Now for vigorous action

Kjell Larsson describes an historic meeting of environment ministers
to chart a new course for a new millennium

It was a privilege for Sweden to host the first Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Malmö on 29-31 May 2000. This meeting was the culmination of several years of efforts to provide a new departure for UNEP at the threshold of the new millennium. In my judgement, the around 100 environment ministers that attended the Forum managed to do just that. Their massive attendance and active participation was clear evidence of their commitment to play a stronger role in the implementation of the goals and objectives of UNEP as the leading global environmental authority.

With its origins in the Stockholm Conference 28 years ago, UNEP has been an indispensable advocate for the global environment with many great achievements to its credit, notably in international environmental law. Yet, there have been uncertainties as to its role and identity, particularly in the years immediately following the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Starting with the Nairobi Declaration in 1997 and underpinned by the farsighted leadership of the Executive Director, Dr. Klaus Toepfer, this unfortunate state of affairs has been gradually dispelled. I am most pleased that the Forum so convincingly confirmed these encouraging developments. This was urgently needed in view of the extraordinary challenges confronting us.
The potential of the new economy must be vigorously pursued
I was attracted by the innovative format of roundtable informal ministerial consultations, exclusive to heads of delegations. This presented an opportunity to pursue an unusually straightforward and productive debate for more than ten hours in total. Through live broadcast, delegates, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media could follow the dialogues on wide screen next door. UNEP’s experiment in Malmö with such innovative procedures clearly has a precedent-setting potential in our common quest to improve global decision-making.

The agenda reflected the key role of the Governing Council in its new format to make more room for strategic discussions and to review important and emerging policy issues. Three themes were considered in the consultations, each with an introduction by eminent key-note speakers. The point of departure for the first theme – ‘Major environmental challenges in the new century’ – was UNEP’s GEO 2000 report with its solid and deeply troubling assessment of the state of the global environment. I was struck by the unity with which ministers declared that both the problems and their solutions are well known – it is more vigorous action that is now needed.

Private sector
Secondly, we had a most refreshing discussion on ‘Private sector and the environment – preparing for the 21st century’. With the emergence of the private sector as a driving force in the globalization process, significantly impacting environmental trends, corporate competition and profitability must be reconciled with environmental objectives. New types of relationship between the private and the public sectors need to be developed. On the one hand, the private sector was urged to engender a new culture of environmental accountability through the application of a series of key principles for environmental management, such as the polluter pays principle, environmental performance indicators and the precautionary approach. On the other, the public sector must provide an enabling environment while at the same time enhancing its institutional and regulatory capabilities to protect the interests of the environment and coming generations. Ministers emphasized that the enormous potential of the new economy needs to be more vigorously pursued.

Promoting partnerships
More specifically, public/private partnerships for achieving sustainable development, alleviating poverty and creating employment were suggested. For my part, I proposed that such a partnership could be facilitated by UNEP in cooperation with bilateral donors as well as with relevant actors in the business community in order to promote the transfer of clean technology to developing countries, and to stimulate research and development in pursuit of technological innovation relevant to needs in these countries.

In our third ministerial dialogue, the subject was ‘The role and responsibility of civil society for the environment in a globalized world’. Here, some differences of opinion surfaced. Whereas some saw a conflict between NGOs and the state, others emphasized that the current level of participation of civil society in decision-making at the national level and in the activities of UNEP is inadequate. Agreement was reached on several constructive points, including the need for freedom of access to environmental information and justice. Ministers also underlined that special attention must be paid to threats to cultural diversity and traditional knowledge which may be posed by globalization.

Forceful message
The Malmö Declaration was prepared in a parallel process, linked to the three ministerial dialogues. This is a rich document which sends a forceful message to the Millennium Assembly and to the 2002 review of Agenda 21. I would like to pay tribute to delegations for the resolve they showed in producing a document of this political importance and complexity in the extremely short time available. As the full text of the Declaration is reproduced in this issue of Our Planet, I will limit myself to three observations.

The most important message of the Malmö Declaration is that the growing trends of environmental degradation that threaten the sustainability of our planet must be arrested and reversed in a spirit of international partnership and solidarity. With a sincerity that is not often found in this type of document, ministers and heads of delegations note that there is an alarming discrepancy between commitments and action. Agreed goals and targets must be implemented without delay, with mechanisms in place to ensure compliance, enforcement and liability. The Declaration recognizes that the ‘mobilization of domestic and international resources, including development assistance, far beyond current levels is vital to the success of this endeavour.’

I also welcome that the Declaration so clearly addresses the need for new partnerships in a globalizing world, particularly the public/private relationship. Putting the unprecedented financial and human resources that are now available in the new economy in the service of sustainable development will be another key to success. The Global Compact established by the Secretary-General with the private sector is an encouraging initiative. The Declaration asks UNEP to enhance its engagement in this important area.

The task ahead
Finally, I am gratified that the Declaration makes such a substantive input to the preparations for the 2002 review of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. It captures the task ahead in a nutshell. In the words of the Declaration, the 2002 summit should address ‘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’. Governments are requested urgently to pursue the ratification of all environmental conventions and protocols. Considerable efforts will also have to be devoted in the preparatory process to the justified call for a greatly strengthened institutional structure for international environmental governance, with an increased role for UNEP. The assessment called for in this connection should be undertaken by UNEP at the earliest possible moment.

With the adoption of this Ministerial Declaration, I feel that a significant step forward has been taken in addressing the critical issues confronting us. As is so strongly underlined in the Declaration itself, the success of this endeavour can only be judged on the merits of our own actions at all levels

Kjell Larsson is Minister for the Environment of Sweden.

PHOTOGRAPH: Sigfred Jr. Balatan/UNEP/Still Pictures

This issue:
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

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Beyond 2000, 2000, including:
Tom Burke: The greening of Goliath
David Wheeler, et al: New millennium, new regulation
Chee Yoke Ling: No sleeping after Seattle
Issue on UNEP – Looking Forward, 1999, including:
Guro Fjellanger: Meeting new challenges
Michael Meacher: A stronger conscience
Keizo Obuchi: Into the 21st century
Jurgen Trittin: Spirit of optimism
Svend Auken: Celebration and challenge (Hazardous Waste) 1999