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Poverty, environment and globalization all major issues, UNEP head says

Poverty, environment and globalization all major issues, UNEP head says

The head of the United Nations environment agency has urged flexibility in tackling the challenges of poverty alleviation, environmental protection and managing economic globalization.

Speaking yesterday in Bangkok to an audience of leading thinkers from the Asia-Pacific region, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said these were critical areas for re-analysis, creativity and action in the lead up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) this August in Johannesburg, South Africa.

There are already signs that environmental issues, poverty and sustainable development moved towards the centre of the international trade debate following last November’s World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, Mr. Toepfer told the Asia-Pacific Forum on Environment and Development.

“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 said.

Much more detailed work was needed, however, on further integration of the WTO’s rules and those of multilateral environmental agreements on climate change, biodiversity, biosafety and chemicals, Mr. Toepfer added.

“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,” he said. “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.’”

In response to demands of developing countries for specific capacity building activities in this complex, political area, UNEP has joined with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to create 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 manage them.