News > Press releases > Statement by Mr. Klaus ...

Press releases

Statement by Mr. Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director, UNEP, to the First GEF Assembly

New Delhi, India, April 1, 1998 - Honorable Prime Minister of India, Excellencies, Ministers and Heads of Delegations, Mr. El-Ashry, Mr. Speth, Mr. Koch-Weser, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am deeply honored by this opportunity to address the first Assembly of the Global Environment Facility in this historic city of Delhi. This city is symbolic of a unique culture and ethos. Not only is the Indian civilization ancient and has shown impressive continuity. The Indian civilization also has an especial characteristic and that is, it has thrived on diversity. This has given this country a world-view which looks at all humanity as one family. It has given India the capacity to absorb, to assimilate, and to synthesize the best influences from wherever they come without losing its identity.

The generous offer of the Government of India to host this event is a testimony of the leadership role played by India as a bridge between people, continents, civilizations, cultures and religions of the world.


More than 25 years ago, at the historical United Nations Conference on Human Environment at Stockholm, we heard Ms. Indira Gandhi forcefully state that "the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty". She said that, "Unless we are in a position to provide employment and purchasing power for the daily necessities of the tribal people and those who live in or around our jungles, we cannot prevent them from combing the forest for food and livelihood; from poaching and from despoiling the vegetation. How can we speak to those who live in villages and slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean when their own lives are contaminated at the source?".


No one would hold that the less developed countries should remain condemned to perpetual underdevelopment. The legitimate developmental needs of people cannot be denied by using arguments for environmental concern. The natural resources of Mother Earth are limited. But at the same time, adverse environmental impact to a certain degree is reversible by human effort. This, in fact, is what sustainable development is all about, and to make it clear, it is first of all development.

All human beings have an equal right to use natural resources in a sustainable way to enable them to pursue economic development. We must not resign to perceived limits of growth. We must instead constantly explore the frontiers of economic growth in ways in which the natural base creates opportunities for human activities. The growth that we look for must be both economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. To achieve this, we need innovative and unconventional technological solutions. We need to learn from indigenous knowledge and take the best of cutting-edge technology. We need to forge partnerships on environmentally sound technological development and their application, between regions of the world, between public and private and civil society. This is real implementation of environmental objectives.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The establishment of the Global Environment Facility was a decisive step forward in mobilizing "new and additional financial resources" to assist the transition to sustainable development in developing countries. It's governance structure was designed to be a bridge between the United Nations bodies involved with the environment and development and the Bretton Woods institutions.

So far the GEF has been a success story. The donor community deserves our gratitude for its generous contributions to the GEF. I hope that they will continue to give GEF the financial support it deserves to achieve its goals. I must also congratulate Mohammed El-Ashry for his excellent stewardship of GEF during this period.

As a partner in this global endeavor, the United Nations Environment Programme has tried to prove that this machinery can be used to promote sustainability and integrating the environmental dimension on a global level. We can prove that win-win strategies are viable and that they must be grasped.


I have been the Executive Director of UNEP for a little more than seven weeks now. But even as I stand before you, I can tell you that the credibility of UNEP - over the last 25 years - as the environmental voice of the UN system has been built on the foundations laid by my illustrious predecessors. I would like to take this opportunity to salute them: Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Dr. Mostafa Tolba and Maurice Strong.

But I am convinced that despite UNEP's excellent achievements in the past - particularly in the area of Conventions, Protocols and the Regional Seas - UNEP must increasingly strive to provide better means for bringing emerging environmental issues and problems of international and regional significance to the attention of the global community. In this way I also intend to profile UNEP in the GEF process.

The challenge before UNEP is to integrate short-term and medium-term environmental concerns with its long-term objectives of providing a sustainable environment for all.


We must prove that we are capable of taking immediate action in the GEF also. Recently, the Secretary--General of the United Nations asked me to develop a coordinated international response to the forest fires raging in South East Asia and the agenda I have proposed was well received at the UN Administrative Coordination Committee. Tomorrow I will be meeting with President Suharto of Indonesia to discuss this issue. These forest fires may turn out to be one of the greatest ecological disasters of the last decade of the millennium. I am pleased to state that the GEF has proved to be flexible enough to provide funds for this project.

We also need to learn from lessons offered by the El Nino phenomenon. If we can see these crises a challenge today, we may one day look at them as useful warnings for something we managed to avoid. Early warning systems, priority setting and the development of information concerning hot spots and environmental catastrophes to alert nations of potential conflicts over common shared resources are the areas which will be UNEP's area of focus in the short term.


In the medium term, UNEP is determined to further develop and improve its leadership role in forging political consensus on emerging environmental problems and in the development of political instruments. This is an area in which UNEP has had its most outstanding successes in the past. We must build on the foundations of the experience gained in the development and implementation of the Montreal Protocol, the Regional Seas Programmes, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Basel Convention, CITES and the Lusaka Agreement.... to name just a few.

