U.N. Environment Chief Tells G8 It Pays to Protect Forests, Coastlines
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. environment chief has a message for leaders of the world's major industrialized nations: scientists have shown that it pays to preserve forests, coastal waters and marshes.
Klaus Toepfer made the case that investing in the environment will go a long way toward meeting U.N. goals to reduce poverty, supply clean drinking water and fight the spread of infectious diseases.
"Our motto is environment for development," he said in an interview last week.
The Group of Eight meets in Scotland on Wednesday and will address global warming and climate change -- and Toepfer expressed hope that the leaders will see the link between this critical issue and development.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is hosting the summit, wants an agreement among G-8 leaders on the scientific threat posed by global warming and the urgent need for action.
But the United States rejects the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for cutting carbon dioxide and other gas emissions believed to contribute to global warming. President Bush has called for shifting the debate away from limits on greenhouse gas emissions to new technology that would reduce environmental damage without restricting energy use.
Toepfer, who heads the Nairobi-based U.N. Environment Program, said scientific data show that destruction of the environment is a direct cause of many problems faced in the world today -- including poverty, declining health, hunger, undrinkable water, disease, migration from rural to urban areas, and conflict.
"So the environment is not a luxury, not a Gucci accessory bag or a fancy silk tie affordable only when all other issues have been resolved," he told a U.N. ministerial meeting last week. "It is the oxygen breathing life into all the goals. It is the red ribbon running around our common aspirations for a healthier, more stable and just world."
Toepfer said the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment -- a recent study compiled by 1,360 scientists from 95 nations who pored over 16,000 satellite photos from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and analyzed statistics and scientific journals -- underscored that the environment is critically important for development.
The study found that humans had depleted 60 percent of the world's grasslands, forests, farmlands, rivers and lakes. It also found that 12 percent of birds, 23 percent of mammals, 25 percent of conifers and 32 percent of amphibians are threatened with extinction -- and that the world's fish stocks have been reduced by 90 percent since the start of industrial fishing.
Source: Associated Press