UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Mostafa Tolba, an Egyptian scientist and former executive director of the U.N. Environment Program whose call for “development without destruction” helped bring about the agency he led for 17 years, died Monday at the age of 93, a U.N. official said.
Tolba died in a clinic in Geneva, said Achim Steiner, UNEP’s current executive director.
In 1972, Tolba headed Egypt’s delegation to a U.N. environmental conference in Stockholm, where his leadership helped bring about the establishment of a United Nations environmental agency. He would become its executive director in 1975 and lead UNEP for 17 years until 1992.
“His deep understanding of and commitment to the need for ‘development without destruction’ made a profound impact on the outcomes of the conference,” Steiner said in a statement.
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With UNEP’s headquarters established in Nairobi, Kenya, Tolba became deputy chief under Maurice Strong in 1973. Two years later, U.N. member states appointed him executive director.
As director, Tolba fostered the environmental agency’s most widely acclaimed success, the Montreal Protocol, a historic 1988 international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion. It stands as a precedent for preventive rather than corrective international environmental action.
At the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil, Tolba was at the helm of the negotiations when the Conventions on Climate Change and Biological Diversity were signed.
Tolba was born in Zifta north of Cairo, in 1922. He graduated with honors from Cairo University in 1943 and obtained his Ph.D. from Imperial College in London in 1948. He returned to Egypt to eventually become a professor in the Faculty of Science at Cairo University and established a school of microbiology there.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report.