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It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the Global Environmental Forum organized by the United Nations University. Although this is already the fourth Forum, it is the first one to be held in the Kansai region. Therefore, it is of special importance to us to address the audience here today.
As many of you realize, this conference was originally scheduled to be held on 19 January 1995, but the Great Hanshin Earthquake that occurred just two days earlier on the other side of Osaka Bay so tragically forced us to postpone the event. We sincerely regret the change in plans and any inconvenience it may have caused you. However, obviously the postponement of the Forum was only an insignificant consequence of the earthquake disaster that brought so much destruction and suffering to the inhabitants in the Kobe area.
Environmental issues and the quest for sustainable development are at the centre of international attention today. The global environment is under increasing stress due to human activities. The world is experiencing an unprecedented growth in human population, associated with rapid economic growth, industrialization, and urbanization. Environmental problems can be broadly divided into two types: those phenomena that are truly global, affecting the earth as a whole, such as global warming or the depletion of the atmospheric ozone layer; and those with more localized, yet severe effects. The latter are typically expressed in deforestation, loss of topsoils due to erosion, and the conversion of agricultural land to urban land uses. There is urgent need to improve mankind's understanding of these complicated phenomena and their complex interlinkages. Scientific knowledge is required to back up the concrete actions needed at local, regional, and global levels to halt environmental degradation and move towards sustainable development.
One of the main foci of the United Nations University's research and training programme is environment and sustainable development. Following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), or the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro three years ago, UNU appointed a high-level advisory team to prepare a plan of action for the University in response to the recommendations of the Earth Summit. The ensuing document, the UNU Agenda 21, defines the scope and focus of our environmental research and capacity-building activities in view of our specific strengths and comparative advantages, as well as the need for complimentarily and cooperation with other actors in the field.
Today's Forum is entitled "Population, Land Management, and Environmental Change," a title it borrows from a large international collaborative research programme carried out under UNU. The PLEC programme was initiated around two years ago to study the sustainability, or lack of it, of agricultural systems in smallholder areas in the tropical and subtropical parts of the world. These agricultural systems, essential for feeding an ever increasing population, are under severe pressure from multiple sources, including population growth, commercialization of the economy, and land-use changes. PLEC examines the impacts of land management practices on the sustainability of agricultural systems. It also studies the conservation of biological diversity in the managed agricultural ecosystems. The basic premise of the research is that many of the indigenous agricultural systems are highly adapted to the local ecosystems and are very conservation oriented. However, they are rapidly disappearing due to socio-economic changes in the society. The research programme works through a network of locally based research clusters around the world, covering a range of locations from the Brazilian Amazonia and the Caribbean, through West and East Africa, to South-East Asia. Key scientists involved in the PLEC programme are present here today and will give you more detailed information on the various aspects of research and the preliminary hypotheses and findings.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the role of our partners in organizing this Forum. UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, is our co-organizer. They have recently set up a new International Environmental Technology Centre here in Kansai, which will certainly play an important role in the transfer of environmental technologies and capacity building in developing countries. We also wish to thank the Global Environmental Centre Foundation for cooperating with us in making this Forum happen.
Last but not least, I wish to express our gratefulness to the sponsors of the UNU Global Environmental Forum series, Obayashi Corporation. Since 1991, Obayashi has supported UNU in the dissemination of research results on the important topics of global environmental change and sustainable development, and our cooperation has become an institutional feature in the UNU programme. It is our sincere hope that this cooperation will be carried on long into the future.
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