Klaus Töpfer, former Under Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) is one of the most renowned environmental politicians in the world, known internationally for his personal commitment to promote environment and sustainable development and to fight for the cause of the developing world.
Klaus Töpfer is widely recognized and respected as having spearheaded environmental policy as Minister of Environment in his home country Germany. He introduced ground breaking environmental regulations and laws such as the law on the life-cycle economy and the packaging recycling system “Green dot”. He also initiated several laws to ban the use of environmentally harmful substances such as CO2 and ozone depleting substances. He actively contributed to the success of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and was a forerunner in the negotiations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the establishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
In 1998 he became Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON). He was also appointed Acting Executive Director of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (formerly UNCHS/Habitat, now UNHabitat) from July 1998 to August 2000.
During his tenure of Executive Director of UNEP he restructured the organization under five priority areas; environmental assessment & early warning, development of policy instruments, cooperation between environmental fields, industry & technology commercialization and aiding the Africa plan. Due to his hard work, World Summit was successfully held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Dr. Klaus Töpfer was also closely involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations in support of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and promoted the establishment of Global Environment Fund (GEF).
Since 2007 Klaus Töpfer has been professor for Environment and Sustainable Development at the Tongji University in Shanghai. The Tongji University is listed as one of the most prestigious universities in China today and still stands for a close, successful, scientific and cultural collaboration between Germany and China.
In February 2009 Professosr Töpfer was appointed as the founding chairman for the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam (Germany), which was founded in 2007 by the German science organisation, in order to create an interdisciplinary, interactive and international institute for sustainability research in Germany and extend Germany’s leading role with regards to sustainability.
As a firm believer in social market economy, his vision is to make environment work to improve the lives of present and future generations. Environment should not be seen as an impediment for economic development. Quite the contrary; protection of natural resources and regulations on the use of harmful substances trigger technology development and create new markets and jobs. Klaus Töpfer believes that environment policy is the peace policy of the future. It is crucial that we create a culture of cooperation and mutual respect between north and south, rich and poor if we want to avoid ever growing tensions in a world where water and other vital resources can no longer be taken for granted.
After the tragic disaster in Fukushima in March 2011, Professor Töpfer was appointed as chairman for the ethics commission for a secure energy supply by the German chancellor Angela Merkel, in order to consider technical and especially ethical issues of nuclear energy. As a goal for the commission, the government preset that a social consensus for the nuclear phase-out and the transition into renewable energies has to be prepared. Professor Töpfer advocates that the transitioning phase into renewable energies can be completed in a shorter period of time than initially thought. The decision by the government to go for the nuclear phase-out is described by him as brave and as a new industrial revolution, which brings plenty of opportunities to show the rest of the world how an important industrial and export-oriented country such as Germany can maintain and even improve its strong position, if it decides to abandon nuclear energy. His attitude towards renewable energies is also reflected in his activities as ambassador for the DESERTEC project, which is devoted to develop and construct thermal power plants, wind energy and photovoltaic systems for the production of electricity in the North-African deserts.
Klaus Töpfer is the recipient of several honours including the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1986), the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1989), and the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1997 and 1998 he was bestowed Honorary Professor of Tongji University, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China and Honorary Doctor of the Technical University of Brandenburg, Cottbus, Germany. In 2002 he became Honorary Doctor of the Free University of Berlin and of the University of Essen. In 2002 he was awarded the Bruno H. Schubert Environment Prize and the German Environment Prize which is held to be the most prestigious such prize in Europe. In 2006, the Chinese Government granted the “Friendship Award” to Dr. Klaus Töpfer and in November 2009 he was honoured for his high dedication for environmental protection in Shanghai and appointed as an honorary citizen.
He holds a doctorate in Philosophy and a degree in Economics.