On January 1 of this year, millions of people on every continent celebrated the dawn of this new millennium. Even those who do not observe the Roman Christian calendar joined in. The millennium celebrations seemed to capture a global mood, a realization that we are all connected, no matter how far apart we live geographically, culturally or economically. In our daily lives, it is not always easy to recognize how closely we are interconnected with our fellow human beings. Increasingly, however, we are recognizing that what connects the street child in Rio, the farmer in Kalimantan or Kenya, the factory worker in Germany and the stockbroker in New York is the global environment.
More and more we are realizing that what we do has far reaching ramifications even if the connections are not immediately obvious. In fact, the ramifications are already being felt in every corner of the globe.
Let me highlight some of the more pressing issues the planet faces. Many parts of the world face severe water shortages. About 20 per cent of the planet?s people lack access to safe drinking water and 50 per cent lack adequate sanitation. Weather events worldwide are becoming more frequently extreme. Land fertility is declining. Land degradation is increasing. The rapid growth of urbanization is causing massive air pollution. Nitrogen pollution is compromising terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, as well as contributing to global warming. Over 80 per cent of the planet?s forests have been destroyed or degraded, a quarter of the worlds mammal species are at serious risk of extinction, and biological diversity is disappearing at an alarming rate. More than half the worlds coral reefs are threatened by human activities, and marine fisheries are being over-exploited to the point that their ability to quickly recover is in doubt.
The world?s population has now passed six billion, and the majority of these people live in poverty. Meanwhile, the share of the planet?s resources being used by the affluent minority is also growing. These two issues the poverty of the majority and the excessive consumption of the minority are driving the forces of environmental degradation.
It is essential to reverse these trends, but time is running out. If we are to make real progress, the environmental agenda of the 21st century should be one that drives environmental improvement to accompany economic and social gains.
In the new millennium, we need global cooperation that promotes sustainable development. Global agreements that ensure trade and environment policies are mutually supportive must succeed in helping the poorest of the poor in the world. They must also succeed for the sake of the environment.
The global community must implement an integrated approach to environmental management. This approach must be underpinned by the need to involve the various actors in the civil society in the formulation and implementation of policy measures.
We are at a watershed. We have the knowledge and the technology to solve many of the environmental ills facing our planet. What we need now is more political will to bring about change. Now is the time to act.
I take heart in the growing engagement of people around the world in addressing our pressing environmental needs, especially when I see this engagement spreading to business and industry and to governments that are increasingly prepared to act. I am particularly heartened by the fact that young people are becoming more aware and vocal about environmental issues to ensure that the price they pay for our environmental misdeeds will not be too great.
The imperative need to move from ?words to action? does not in any way reduce the importance of words. Programmes of action for sustainable development can only succeed if they arise out of consensus. And consensus is not easily achieved.
On this World Environment Day let us resolve to reverse the trends of the last thousand years. Let us take the necessary steps, which will lead us into a more sustainable future marked by improvements in our standards of living and in the health of the planet on which we all depend.
UNEP News Release 00/44