The environment millennium

We may be at the dawn of a new millennium but the environmental problems we face are painfully familiar – they may even be getting worse.

Despite the Earth Summit and despite success stories like the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer, human beings continue to plunder the global environment. Unsustainable practices remain deeply embedded in the fabric of our daily lives. We are failing to protect resources and ecosystems. We are failing to invest enough in alternative technologies, especially for energy. We are failing even to keep the debate alive.

These are deeply worrying trends. I recommend four priorities for reversing them.

First: We need a major public education effort. Understanding of these challenges we face is alarmingly low. Corporations and consumers alike need to recognize that their choices can have significant consequences. Schools and civil society groups have a crucial role to play.

Second: Environmental issues must be fundamentally repositioned in the policy-making arena. The environment must become better integrated into mainstream economic policy and the surest way is through green accounting.

Third: Governments must not only create environmental agreements but must enforce them. They can for example cut the subsidies that sustain environmentally harmful activities each and every year. They can also devise more environment friendly incentives for markets to respond to.

And Fourth: We need sound scientific information. This is the only basis for effective policy yet large gaps in our knowledge remain. Technological breakthroughs, that are unimaginable today, may solve some of the environmental challenges we face. But it would be foolish to count on them and to continue with business as usual.

The year 2000 begins the environment millennium. The time to act is now. There will be no easy solutions. Unpleasant ecological surprises lie ahead. But the start of the new century could not be more opportune to commit ourselves, people as well as government, to a new epoch of conservation and stewardship.

Kofi A. Annan
Secretary-General of the United Nations
From the Secretary-General’s message to the
Global Ministerial Environment Forum, Malmö, Sweden.


PHOTOGRAPH: UN Photo/M. Grant


Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | The right to diversity | Gain, not pain | Changing course | From summit to summit | Empowering the poor | The environment millennium | Focus On Your World | Competition | A critical priority | Flashing indicators | Sea changes | No wires attached | Now for vigorous action | Malmö Ministerial Declaration | Young, impatient and soon to be in charge | Green spot in Africa