UN: Environmental Protection Enhances Economic Development

NEW YORK, New York, December 18, 2006 (ENS) - Egypt, Peru, Vietnam, and Mongolia are among the countries putting the environment at the core of their plans to cut poverty by 2015, according to a report issued Friday by two United Nations agencies. Environmental sustainability and economic development work best when they are linked, the report demonstrates by documenting progress in 158 countries.

The UN Development Programme, UNDP, in partnership with the UN Environment Programme, UNEP, compiled the report on the progress developing countries are making towards realization of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

In an attempt to alleviate poverty by 2015, the international community adopted the Millennium Declaration in September 2000, which outlines the Millennium Development Goals.

The eight Goals - which range from halving extreme poverty to achieving environmental sustainability, from halting the spread of HIV/AIDS to providing universal primary education - form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s governments and development institutions.


Kemal Dervis of Turkey took over as head of the United Nations Development Programme, the UN's global development network, in August 2005. (Photo courtesy UNDP)
"A healthy, sustainable environment is a vital national asset and when it is eroded, the poorest people suffer the most," said UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis.

"This report highlights the progress of some countries towards more environmentally sustainable development planning but it also presents a harsh reality - if our delicate ecosystems are not firmly at the heart of all national plans to reduce poverty, then all other efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 will be undermined," Dervis said.

Of the 158 countries reviewed, 85 countries, 54 percent, have set at least one country specific environmental target - a greater proportion than in the previous three years.

Targets on access to water and sanitation are most likely to be tailored, with 58 countries setting at least one tailored target, often with a specific focus on rural populations.


More than 300 primary schools in Upper Egypt will benefit from clean water, sanitation and better hygiene education due to a new partnership between the Egyptian Ministry of Education, USAID and UNICEF. April 2006. (Photo courtesy UNICEF)
In Egypt, where protecting the environment is a priority for the country’s eco-tourism industry, the government is monitoring and reporting progress on water access, waste management and land degradation, with a view to ensuring it understands what still needs to happen to reach the Millennium Development Goals, and sets targets accordingly.

Albania, Buthan, Lesotho, Nepal, Syria, Thailand and Vietnam were also cited among the leaders by the report.

But unless more governments take more ambitious steps to protect the natural world, overall development goals will be jeopardized, the report cautions.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "Achievement of environmental sustainability is not only a national concern but one with significant international dimensions. Countries, by mainstreaming environment into poverty reduction and development strategies, can achieve a great deal."


Achim Steiner of Germany took over as UNEP Executive Director in June 2006. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
But Steiner says more needs to be accomplished. "National environmental degradation, and conversely environmental sustainability, is also inextricably linked with trading regimes, economic instruments and the values placed on nature-based goods and services within a globalized world," he said.

Reporting must be improved, the report's findings suggest. Only eight of the 158 countries report on all global indicators. Indicators related to water and forests have the highest rates of reporting, with 138 countries reporting on water and 133 countries reporting on forests.

Lack of political will, pressure on environmental resources from high use and natural disasters, insufficient governance and planning policies, social unrest and lack of financial resources are among the challenges contributing to lack of environmental sustainability, according to the report.

One of the main challenges is lack of coordination among internal authorities stemming from an unclear definition of roles and responsibilities. Collaboration among the donor community also presents difficulties in terms of country priorities versus those of the donor community, the authors state.

The report’s authors, led by Linda Ghanime, UNDP environmental operations and policy advisor, stress that the best progress is made when countries first adopt the principle of environmental sustainability, and then adapt their development plans to their own specific ecosystems.

Deforestation is a major challenge in Kenya, for example, where poor people chop down trees as their only source of fuel for cooking and heating. As part of its plan to reach the Millennium Development Goals, the Kenyan government proposes to protect at least 3.5 percent of its forested area by 2008 and introduce renewable options like solar energy to the rural population.


A mine detection dog and its handler at work in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Photo courtesy U.S. State Department Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs)
The conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s left behind an explosive set of environmental challenges.

Between 75 and 80 percent of identified minefields, covering about five percent of the country’s overall land surface, have yet to be cleared. The mines are damaging to the environment and their presence means that access to safe, productive land on which the country’s citizens can earn a living is restricted. 

As part of its planning to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina is working to increase the percentage of de-mined land from five percent of the minefields in 2000 to 36 percent in 2007 and 80 percent in 2015.

"Together and as part of UN reform," Steiner said, "UNEP and UNDP can be a catalyst for drawing together and weaving these national and international threads into a seamless whole. Together we can play a big part towards achieving environmental sustainability and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals."

The report, which drew financial support from the governments of Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom, is part of a wider group of services designed by UNDP to help developing countries prepare national plans to reach the Millennium Development Goals on time.

The report, entitled "Making Progress on Environmental Sustainability: Lessons and recommendation from a review of over 150 MDG country experiences," is online at: http://www.undp.org/energyandenvironment/index.html