 250 million cases of water-borne disease with 10 million reported deaths.

Water is an appropriate theme for Australia, this year’s World Environment Day host country. The megacities in the Asia-Pacific region of which it is part, as elsewhere, will be frontlines in the battle to manage water resources sustainably. Australians have pioneered major innovations in the delivery and treatment of water and sewage including a recent invention to remove arsenic cheaply from village water supplies in developing countries.

Water issues highlight the need to shift our policies and efforts away from short-term measures to clean up environmental mistakes. This shift poses the most fundamental question facing humanity: how do we create economies that reflect environmental protection and restoration in their every action? Business will be very much ‘as un-usual’ when, among other things, prices tell the ecological truth. But making this shift is the only way to bridge the gap between our current economies and our goal of sustainable development.

Fortunately, that process is under way – and there are solutions. The signing of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the success of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and the leadership shown by some forward-thinking members of the private sector are all hopeful signs that humanity is beginning to understand that without healthy ecologies, there can be no healthy economies.

We should celebrate our accomplishments on World Environment Day – and do so with a renewed sense of purpose and energy. Simultaneously, we should contemplate the many gifts we have and how we can unleash the tremendous power of the human imagination to create the technical, social, ethical and policy bridges we need to meet the environmental challenges of this new millennium


Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Time to act | A climate of change | Melding heart and head | Looking through green glasses | Multi-local business | World Environment Day 2000 |
At a glance | Competition | The greening of Goliath | Unfair trade | No sleeping after Seattle | Disproportionate effects | Liberal rations | New millennium, new regulation | Secretary-General’s Report | Pachamama: Our Earth, Our Future