World Environment Day
Actions speak louder than words

Margot Wallström
EU Commissioner for the Environment

We have come a long way since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which put environmental concerns squarely on the international agenda. But while we have made some progress in improving and conserving our fragile environment, we have not yet succeeded in stopping environmental degradation for good, nor in finding the path to sustainable development. It is my conviction that these goals are attainable, but their accomplishment will require efforts by all of us: rich and poor, young and old, and in all corners of the globe.

World Environment Day embodies this approach, raising awareness, encouraging people to voice their thoughts and do their utmost to improve the environment. This year’s World Environment Day is devoted to that invaluable resource, water, and it has my whole-hearted support.

Fresh water is a luxury – but most of us take it for granted. We do not realize that more than 1 billion people, one in six of the world’s population, are without access to a safe water supply, nor that half the world’s population lack adequate sanitation. This produces disease and death, particularly among children.

To make matters worse, global demand for water keeps growing, and resources are being used up faster than they can be replenished. It is imperative that we all learn how to save and share water, thus ensuring that less fortunate people around the world and the generations to come also have access to it. Turning off the tap while you brush your teeth, taking a shower instead of a bath, and other slight changes of daily habit that may seem insignificant can make a big difference.

I believe that World Environment Day should maintain the momentum of last year’s Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development and ensure that actions speak louder than words. One of the targets agreed at the Summit is, by 2015, to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation. This complements the Millennium Development Goal – again by 2015 – of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.

In Johannesburg, the European Union launched the ‘EU Water for Life Initiative’ to reach these goals. The initiative’s aim is to bring safe water and sanitation to the poorest regions of Africa and the Newly Independent States, in partnership with their governments and with an emphasis on capacity-building. Now the European Commission is taking the lead in trying to inject further momentum into this initiative, including through the mobilization of significant European Development Fund resources.

Another important result of Johannesburg is the agreement to establish a ten-year framework for programmes on sustainable consumption and production, with industrialized countries taking the lead in this global effort.

Now that the delegates have left Johannesburg, it is time for the real work to start – on converting all the words and brainwork into action. We need to ensure that the Johannesburg Implementation Plan is backed up by a concrete work programme, and thorough monitoring and reporting mechanisms, so that individual governments can be held accountable for their pledges. But we also need to do more to integrate sustainable development into our daily routines, not only within the borders of the European Union but also throughout the world. And as individuals, we can each make changes to our lifestyles, acting with real motivation and determination to preserve our environment.

This is the idea behind World Environment Day, which will play a vital role in mobilizing stakeholders at all levels. Civil society initiatives and partnerships between governments, international institutions and non-governmental organizations are important ways of implementing internationally agreed actions, and were recognized for the first time at United Nations level in Johannesburg. They can help ensure effective implementation of the Johannesburg commitments.

The European Commission plays its part in making sure World Environment Day gets the attention it deserves, by organizing each year a ‘Green Week’ and ‘Green Days’. The theme of this year’s Green Week (2-5 June in Brussels) is ‘Changing Our Behaviour’. It will bring people together to debate, as a follow-up to Johannesburg, the key environmental issues of water, sustainable consumption and production, and renewable energy and climate change. Green Days (30 May- 9 June) are locally organized events across Europe designed to mobilize local action in support of the Green Week goals.

I can only repeat: sustainable development will be achieved only if vigorous efforts are made at every level – starting with the individual and progressing from the local, to the regional, to the national, to the supranational, to the international – and only if these efforts are made in partnership with all the actors involved.

World Environment Day should motivate us to redouble our efforts

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | World Environment Day | Water is life | The water century | Taking it at the flood | Renewing the commitment | Waterless cities | Keeping pollution at bay | People | At a glance | Changing agenda | Nor any drop to drink | Bridging troubled waters | Books & products | Getting there | Sinking fast | Waste not | Water – the poor’s priority | Atomic power

Complementary articles in other issues:
Margot Wallström: Reversing the burden of proof
(Chemicals and the environment) 2002
Issue on Water, 1996
Issue on Freshwater, 1998

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Freshwater wetlands
Mangroves and estuaries