In Memoriam – Mostafa Tolba, Former Executive Director of UNEP

Bonn, 29 March 2016 - On behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme I wish to express my condolences to the family of Dr. Mostafa Tolba and his worldwide network of friends.

Dr. Tolba passed away on 28 March at a clinic in Geneva.

We have lost a visionary leader and friend whose life and legacy have been truly exceptional. An accomplished scientist in his early professional years, Dr. Tolba led Egypt's delegation to the historic Stockholm Conference in 1972, hosted by the United Nations to forge a new global environmental agenda.

His deep understanding of and commitment to the need for ''development without destruction'' made a profound impact on the outcomes of the Conference, including the decision in Stockholm, to establish a new UN organization for the environment - the United Nations Environment Programme.

Dr. Tolba was a pioneer and 'man of the first hour'! Following the decision to establish UNEP's headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Tolba joined Maurice Strong - the first Executive Director of UNEP - as Deputy Executive Director in 1973. Two years later member states appointed Dr. Tolba as Executive Director - a position he held for 17 years.

During this period Dr. Tolba played a key role in developing the global environmental agenda and architecture that remains the foundation for environmental governance and diplomacy today.

Among the many highlights of his career the Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol stand out as examples of his far-sighted and groundbreaking leadership. Widely recognized as the most successful multilateral environmental agreement to date, it combined science, technology, finance and partnerships to enable the community of nations to phase out ozone depleting substances which had damaged our planet's vital ozone layer.

Dr. Tolba understood - both as a scientist and a citizen - that the world needed to evolve a new form of global environmental diplomacy - firmly rooted in science but cogniscent of the different realities and responsibilities of developed and developing nations.

UNEP's history and evolution - even beyond his tenure - are an expression of his profound understanding that the relationship between environment and development are inextricably linked to the human condition and would determine the prospects for development of future generations.

His energy, analytical clarity and thought leadership informed the global discourse on sustainable development for decades and could be seen by all when Dr. Tolba returned to UNEP's headquarters in Nairobi in February 2012, on the occasion of the organization’s 40th anniversary.

We bid farewell to one of 'our founding fathers' and great leaders of the global environment and sustainable development community. We do so with gratitude and respect and join his family and friends in mourning, but also in celebration of a life of service to people and the planet.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UNEP

Last updated on 29 March 2016

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