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UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize Opening Speech

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Once again it is my honour to introduce the presentation of the world’s most prestigious environmental award, the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize.

First, let me welcome and thank Mr. Shuichi Ohno, Director of International Affairs at the Nippon Foundation. The unwavering support of the Nippon Foundation since 1984 has enabled us to honour and highlight the work of twenty-eight outstanding individuals and institutions from around the world for their contributions to improving the environment on which we all depend.

In would also thank Lord Clinton-Davis, the Chairman of the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize Selection Committee and his eminent team for once again choosing a winner whose work stands as an inspiration to us all.

Inspiration and leadership is something that the world needs if it is to be able to follow the difficult path towards sustainable development. I am therefore also pleased to welcome tonight’s Pastrano Borrero lecturer, Mr. Jan Pronk. Mr. Pronk has consistently provided leadership, diplomacy, resolve and inspiration in the quest for sustainable development, especially during the difficult climate negotiations in The Hague, Bonn and Marrakech, and most recently as the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative at the World Summit for Sustainable Development.

I would also like to welcome Mr. Iqbal Riza who is tonight representing the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan. During his tenure Mr. Annan has been a true champion of sustainable development as well as of human rights and world peace. Documents such as his Millennium Report to the United Nations General Assembly and initiatives like the Global Compact have contributed greatly to putting the environment firmly on the international development agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Development that is environmentally sustainable is the core principle of the life’s work of tonight’s Sasakawa Environment Prize winner, Ashok Khosla.

As befits a UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize winner, the list of Ashok Khosla’s achievements is substantial.

In the 1960s, his academic work on the integration of economic activity, ecological security and social equity influenced world leaders and helped define many of the concepts that underlie today’s sustainable development agenda.

Then, in the 1970s, Dr Khosla was able to put theory into practice when he was invited to become the founding Director of the Government of India’s Office of Environmental Planning and Coordination—the first national environmental agency in a developing country.

Dr. Khosla’s promotion of environmental research, impact assessments and management plans not only helped the government and people of India to address the underlying environmental issues of a developing economy, it helped bring some of the root causes of environmental problems—like imbalances in global trade regimes—on to the international agenda.

Another of Dr. Khosla’s achievements from that time was the establishment of national databases and information systems to provide the basis for sound environmental management. The need for accurate, timely and relevant information cannot be emphasised enough, which is why it is a UNEP priority. It will probably come as no surpass to you, then, to learn that in 1975 Dr. Khosla went on from heading India’s Office of Environmental Planning and Coordination to help establish UNEP’s first global information system on the environment.

UNEP’s environmental information and assessment capability has grown significantly since Dr. Khosla was with us. The enhancement of environmental knowledge and understanding worldwide is something of which UNEP—and Dr. Khosla—can be rightfully proud.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is a saying that knowledge is power. By providing people with knowledge about their environment we are able to give them the power to influence their lives.

Empowerment is a theme which runs through Dr. Khosla’s career, especially in his work of the past two decades. Since 1983, Ashok Khosla has been addressing the fundamental issues of sustainable development in the most direct and practical way possible through his work as the leader of the Development Alternatives Group.

Development Alternatives’ goal is simple: to make environmentally sound development a good business proposition. Later in this afternoon’s programme you will have the opportunity to watch a short film about how Development Alternatives works with—and for—the rural poor of India, put together by another UNEP Sasakawa Prize Laureate, Barbara Pyle. I know you will find it inspirational.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In 1972, at the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment—which was the springboard for the founding of UNEP—India’s Prime Minister Indira Ghandi said that “poverty is the greatest polluter of all.”

Poverty degrades the environment. A degraded environment intensifies poverty. It is a vicious downward spiral.

For twenty years the Development Alternatives Group has been devising and implementing simple yet effective ways of breaking that spiral.

Sustainable development means meeting the basic needs of everyone. Sufficient food, clean water, adequate healthcare, opportunities for education and access to fundamental human rights are some of the prerequisites for a sustainable future. One way of achieving these basic aims is to provide people—especially women—with jobs that provide a decent income and give meaning and dignity to life.

Women who work are—often for the first time—able to take control over their own lives, to choose when to have babies, and to decide how many children to have. Usually the choice is to have less children, who can then be given a larger share of available resources and a hope of a better future.

When these goals are achieved through employment that is also environment-friendly, then it becomes possible to envisage a world of hope where before there was despair.

This is Dr’ Khosla’s dream. This is what Development Alternatives is about.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The combination of dedication and expertise shown by Dr. Khosla throughout his career make him a worthy candidate for the UNEP Sasakawa Prize. But there is something else which makes him a winner.

A mark of greatness is whether you can avoid making yourself indispensable. Ashok Khosla’s legacy is that he is creating technologies that will not only help change the lives of India’s poor, but which can be transported and replicated across the globe, wherever environmentally-friendly technologies can be appropriately applied. This encapsulates everything from building bricks that don’t need to be fired, thus saving valuable energy; to biodegradable fuel filters made in Development Alternatives’ factories from paper manufactured from recycled cotton waste.

These filters are now being used by Toyota and Mercedes—a wonderful example of a win-win solution that addresses the heart of the sustainable development conundrum, namely the poverty of the majority contrasted with the over-consumption of the wealthy minority.

I think I can safely say that most of the people in this room are in the latter category. We over-consumers also need help to change our lives. The value of people like Dr. Khosla is that they have the power to reach us all—the rural poor of countries like India, who need help in improving their livelihoods, and the wealthy of the developed world who also need help, in the form of inspirational examples as well as appropriate technology, to change ours.

The replicability and transferability of Dr. Khosla’s ideas are ultimately what will make the greatest impact. It is the generosity as well as the ingenuity of his vision that makes him a worthy addition to the distinguished list of UNEP Sasakawa laureates.

In honouring Dr. Khosla tonight, I hope we can all take some inspiration from his example and do something that will contribute to the good of all mankind.

Thank you.