Dr. Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director, United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)

“Sustainable development and principles of environmental protection must be clearly enshrined in the constitutional principles of the EU,” says UNEP Executive Director, Dr. Klaus Töpfer.

Isn’t there a trade-off between the EU’s ambitions to
become the world’s number one knowledge economy by 2010 and the
Sustainable Development Strategy?

The promotion of a “knowledge economy” by the EU
is rightly part of its overall strategy for sustainable development
both at home and abroad. Far from being a “trade off,” the
increased and appropriate use of new information and communication
technologies, whether in the business, government or civil sectors,
can, and will be, both good for the environment and good for
economic growth and development.

In Johannesburg, the EU has committed to promote
sustainable consumption and production. What initiatives can be
expected in the next few years on these issues?

Firstly, let me say that without the EU’s
support we would not have achieved the result in Johannesburg of
promoting a 10-year framework of programmes on the sustainable
consumption and production issue. In UNEP, one of our main goals
for the framework is to ensure an integrated approach, whereby
economic, environmental and social goals are all met. We cannot
expect business to produce cleaner products if there is no market
and we cannot expect consumers to consume differently if the
products are not there, or too expensive. Only by focusing on
stimulating both demand and supply, can we achieve successes in
this area, an approach that I hope the EU will adopt in the years
ahead.

After 2008, the international community will have to review
its goals for fighting global warming. According to some, cuts in
greenhouse gas emissions will have to be cut in a more considerable
way than defined in Kyoto. In the light of the difficulties to
merely implement the Kyoto objectives, how realistic is it that we
will be able to cut much further?

Europe has led the international community’s
fight against global warming, without doubt the most serious
environmental challenge facing the world today. Kyoto was a first,
and important step in a process. Already some EU member states have
committed themselves to going beyond the Kyoto targets, and with
such demonstrable political will I am convinced the battle to beat
climate change will be won.

The EU has pledged to help fight global poverty. To do
this, it will have to stimulate economic growth and development.
How can it guarantee that the economic development needed to fight
poverty does not lead to unsustainable consumption and production
lifestyles?

Consumption and production are at the heart of
sustainable development and the activities of producers and
consumers should be increasingly oriented towards sustainability,
and approach that allows developing countries to promote economic
growth and create meaningful jobs, without compromising the
environment. In addition, it is important for the EU to assess the
impact of its internal and external policy on sustainable
development. In this regard, UNEP is actively cooperating with DG
Trade on sustainability impact assessments of trade agreements with
some developing countries.

Which changes are needed in the institutional set-up of the
Union to ensure that sustainable development becomes more than a
fashion term?

The overarching goal of sustainable development
and principles of environmental protection must be clearly
enshrined in the constitutional principles of the EU. That is a
first and very necessary step. Then, if this principle is to be
promoted further, there is a need to ensure an institutional set-up
exists that does not allow one Member State to restrict the
environmental actions and progress of others.

Are the three elements of the “triple bottom line” really
equal? What about the fact that all production relies on natural
capital (as resources and sink functions)? Is environmental
sustainability a precondition to the other bottom lines?

< p align=”justify”>The three pillars of the ‘triple bottom
line’ are all equally important: the challenge we face is to ensure
a balanced integration between the three and promote a live-cycle
economy. Indeed, all production ultimately relies on the
environment and our natural capital. We need environment for
development. But economic development also critically relies on our
human capital. In a nutshell, it is not possible to achieve
environmental progress without sound economic and social policies.
The same holds for both economic and social progress.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe
Contribute