The Forum reflects a fundamental and important shift of the United Nations towards partnerships to promote peace and prosperity. The United Nations recognizes that governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, the business community, and private citizens are all necessary partners to meet new and existing environmental challenges.
Forum discussions will cut across a number of economic and social sectors and provide valuable input to preparations for the United Nations Millenium Assembly in September and the 'RIO + 10' meeting in 2002.
There are three broad themes for the Forum:
1. Major environmental challenges in the new century
The conclusion of UNEP's Global Environment Outlook 2000 report is that time is quickly running out to solve many of the most pressing environmental challenges. These include the human use of non-renewable energy, over-extraction of water and timber from forests, and the loss of biodiversity - all of which are currently unsustainable. There are new challenges as well, including such 'hot-button' issues as the development and use of genetically modified organisms.
These conclusions have been validated by the summary findings of another report compiled jointly by UNEP, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute. The Guide to the World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life, is a two-year effort by 175 scientists revealing a widespread decline in the condition of the world's ecosystems due to increasing resource demands. The report warns that a continued decline could have devastating implications for human development and the welfare of all species.
Against this backdrop, UNEP believes major environmental challenges are associated with three current global trends: resource depletion and environmental degradation; increasing income disparity; and poverty and marginalization of a growing proportion of the world's population - a population that is projected to increase by 65% in the next 50 years.
The environmental challenges of the new century raise a number of questions including:
* What are the policies, trade-offs and financial investment priorities needed to address major environmental challenges? * To what extent can the 'precautionary principle' be applied? * Can new technologies, particularly new information technologies, dramatically lower environmental impacts?
2. The private sector and the environment in the 21st Century
As society's most powerful institution for technical and social change, commerce in the 21st Century is a vital element to restore environmental values and create industries and markets based on the principles of sustainable development. This process must happen within the context of increasing globalisation and trade liberalisation that is, itself, a potent force generating both positive and negative economic, environmental and social impacts.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, businesses and industries are beginning to acknowledge that shareholder value must reflect the interests of all stakeholders. Increasingly, business and industry understand the need to adapt to new environmental rules - regardless of the part of the globe they are operating in. They will also be increasingly required to account for the natural resources - the natural capital - they use while paying higher rates for generating and disposing of wastes.
Governments will be challenged to set the correct regulatory frameworks to encourage the cleanest industries and businesses. This will entail substantial efforts, including the removal of hundreds of billions of dollars in perverse subsidies that currently prohibit prices from telling the ecological truth.
This theme also raises a number of questions, including:
* What role and extent should partnerships between governments and the private sector play as tools to promote sustainable development? * How can environmental objectives be incorporated into the routine operation of all enterprises? * How can the private sector help developing countries 'leapfrog' the previous environmental mistakes of developed countries?
3. Environmental responsibility and role of civil society in a globalised world
The term 'civil society' refers to the range of voluntary organisations within a society. These include industry associations, trade unions, commercial associations, employers' organizations, professional associations, advocacy groups, co-operatives, research institutions, community-based organisations, religious groups and the media.
In a globalised economy, these local and national organisations are also becoming more 'global' and interacting in new and more dynamic ways, such as partnerships between environmental groups and international trade unions to promote jobs in a sustainable economy. These interactions are playing an important role to set the global agenda, particularly within environmental and development policies. Governments have a role to promote cooperation and encourage a "culture of civil society" with values of tolerance and respect for the rights of others.
At the same time, civil groups need to increase their efforts to document their work and communicate effectively with other groups and the public.
Some questions within this theme include:
* How will new forms of information technology change the way civil groups communicate to promote their agendas? * How can the media be better informed in their reporting of important environmental issues? * How will a greater role for civil society change national and international institutions such as the United Nations?
Ministerial discussion will be enhanced with special keynote addresses by global leaders from academia, business and industry, and civil groups.
Further background can be found on the Web at: www.unep.org/malmo/
For accreditation and other information, please contact: Anders Renlund, Communications and Public Information, UNEP Regional Office for Europe, tel: +41-22-9178272, mobile: +41-79-629 0236, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Anette Tornqvist, Press Officer, Swedish Ministry of Environment, tel: +46-8-4052027, email: email@example.com
UNEP Information Note 00/27