Klaus Toepfer
Executive Director
United Nations Environment Programme

 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development

26 August 2002
Johannesburg, South Africa

Your Excellency President Mbeki, Mr. Nitin Desai, Secretary-General of the Conference, Honourable Ministers, distinguished delegates,

The World Summit on Sustainable Development in the city of Johannesburg represents a defining moment in the efforts of the international community to put our planet on a sustainable path for the future.  It is a defining moment for many reasons, but above all, as your Excellency reminded us, ten years ago when we met in Rio to embark on our journey as an international community on the path of sustainable development, South Africa was not among us.  At that time the vision of a free South Africa was still a dream.  Ten years later we are meeting to chart a new course under the leadership of a freely elected South African president, in this great country that has emerged as a strong and vibrant member of the international community.

Mr. President,

You have called the victory over apartheid and the emergence of a free, democratic and inclusive South Africa a "triumph of the human spirit" and indeed it is.  The eyes of the world are upon us here waiting for signs that we are able to bridge our differences.  That we are able to find the political will to achieve a meaningful agreement.  The transformation of our societies to achieve sustainability will be that very triumph of the human spirit that must be our beacon.

Since Rio we have achieved much.  New international legal instruments have been developed.  Awareness has increased and progress has been made at the national and international level in confronting environmental challenges and achieving sustainability.  At the same time new scientific evidence of the planetary dimensions of global environmental change has raised the need for a quantum increase in our efforts.  We have all agreed that this is the Summit of implementation, the Summit of accountability and of partnership.  We have all agreed that concrete implementation must be the focus of our work.  The time has come to translate our political commitment into action.  Implementation must be our target to fight poverty, for responsible prosperity for all human beings.

The UNEP Global Environment Outlook compiled as a result of the work of several hundreds of scientists around the world singled out the root causes of global environmental degradation.  These are embedded in social and economic problems such as pervasive poverty, unsustainable patterns of consumption and production and vast and increasing inequities in the distribution of wealth.  Our world is characterized by divided and dysfunctional cities, dwindling water supplies and potential conflict over scarce resources and the accelerating loss of the environmental capital that underpins life on Earth.  We suffer from problems of planetary dimensions.  They require global responses.  Investing in sustainable development will be investing in the future security of us all.

Just as unsustainable patterns of development result in environmental degradation, negative environmental trends impact most severely on the poor, on those most poorly equipped to deal with them and often those who have the least responsibility for causing them.  We recognize the integral relationship between environment and development.  Therefore we have undertaken our preparation for the Summit under the clear theme "Environment for Development".  In this regard, we must recognize that the international system still has a long way to go in integrating the three pillars of sustainable development throughout its activities.  We must especially give attention also to the social dimension and the role of women in society.  A society that is unable to live in the expectation of basic social services, employment and health cannot be a sustainable society.  We must continue to pursue the advances we have already made in including civil society organization at all levels in our future work.  We must challenge the private sector to transform itself.  And, we must find ways to use science and technology in more creative ways.

Mr. President,

Recently we have witnessed extreme and increasingly frequent weather events such as the drought afflicting Southern Africa resulting in the worst food crisis in a decade threatening 13 million poor people.  The recent floods in Europe and Asia have devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands.  More than ever before, this brings the need for a global response into perspective.  We cannot afford to fail those millions of victims of unsustainable patterns of development.  We cannot afford to leave this great Summit with the feeling that our differences did not allow us to confront this great challenge of our times.  It is the responsibility of each and every one of us here to work under your leadership, your Excellency.  In two weeks time, we must leave this city and country of beauty and hospitality with an outcome worthy of the triumph of the human spirit achieved by the people of South Africa.  This here is the opportunity for us to prove that the reinvigoration of international solidarity and partnership that we all talk of is not merely a pious wish.  That will be our thanks for the great hospitality and friendship we received in this city and meeting.

Mr. President,

South Africa realized its dream of freedom.  We must realize the dream of environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development, of responsible prosperity for all.  We all attach the greatest importance to the success of this Summit.  Let us pledge to provide our total support to you, the Secretary-General of the WSSD, my friend and colleague Nitin Desai, to the host country and to the Conference to achieve that success.

Thank you.