Global Cooperation Urgent Toepfer Tells Clean Air Congress

SEOUL, Korea, August 28, 2001 (ENS) - It is often hard for people to understand that the atmosphere can be pushed beyond its limit to absorb wastes, said Klaus Toepfer, United Nations under-secretary general and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

In Seoul to attend the 12th World Clean Air and Environment Congress Monday, Toepfer told reporters that the compromise agreement on the Kyoto Protocol at Bonn's climate change meeting last month represents significant progress.


UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer (Photo courtesy IISD)
"It recognizes that the Earth's atmosphere is not a dustbin into which limitless amounts of pollution can be poured. It also established the mechanisms to set a price on carbon emissions," he said.

Atmospheric contamination must be urgently addressed, said Toepfer. "It is a resource we are entirely dependent on. We each take about 20,000 breaths a day, processing about 13,500 litres of air."

The International Union of Air Pollution Prevention and Environmental Protection Association World Congress has been held every three years since 1966. Toepfer delivered a keynote address to delegates from over 50 countries at the Congress, which has the theme Greening the New Millenium.

The conference participants considered trans-boundary air pollution today. They will focus on the health effects of air pollution on Wednesday, and global warming on Thursday. Friday will be taken up with a roundtable and technical discussion on international cooperation to limit air pollution.

Toepfer met with government and non-government leaders during his two-day visit to Seoul. The Republic of Korea is a good setting to get an understanding of the vital issues facing the globe Toepfer said. "It sits at a major geographical, ideological and cultural crossroads where the forces of economic globalization are intersecting. And it clearly shows that careful stewardship of environmental resources is critical for our collective future."

"The Korean Ministry of Environment's support for UNEP's Air Pollution in the Megacities of Asia project is a good example of the ways practical tools for improving air quality can be transferred to urban managers, industry and citizens," said Toepfer.


Bright lights surround the Han Nam Bridge Ferry, Seoul, Korea (Photo courtesy City of Seoul)
Toepfer said the Kyoto climate agreement is just a beginning towards the stabilizing of carbon dioxide levels and addressing climate change, and an important trigger for the decarbonization of the economy. This is particularly important in Asia where energy demand is expected to double every 12 years; over twice the global rate of increase.

Toepfer said that soon one half of Asia's people would live in cities. Yet 10 of Asia's 11 largest cities currently exceed World Health Organization guidelines for particulate matter by a factor of three; four exceed the acceptable lead level; and three exceed acceptable ozone and sulfur dioxide levels.

The process of preparing for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa next year is allowing many citizens groups, governments and industry sectors to reflect on the current environmental, economic and social situation and the implications of business as usual, said Toepfer.

"It is very clear," he said, "that we need to redirect much of our economic investment and our scientific research and technology development towards meeting the goal of sustainable development."

"We established this goal in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago and the ways to get there in Agenda 21, but we need to define the steps and the institutional support required in more practical and committed ways."

"It is only when we factor in the true costs of emitting greenhouse gases, or any other pollutant into the environment," Toepfer said, "will we be able to create the conditions for sustainable development."