Klaus Töpfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, stressed the importance of global development in order to battle the environmental problems of the future in a lecture in Old North yesterday afternoon.

“I don’t believe we have an easy way to go,” he said. “It is a challenge.”

Töpfer, the former Minister of Environment in his home country of Germany, stated that the demand of his work is not to protect certain endangered plants or animals, but rather to help reach a state of economic development, social justice and environmental stability in all regions of the world.

Citing the poverty in many parts of the globe, Töpfer used diagrams to represent the disparity between population and gross domestic product within countries. A baby born in the United States will use 50 times more resources in their life than a baby born in India, he said.

Töpfer said that economic development is dependant upon financial, human and environmental capital, which are the pillars of the global economy intricate to preserving our natural resources and bringing about social justice.

Töpfer went on to discuss what has to be done in the future to minimize environmental deterioration and introduced the necessity of “re-investing” in a life cycle economy.

This life cycle development, rather than linear, will provide a way to preserve our resources and reduce the amount of refuse significantly.

One example of this system offered by Töpfer was the avoidance of the hazardous effects of unsalvageable cars, computers and televisions on our environment. He spoke of a plan to make the developers of these forms of “e-waste” responsible for taking back their products and finding a way to recycle them.

Over time, this structure will raise profits for companies and bring about a positive effect on the environment as a whole, he said.

Töpfer also said that the use of lead in the world poses a dangerous threat to societies and is something the UN is hoping to amend. Although its use has decreased greatly over the years as unleaded fuel is being popularized, leaded gasoline is still prominent in Africa.

Töpfer also expounded upon the problem of water in the environment. With a series of photographs, he depicted several instances of water depletion ranging from the polar ice-caps to Africa’s Lake Chad. In each of the sets of photos the level and area of water consistently decreased over the years.

In every large African city, no more than 50 percent of its pure water is retained after a cycle, he said, stressing the need for investments in developing water preservation systems and how the negative effects of not doing so could be disastrous.

Töpfer concluded that the young generation has a duty to work on the environmental problems of the future.

The lecture was sponsored by the Georgetown University Lecture Fund, Georgetown Center for the Environment and the Georgetown Program in Science, Technology and International Affairs in the School of Foreign Service.

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