Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

Welcoming address

Richard A. Meganck

I feel greatly honoured to have been invited to address this distinguished gathering in Osaka on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Over the past 30 years we have observed in many parts of the world rapid population growth, mismanagement of land and water resources leading to low agricultural performance, and increasing environmental degradation. Are these disturbing trends connected? New studies confirm that they are. For example, Africa's population, agriculture, and environmental problems are strongly linked in a complex nexus that hinders development and threatens the region's food security, health, and natural resources. And just as the problems are connected, their solutions need to be integrated and mutually reinforcing to reverse this downward spiral.

For that reason, the importance of this Forum cannot be overemphasized. The stakes are high. They are nothing less than a sustainable future for humanity.

Two and a half years ago, heads of states attending the Earth Summit in Rio called for urgent action on sustainable development. Yet 30 months later, the primary message of the Earth Summit - the urgent call for action has been obscured by economic recession, fratricidal conflicts, natural and man-made disasters, and escalating poverty. Moreover, while the Earth Summit's Agenda 21 acknowledged the relationship between population, consumption, and natural resources, it failed to adopt the policies needed to address population growth and development. Now the challenge is to integrate UNCED with the outcomes of the United Nations' Cairo population conference. But we can redeem ourselves. A forum such as this one today that is being organised by the United Nations University and sponsored by

Obayashi Corporation provides us with the opportunity and the responsibility to answer that urgent call for action - and to advance the sustainable development agenda in a meaningful way.

Regardless of a country's level of development, population growth means increased energy use, increased resource consumption, and environmental stress. It cannot be clearer that we are draining our planet's ability to support ourselves.

For many of us living in developed countries, we are becoming well acquainted with population-related problems, whether we recognise them as such or not. Air and water pollution, difficulties in siting landfills, loss of migratory fish stocks, congested roads and waste in our cities are just symptoms of the problem of population growth.

For those living in developing countries, population growth affects the environment and quality of life in very basic ways. Rapid population growth increases pressure on resources, often forcing communities into unsustainable practices for the simple purpose of obtaining the food, fuel, and shelter needed to survive - literally forcing people into acts of environmental degradation.

Clearly, it is not an easy job to shape reasoned and responsible solutions to the most pressing problems of our time - population and consumption. The United Nations has devoted a series of conferences to this subject. This road actually started in Rio with the Earth Summit in 1992; from there it went in September last year to Cairo for the International Conference on Population and Development. The next stop was Copenhagen for the World Summit on Social Development last March; then it is on to Beijing for the World Conference on Women in September this year, and finally to Istanbul in June 1996 with a City Summit called Habitat II Conference.

This unprecedented continuum of conferences spans some of the most serious and pressing challenges of human security that will confront the world community in the new century. Cumulatively, the conferences already held and those still to take place have begun adopting a more holistic and humane approach towards our global problems, and towards the cooperative solutions they require.

The effects and endeavours of the United Nations University fit well into this concept. Its Programme on Environmentally Sustainable Development, the Zero Emissions Research Initiative, and the Global Environmental Fora all focus on global problems which require a vision and concerted effort to overcome. If overpopulation is, indeed, our greatest overall problem, then surely research, education, and training must be our most effective long-term weapons against it, for the elimination of deprivation and ignorance.

The United Nations Environment Programme's International Environmental Technology Centre - based here in Osaka and also in Shiga Prefecture would like to join forces with UNU and the experts assembled at this Forum to find answers on how to ensure the sustainability of development processes. The answers do not lie in an "end-to-development" philosophy, not in restrictions of the legitimate aspirations of developing nations, not through coercive policies or limitation of individual choice, and not in deepening ideological divisions.

Whether we focus on controlling unchecked rise in population growth or the unsustainable trends in land management or the resulting environmental changes, what is required is:

• a global commitment to action;
• the assumption of individual responsibility; and
• a return to the original meaning of the word "development" - meaning the unfolding of potential.

We at the International Environmental Technology Centre know that unfolding this potential means to address not only the scientific, technological, and economic aspects of global development problems, but also the human, social, and legislative issues involved. We try, bearing all these aspects in mind, to promote the utilisation of environmentally sound technologies in the hope of helping to create a more equitable and less wasteful society. I believe that the experience we have gained in Japan, in North America or western Europe through our own industrialisation histories, and the appropriate technology we have been able to develop in the process, may be of real assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Because mismanagement in our past world of modest population and limited technological power could be tolerated far more readily than it can in the crowded, high-tech global megalopolis of tomorrow, we have to do better, we urgently need new thinking.

It only remains for me to thank you all for your patience in listening to me. I wish the UNU Global Environmental Forum number IV every success, and I am convinced it will make a most valuable contribution to reversing the disingenuous spiral of population-environment linkages towards the direction of sustainability.

Contents - Previous - Next