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Trade, Poverty at Heart of Environment and Development Challenge

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer today urged flexibility in tackling the challenges of poverty alleviation, environmental protection and managing economic globalisation.

Bangkok, January 13, 2002 - United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director Klaus Toepfer today urged flexibility in tackling the challenges of poverty alleviation, environmental protection and managing economic globalisation.

These are critical areas for re-analysis, creativity and action in the lead up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), he told a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Environment and Development in Bangkok.

Mr Toepfer said there were hopeful signs that environment, poverty and sustainable development had moved towards the centre of the international trade debate following the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Doha, Qatar, in November.

"Trade ministers from over 140 countries now firmly accept that globalization of trade and the reduction of trade barriers must take into account environmental issues and the development needs of some of the world's poorer countries," he told an audience of leading thinkers from
throughout the region.

He also said the Doha meeting took some first, important, steps towards reducing or phasing out so called "perverse subsidies" in areas such as fisheries, where subsidies of $15 billion a year distort trade, contribute to the collapse of fish stocks, and cause broader impacts on the marine

Mr Toepfer said a lot more detailed work was needed on further integration of the rules of the World Trade Organisation and those of the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (the conventions on climate change, biodiversity, biosafety, chemicals etc).

"We need to use trade to lift large numbers of people out of poverty while maintaining and promoting a healthy, clean and environmentally sound planet. It is important to ensure that increases in incomes, as a result of trade liberalization, do not occur at the expense of the environment. But it is equally important to have safeguards so that countries do not use the
environment as an excuse for banning imports, so called 'green protectionism', " he said.

In response to demands of developing countries for specific capacity building activities in this complex, political, area UNEP, together with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has recently created the Capacity Building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development.

UNEP has also recently published the results of studies on the environmental impacts of trade liberalization on fisheries, forestry, water and other sectors in six developing countries and the economic instruments that can be used to sustainably manage them.

The Asia-Pacific Forum for Environment and Development, initiated by Japanese environment minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and chaired by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, finishes its first substantive meeting today.
It will prepare a message to the WSSD in Johannesburg in August, as part of a three-year programme to identify new development frameworks - harnessing technology innovation and globalisation - that will lead to greater equitability and sustainability in the region.

In relation to trade, the forum focussed on the need for capacity building, the promotion of environmentally sound technologies, market access for the poor and the important role of small and medium-sized enterprises. It noted the decline in Official Development Assistance since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and an opposite trend in Foreign Direct Investment.

While signaling a need for a greater recognition and role for business in sustainable development, Mr Toepfer also pointed out that increasing foreign direct investment was benefiting only a dozen of the more favoured developing nations.

Many of the least developed countries remained reliant on the export of raw natural materials, which are vulnerable to market fluctuations, and access to small loans, secure tenure, good governance, gender equity and educational opportunities were crucial issues for sustainable development.

He urged the forum to emphasize flexibility in tackling the needs of developing countries and suggested creative combinations of "officially credited foreign investment" and "debt for education" as well as 'debt for nature' swaps.

Mr Toepfer congratulated the Japanese Environment Minister for catalysing dialogue on these important issues at a crucial time in the lead-up to the Johannesburg Summit. "As the largest, most populous, fastest growing, and most diverse region, Asia-Pacific holds the key to the global sustainable development challenge," he said.

"It is essential that we seize the opportunity provided by the Johannesburg Summit to redefine our relationship with this planet and with each other, building on what was achieved 10 years ago at Rio's United Nations Conference on Environment and Development."

The APFED meeting was organised by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment of Thailand, the United Nations Environment Programme, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Thailand Environment Institute and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.


For further information contact:
Tim Higham, Regional Information Officer, United Nations Environment
Programme, ph 288 2127, email
Kazuaki Hoshino, Senior Policy Coordinator, Ministry of Environment,
Government of Japan, or Yoshihiro Natori, Project Leader, Institute for
Global Environmental Strategies, phone 281 3088 (Room 212) or fax 280 1314

UNEP News Release ROAP/2002/02

Sunday 13 Jan 2002
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