Achim Steiner Chosen for Top United Nations Environment Job

NEW YORK, New York, March 17, 2006 (ENS) – Achim Steiner, the head of the world’s largest environmental network, was elected by the United Nations General Assembly Thursday to be the next executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Steiner is the director-general of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), which has over 1,000 members that include states, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations in 140 countries.

A German national who was recommended to the General Assembly by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Steiner is expected to begin his four-year term on June 15.

He comes to the position following the two-term tenure of Klaus Toepfer, a former German environment minister, who decided not to seek a third term.


The news of his election as UNEP executive director reached Achim Steiner in Mexico City where he is attending the 4th World Water Forum. (Photo courtesy Leila Mead/IISD)

"He has worked both at grassroots level and at the highest levels of international policymaking to address the connections between environmental sustainability, social equity, and economic development," a UN spokesman said Wednesday in announcing Steiner’s nomination by the secretary-general.

Extending "warm" congratulations to his successor, Toepfer said he is "an outstanding individual among a field of outstanding candidates."

"I am delighted that Achim Steiner has accepted this important international post at an organization that has a key role in delivering sustainable development, fighting poverty, realizing social justice and achieving stability in the 21st century," Toepfer said.

"I am convinced that choosing Achim Steiner will prove to be a great decision bringing youth, dynamism, intellect and a deeply held commitment to environment and sustainable development issues," said Toepfer. "In addition, his breadth of experience with intergovernmental organizations and negotiations, civil society, scientists and private business will build on UNEP’s evolving networks with and beyond governments."


Outgoing UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer extended his service by two months to give the UN time to choose his successor. (Photo courtesy Leila Mead/IISD)
"On a personal note, I would like to add that I have known Achim Steiner for many years and consider him a good and solid friend whose charm, sense of humor and warmth will stand him in good stead over the challenging years ahead," Toepfer said.

In a statement Thursday, the IUCN welcomed Steiner's selection for the UN's top environmental position.

"On behalf of the Union, I congratulate Achim. He has led the organization with remarkable vision and energy, and has helped rethink, reinvigorate and reposition the Union over the past five years, leaving it stronger than ever," said IUCN president Valli Moosa, a former South African environment minister.

"It is significant that his exceptional talents are now put at the disposal of UNEP, which we have always considered as our sibling organization in the fight for a greener and fairer planet," said Moosa. "While we may lose an outstanding Director General, we will be gaining an excellent partner."


Achim Steiner has addressed the UN General Assembly on several occasions, most recently in September 2005. (Photo courtesy IUCN)
Prior to taking the helm of the IUCN in 2001, Steiner served as head of the World Commission on Dams, the chief technical advisor of a program for sustainable management of Mekong River watersheds, and as senior policy advisor of IUCN’s Global Policy Unit, where he developed partnerships between the environmental community, the World Bank and the UN system.

In 1961, Steiner was born in Brazil, where he lived for 10 years. His educational background includes a BA from the University of Oxford as well as an MA from the University of London with specialization in development economics, regional planning, and international development and environment policy. He also studied at the German Development Institute in Berlin as well as the Harvard Business School.

Steiner serves on a number of international advisory boards including the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development and the Environmental Advisory Council of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Based in Nairobi, Kenya, the UN Environment Programme oversees many environmental partnerships and initiatives including - treaties on climate change, biological diversity, endangered species, chemicals, and the ozone layer, as well as programs to preserve the world's great apes, conserve mountainous regions, and assess environmental damage left after conflicts.