Klaus Toepfer, who led the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) over an eight-year period that saw environmental sustainability become central to international development goals, bid farewell to the agency today during ceremonies in Nairobi.

Mr. Toepfer's tenure was noted for the increased importance given to environmental considerations by the international community, UNEP said. The importance of environment for development became central to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed to at the 2000 World Summit to reduce extreme poverty and other global ills by 2015.

When that focus was reaffirmed at the 2005 World Summit, Mr. Toepfer noted the environment "is not a luxury good, only affordable when all other problems have been solved. It is the oxygen that breathes life into all our aspirations for a healthier, fairer and more stable world."

Among the milestones of Mr. Toepfer's time at UNEP are a number of important environmental agreements, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which addresses issue of genetically modified organisms, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. He was also closely involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations in support of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which entered into force in February 2005 after Russia's ratification papers were handed to the UN Secretary-General at UNEP headquarters in November 2004.

In addition, Mr. Toepfer's term saw the establishment of the annual Global Ministerial Environment Forum, which is tasked by the UN General Assembly to review important and emerging environmental issues, as well as an expanded role for UNEP at the national level with the adoption of the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity Building in 2005.

Mr. Toepfer's successor as UNEP Executive Director is Achim Steiner, currently Director General of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). He will start his term of office as UNEP's fifth Executive Director on 15 June 2006. In the intervening period, UNEP's Deputy Executive Director, Shafqat Kakakhel, will serve as acting Executive Director.