He graduated from Mainz, Frankfurt and Munster in 1964 with a degree in Economics. From 1965 to 1971 he was a Research Assistant at the Central Institute for Spatial Research and Planning at the University of Münster, where he graduated in 1968 with a PhD in “Regional development and location decision.”
From 1971 to 1978 he was Head of Planning and Information in the State of Saarland, as well as a visiting Professor at the Academy of Administrative Sciences in Speyer. During this period he also served as a consultant on development policy on the following countries Egypt, Malawi, Brazil and Jordan. From 1978 to 1979 he was Professor and Director of the Institute for Spatial Research and Planning at the University of Hannover.
In 1985 he was appointed by the University of Mainz Economics Faculty as an Honorary Professor. He has since 2007 been a Professor of Environment and Sustainable Development at Tongji University, Shanghai. He is also a visiting Professor at the Frank-Loeb Institut, University of Landau.
Klaus Töpfer is a member of the CDU party in Germany and has been since 1972. He is the former Minister for Environment and Health, Rheinland-Pfalz (1985-1987). He was Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety from 1987 to 1994 and Federal Minister for Regional Planning, Housing and Urban Development from 1994-1998. He was also a member of the German Bundestag during the period 1990 to 1998.
He has received numerous awards and honors, including in 1986, the Federal Cross of Merit and in 2008 the German Sustainability Award for his lifetime achievement in the field of sustainability. He received the German Award for Culture 2010 and the Wilhelmine von Bayreuth Award in 2012. In 2012 he has been inducted in the “Kyoto Earth Hall of Fame”.