Following is the message of General Assembly President Razali Ismail (Malaysia), on the occasion of World Environment Day, 5 June:
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which was held in Stockholm 25 years ago, is arguably the most important "environmental" milestone in the history of the United Nations, and led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). After the Conference, the General Assembly designated 5 June as World Environment Day to deepen public awareness of the need to protect the environment. Other "eco-milestones" followed.
In 1992, a world conference, more commonly known as the Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The leaders of over 180 nations collectively took decisions that recognized the close connections between environment and development, poverty, resource use, peace and security. Unsustainable production and consumption patterns were identified as the principal cause of global environmental degradation, and a consensus emerged that environmental issues be treated as an integral part of the economic and development process. Thus was born the term "sustainable development", altering the conceptual and political debate about economic development forever.
We are five years down the road from Rio. In June, a special session of the General Assembly will review the implementation of sustainable development objectives. Measured against the urgency of the challenge, the progress achieved is universally and overwhelmingly disappointing -- made more so when one considers the explosion of knowledge about the demographic, social and economic factors that continue to threaten life on this planet, and knowing that comprehensive solutions are within our reach. Globalization only seems to distance ourselves from the centres of power where decisions are made, the promise of interdependence tempered by the perils of the market place.
So what has gone wrong? Has our motivation to meet the challenges of a viable and equitable balance between environment and development, and a
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sustainable future for the earth and its people evaporated? Or did we reach our peak by understanding the complexities and interrelations of the issues, only to fail because of political imperatives?
Perhaps it is time that we recognize the truth that no amount of money, awards and prizes, research, conferences or global agreements can arrest the inevitability of a deteriorating environment unless we adopt a substantially different manner of thinking and alter our individual behaviour. And this we need to do in all our guises -- as representatives of governments, scientists, consumers, members of the media, taxpayers, shareholders, workers, parents and children. The "environment" is not a new phenomenon. After all, conservation and sustainable use of resources was not discovered by human society this century. Indigenous peoples and societies who have lived in harmony with the land and the natural cycles of life -- although poor and marginalized -- developed complex and culturally enriched systems and cosmologies that ensured the protection of the environment for thousands of years. We have much to learn from them.
On this World Environment Day, we should make honest appraisals and recognize how much more we have to do and, on the part of human society, what necessary efforts we need to undertake, to make up and balance the liberties we have taken with the environment and the welfare of the planet, in the name of development and progress.
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