Message of UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer on the occasion of World Environment Day
Message of UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer on the occasion of World Environment Day 5 June 2002
Nairobi 5 June 2002 - Just a couple of days ago, climbers, backed by UNEP, returned from the Himalayas, where they gathered first-hand accounts from monks, local people and other travelers on the state of the environment of the world's most famous mountain range. They have recorded in words, in photographs, and on film, the dramatic impacts that global warming is having on glaciers, causing them to rapidly thaw, and build up melt waters in mountain lakes. As a result, these lakes could soon burst, sending million of tonnes of water and rubble swirling down the valleys threatening life and limb. The expedition has also looked at the impacts of tourism on the mountains, concluding that much of what is happening is environmentally damaging, and a burden on the people, wildlife and landscapes of these once pristine wilderness areas.
Every year World Environment Day is an occasion to pause and reflect on the state of the environment. This year especially, faced with the findings of our climbers, in the International Year of the Mountains, I urge you to "Give Earth a Chance". I ask you to look at our daily impact on the planet and its peoples, and to take action to improve our environmental behaviour.
Although mountains have been revered since time began, such beliefs are no longer enough to preserve fragile mountain ecosystems, for the well-being of all. We face an immense challenge, the challenge of ensuring their stability and preservation for the generations to come.
Mountains are our water-towers. Mountains are a major source of energy. Mountains feed those living on them. Mountain ecosystems are linked to life in the lowlands, to freshwater and to the seas. Mountains are islands of rich biological and cultural diversity, home to unique plants, animals, languages and traditions
Sustainable development is a must. We need to combine the environmental dimension with social activity and economic development. This must be our common target, especially in mountain regions. Without sustainable development we cannot solve the problems. It is not enough to simply say we have a conservation plan for nature, and natural resources. We must give people a chance to live and survive in these regions, therefore we need jobs; we need a perspective for young people to remain there and not go to the big cities.
Mountains are virtual treasure chests of untapped economic potential - vital to sustainable development. This was recognized by the Earth Summit in Rio.
Mountains attract tourists, but tourism has to be well managed to minimize impact on sensitive mountain environments. Respect should be the byword of the tourists, and tour operators, that bring people into contact with local people and landscapes. The respect includes paying local people a decent wage, sourcing local food and materials where possible, and observing local customs, beliefs and traditions. Tourists are guests in other peoples' ecosystems and should behave as such. Mountains as a resource HAVE to be valued, and some of that value has to benefit mountain dwellers. Earnings from tourism should be shared equitably between all stakeholders.
Especially this year, the International Year of Ecotourism, every effort should be made to promote Ecotourism in mountains. For some communities and regions, sustainable tourism can be a first step towards sustainable development.
Let us hope that all societies will come to revere mountains, and thus be motivated to invest in them, preserve this unique asset, and in turn reap benefit from it.
On this World Environment Day let us all begin to act for the conservation not only of the mountains, but the sea, the land, water and the air too. Let us act to give the Earth a chance. An unpolluted pristine environment is vital to our survival, a precious resource, which will only endure if we Give Earth a Chance.
UNEP News Release 2002/44