UNEP Leader Warns of ‘Cold War’ Between Rich and Poor Countries

Published April 1, 1999

On Resource Depletion

“I’m completely convinced that in the future, there will be a very concentrated conflict over the use of limited natural resources.”

“We need what others have called an efficiency revolution: an increase in energy efficiency, of water efficiency, and of land and natural resources efficiency.”

“Donella Meadows’ wonderful book, Limits to Growth, encouraged us all to ask how we can decouple those interrelated trends–how can we decouple population growth and economic growth from environmental burdens?”

On Free Trade

“We started the outstanding activity . . . to fight against this incredible neocolonial approach of export of hazardous waste.”

“We have to block this export practice, to ban the export of hazardous waste.”

On Global Warming

“. . . [H]opefully, there will be no reasonable argument in the future that there is not really a change in climate from greenhouse emissions; that we are all really convinced that the scientists are right; that yes, we are changing the climate by human activities. . . . It is absolutely time to act because there are repercussions in the change of climate now.”

On International Relations

“Kamal Nath, former environment minister of India, once told me that it is really imperialism to have the same economic necessities linked with the use of the environment in developing countries as you have in the developed countries, because developed countries developed their economic strength by subsidizing production via nature. The developing nations do not have all the wonderful technical solutions and other features as when developed nations started their economic development. So they cannot have the same path to development.”

“On the other side, we have over-consumption in developed countries, which means there’s a lot of environmental problems exported–a ‘beggar my neighbor’ policy to developing nations. It is a very difficult situation. I once mentioned on going to Rio that we are facing a great danger–that we have come to a new cold war, to a cold war between the developing and developed countries.”

From “UNEP Helmsman Topfer Addresses Environmental Challenges,” an interview conducted by Kellyn Betts in October 1998 and published in Environmental Science & Technology, January 1, 1999.