Klaus Töpfer: The Legacy of a Visionary

Former German Federal Minister, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and CSCP co-founder, Klaus Töpfer passed away in June 2024 at the age of 85. His visionary, uncompromised, lifelong commitment to a sustainable future where everyone can live a fulfilling life remains a strong legacy for generations to come.

After serving as Minister for the Environment at the German Federal Government (1987-1984), Klaus Töpfer came into international prominence as the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, which he led for eight years (1998-2006). Under his tenure, the UNEP reached remarkable milestones, from signing breakthrough international agreements such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants to establishing the Global Annual Ministerial Environment Forum. Töpfer was instrumental in the work up leading to the Kyoto Protocol on climate in 2005.

In Germany, Mr. Töpfer employed his skilled leadership to build bridges and facilitate dialogue between different political and societal groups. He helped move sustainability from the niche to the centre of political discourse and established a common understanding of environmental protection as a cross-party and nonpartisan duty.

Internationally, he was a pioneer of proposing the idea of human and planetary interests as intrinsically linked, therefore mobilising action for environmental protection. He was an advocate for the Global South, a champion in combating poverty in developing countries, and a strong voice for environmental protection in neglected areas of the world.

He was an optimist, igniting confidence that every challenge could be tackled and overcome with good will and determination.

Klaus Töpfer supported the setup of the CSCP in 2005, playing a central role in shaping it into an organisation that would help close the gap between knowledge generation and implementation on the ground.

As we commemorate his life, we are reminded of the values and principles that he lived by and helped spearhead with his work. We remain inspired by his work and approach and are committed to doing everything in our power to drive collaborations that lead to impactful solutions toward greater social and environmental sustainability.