G8 Summit will have to make tough decisions to protect the environment

Difficult decisions need to be taken during the G8 Summit in Okinawa, Japan if it is to be a landmark event for the environment and global sustainable development, says Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The two main global environmental threats facing the world today, according to Toepfer, are poverty in the developing world, combined with unsustainable production and consumption patterns in developed countries. These two problems, says Toepfer, are behind the key global environmental issues on the Summit agenda, such as climate change and the sustainable use of the Earth’s forest and water resources.

“Today, the gap between the rich and poor in countries and among countries is wider than ever before – a gap that fuels many of the economic, social and environment issues on the table in Okinawa,” said Toepfer. “This gap will not be closed until poverty, the number one obstacle to sustainable development, is addressed.”

Though debt-relief is a high profile method of tackling poverty, Toepfer also hopes to see less prominent sustainable development issues being discussed. These include the greening of export credit agencies, which finance billions of dollars worth of projects in developing countries.

“Large infrastructure projects in developing countries, such as dams or roads, whose finance is often made possible by an exporting country’s export credit agency can have potential negative environmental impacts,” said Toepfer. “Therefore, the development of stronger environmental assessment procedures and guidelines for ECAs are essential. UNEP, in co-operation with its partner agencies in the UN system, stands ready to assist in their development in any way we can.”

The World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington DC based body providing solutions to global environmental problems, has welcomed the G8 Summit leaders’ call for action in bridging the global digital divide between rich and poor nations.

“While there are many philanthropic initiatives to bridge the digital divide, this conference is the only one that approaches it from a business point of view,” said Dr Allen Hammond, WRI Senior Scientist. “Using market forces to create social and environmental benefits may be the fastest way to close the digital divide.”

Potential dividends, says WRI, include the provision of billions of people with access to educational and health services, boosting incomes, stimulating economic opportunity, and creating the tools to manage natural resources more sustainably.

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