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

There has never been a paucity of ideas on enhancing and strengthening the role of the United Nations, especially since the end of the Cold War which brought renewed optimism that the United Nations could at last begin to realize its potential.

But all the ideas in the world amount to nothing unless there is political support for them in capitals around the world. The United Nations’ great strength is its near universal membership. Support for enhancing the role of the United Nations in Canberra or Washington, London, Paris and Tokyo is pointless unless there is backing for similar proposals coming from capitals in eastern Europe, in Africa, in the Arab world and Asia. There must be a broad consensus on the directions for change and a willingness to work to find a common basis for action.

Added significance
In this context, the convening by the United Nations General Assembly of the Millennium Summit to address the role of the United Nations in the 21st century takes on an added significance. The Secretary-General has provided his vision for change through his report entitled, We the Peoples: the United Nations in the 21st Century.

I am convinced that the Millennium Summit offers an opportunity similar to that which existed in San Francisco 55 years ago – a chance to establish a system of governance at the global level, founded on common values and aspirations, which offers humanity the chance of a more peaceful and sustainable future than the years that have just passed.

The report to the Millennium Summit states that ‘the challenges lying ahead of us are clustered into three broad categories. Two are founding aims of the United Nations whose achievement eludes us still: freedom from want and freedom from fear. No one dreamed, when the Charter was written, that the third – leaving to successor generations an environmentally sustainable future – would emerge as one of the most daunting challenges of all.’

A crucial issue
The importance that the world attaches to this crucial issue of environmental protection and sustainable development was most clearly attested to by the presence of 131 ministers and heads of delegations at UNEP’s inaugural Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Malmö, Sweden from 29 to 31 May 2000.

The Malmö Declaration – which was the principal output of this forum and is addressed to the Millennium Assembly – acknowledged that the central challenge is to work out how the global ambitions contained in the increasing number of international environmental agreements can be turned into concrete local action and implementation. The Malmö Declaration also underlined the need for mobilizing ‘domestic and international resources, including development assistance, far beyond current levels’ to ensure the success of this endeavour. The Declaration also underlined the ‘need for reinvigorated international cooperation based on common concerns and a spirit of international partnership and solidarity.’

The new economy
In our globalizing world, the agenda is set by economics. It is therefore essential that the macroeconomic policy-making, as also the practices of government and multilateral lending and credit institutions and export credit agencies, must continue to take the environmental dimension into account. The Malmö Declaration recognized the ‘potential of the new economy to contribute to sustainable development’ and emphasized that this potential should be further pursued, particularly in the areas of information technology, biology and biotechnology.

The private sector has emerged as a global actor that has a significant impact on environmental trends through its investment and technology decisions. A greater commitment by the private sector should be pursued to engender a new culture of environmental accountability through the application of the polluter-pays principle, environmental performance indicators and reporting, and the establishment of a precautionary approach in investment and technology decisions. This approach must be linked to the development of cleaner and more resource-efficient technologies for a life-cycle economy, and efforts to facilitate the transfer of environmentally sound technologies.

Over the past two decades, civil society has emerged as a vibrant new social and economic sector of activity alongside the public sector and the private for-profit sector. New elements of civil society have emerged with unparalleled rapidity in nations throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and in eastern Europe.

In many respects the global civil society speaks for the world concerning sustainable development, freedom, peace, equality, solidarity and justice. This demand is centred on practical matters and issues: the fight against famine and hunger in the world; the improvement of women’s conditions at work and home; preservation of the environment; reduction of poverty, social exclusion and intolerance with a view to eradicating the main causes of ethnic and interstate wars. The Malmö Declaration underlined the need to strengthen the engagement of civil society organizations through freedom of access to environmental information and broad participation in environmental decision-making.

The decadal review of the Earth Summit in 2002 will provide a unique opportunity to the global community to reinvigorate the spirit of Rio. The environment ministers who gathered at Malmö stated that the objective of this summit should not be to renegotiate Agenda 21, which remains valid, but to inject a new spirit of cooperation and urgency based on agreed actions in the common quest for sustainable development.

Addressing the challenges
According to the Malmö Declaration, ‘the 2002 conference should aim at addressing the major challenges to sustainable development, and in particular the pervasive effects of the burden of poverty on a large proportion of the Earth’s inhabitants, counterposed against excessive and wasteful consumption and inefficient resource use that perpetuate the vicious circle of environmental degradation and increasing poverty.’ It must review the requirements for a greatly strengthened institutional structure for international environmental governance based on an assessment of future needs for an institutional architecture that has the capacity to effectively address wide-ranging environmental threats in a globalizing world.

This ‘Millennium’ issue of Our Planet presents a diverse tapestry of perspectives from our stakeholders on the global environmental priorities and challenges for the 21st century. The thought-provoking and stimulating articles from the American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and the British Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott highlight some of the challenges ahead. To further sustainable development in the North and the South, we must work in partnership both to eradicate poverty and to achieve sustainable production and consumption patterns. That is the point of the process that was launched in Rio in 1992. Let us now rally round, in a shared determination to strengthen the process by giving it a fresh boost which will see it through the next millennium


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