UNEP will also develop innovative economic instruments and practice their use to foster more uniform standards and practices among nations. In this regard, we have proposed the establishment of a joint UNEP/UNCTAD Intergovernmental panel on Economic Instruments for Environment Policy. It will promote and address modalities for the use and application of economic instruments for environmental management and sustainable development, particularly focussing on item as efficient and cost-effective tools for the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements. In this regard UNEP is prepared to take a decisive follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol

There is also a great need to single out the interdependencies and synergetic effects of the conventions and to better coordinate action which are crucial keys for effective implementation of our multilateral agreements. This is an important obligation for UNEP as the implementing agency for several environment conventions. UNEP will avoid duplications and incompatible regulations on issues addressed by more than one convention.


In the long term, UNEP will focus its work on environmental issues, resulting from urban settlements, water issues, development of economic instruments such as the Clean Development Mechanism and the chemicals agenda which includes negotiating and implementing the Prior Informed Consent Procedure and further work on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

In the area of the urban environment, Habitat and UNEP are already utilizing more and more the synergies between the two organizations - to address environmental problems that result from urbanization: water pollution, habitat loss, deforestation and carbon-emitting energy use.

However, we have yet to fully realize the tremendous potential for the ecological efficiency of cities, combined with economic and social efficiency, and we have to make use of this potential.

Urban development provides important opportunities for sustainable development because cities and major agglomerations have the ability to support large numbers of people within a limited space with a high degree of technical and economic efficiency. Therefore, we must overcome the diseconomies of scale. We must achieve sustainability in our mega-cities.

Indeed, since cities are the loci of most consumption and production, I believe that the GEF should play a pivotal role in helping to meet the challenge of sustainable settlement structures.

We are giving prime importance to water issues not only as an essential component of peace policy but also its conservation as a vital natural resource. We are also building on the outcomes of important Conferences on Water held in Harare, the 1st Petersburg Roundtable held in Bonn and the International Conference on Water and Sustainable Development in Paris. These Conferences recognized UNEP's work in promoting the integrated management of freshwater basins and requested UNEP to play a major role with other organizations in water issues and provide an early warning system for input to environmental diplomacy. I believe that a new GEF operational program on fresh water issues could be envisaged, and UNEP stands ready to assist in its preparation.

In the implementation of the chemicals agenda, countries will sign the legally binding international convention on trade in dangerous chemicals and pesticides later this year in Rotterdam. This legally binding instrument on Prior Informed Consent procedure on certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade has important synergies with biodiversity. The first meeting of the International Negotiating Committee for the adoption of an International Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants will be held in July this year.

Sustainable development demands access to state-of-the-art "clean" technologies, as these have a strategic role in increasing the capabilities of developing countries, both to protect the environment as well as to alleviate poverty. To develop technologies and products which are resource and energy conserving, we are focusing on the development of Cleaner Technologies in partnership with industry and business.

UNEP's focus will also be on strengthening the link between science, management and policy. UNEP will network with the scientific community and translate that knowledge into policy and make the results available to all interested stakeholders. One example is the way STAP has played an important role in promoting scientific and technical quality control in the GEF and I am pleased to announce that the Council has endorsed the reconstituted STAP for the second phase of the GEF.

The challenge before us is to better mobilize the wider scientific and technical community. I believe that one of the core missions of UNEP is in information exchange on policies and technologies. This is sometimes referred to as playing a clearing-house function, leading to knowledge building for investment choices and to technology cooperation and transfer.


These elements of UNEP's new profile will require building synergies and partnerships with governments, United Nations agencies, the private sector and the civil society as well as regional institutions and secretariats.

We have, as an implementing agency of the GEF, promoted partnerships between developing and developed countries, through sharing of knowledge, as well as transfer of technology and skills. We will strengthen these further. We will focus on promoting partnerships between governments and the representatives of civil society and the private sector. UNEP's joint statements with the banking and insurance sector are only the first steps in the implementation of this joint agenda. UNEP will further strengthen its forum for dialogue and partnership with business and the industry.

UNEP recognizes the important role of civil society organizations in achieving the objectives of the GEF. The pathway of medium-sized projects is an opportunity for GEF to benefit from the wealth of the experience of the NGO community.


According to the Nairobi Declaration, UNEP has a mission to set the global environmental agenda, promote the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and serve as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. UNEP acts as the steward for the environment. UNEP uses GEF resources to support the global dialogue in the focal areas and to develop innovative mechanisms for the international community.

UNEP cannot measure its success in the field of the environment by its share of financial resources to implement GEF projects, but rather by the implementation of its mandate assisted by the support it receives from GEF.


The subject of ensuring global sustainable development and environmental protection is a vast one. Instead of reciting a list of problems and prospects, I thought I would highlight some of the main points of concern to UNEP.

Despite the difficulties of implementing the vision of the Rio Summit, the last five years have vindicated the basic validity of our larger vision. It calls on placing the human being at the very heart of the development process. It calls on us to alter our consumption and production patterns in our pursuit for sustainable development. It is a vision that calls for harnessing the best of science and technology to the needs of the people, particularly the poorest.

At this point, it might be appropriate to reflect on the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi: "The earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed".

Let the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi guide us in our common road to sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations.


Thank you.

Wednesday 08 Apr 1998
All (9)
2016 (9)