All social sectors -- from private to public to civil society -- must cooperate to implement Agenda 21, speakers told the General Assembly this morning as it continued its debate on implementation of the recommendations of the 1992 Rio Conference on environment and development. Protection of the planet needed action on the global level, not just local and national initiatives, it was said. National selfishness must not supplant international partnership.
Several speakers noted that, worldwide, foreign investment had replaced overseas development assistance in amount and frequency. Yet, foreign investment was not an appropriate replacement for overseas development assistance. Based on economic, rather than developmental, objectives, such investment necessarily yielded selective benefits. For example, though several least developed countries were following liberal policies and had open economic systems, business capital flow had not been forthcoming.
Innovative ideas were needed to raise funds for environmental protection and sustainable development. One speaker suggested that the international community could impose a $1 per ticket levy on tickets for international air flights, raising a billion dollars a year.
The Vice-President of the Dominican Republic and the chairmen of the delegations of Nepal, Ecuador and Samoa spoke in the debate this morning, as did the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Environmental and Regional Development of Latvia.
In addition, the Assembly heard statements from the Minister of the Environment of Liechtenstein; the Minister of the Environment and Forest Resources of Togo; Minister of Land Management and the Environment of Burundi; Minister of State for Works and Housing of Nigeria; Minister of the Environment and Forest of Bangladesh; Minister of the Environment and Nature Conservation of Senegal; Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Environment of Cape Verde; and the Minister of Public Enterprise Sector, Administrative Development and Environmental Affairs of Egypt.
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Statements were also made by the Minister of Health and the Environment of Barbados; the Minister for Environment of Pakistan; Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment of Malaysia; and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Uganda. The Vice-Minister of the Environment of Angola and the Vice-Minister of National Resources and the Environment of Honduras also made statements.
The Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and the President of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature/The World Conservation Union also addressed the Assembly this morning.
The Assembly will meet again this afternoon at 3 p.m. to resume its general debate.
Special Session Work Programme
The general debate of the nineteenth session of the General Assembly resumed this morning, as the session moved into its fourth day. Delegates are reviewing implementation of the programme of action adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and known as Agenda 21.
JAIME DAVID FERNANDEZ, Vice-President of Dominican Republic: The basic requirement for achieving sustainable development is the elimination of poverty. The Dominican Republic has been implementing programmes designed to generate employment and food security. Curricular and non-formal educational activities are being introduced to enhance awareness of environmental issues. Public and private sectors must both be involved in environmentally responsible behaviour.
Foreign debt is a major obstacle to the country's development progress. There needs to be a way to generate wealth in developing countries. Sustainable development is built from the bottom up. The Government of the Dominican Republic is developing provincial development counsels. It has initiated a national plan to improve the conditions of rural people and develop resources in a sustainable manner. Natural resources are tourist attractions which constitute the nation's most important economic activity. Combined efforts are required to avoid polluted waste being dumped into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Environment knows no boundaries.
NORBERT MARXER, Minister of Environment, Liechtenstein: Today we are further away from the global turnaround that is needed in order to achieve sustainable development than we were five years ago. The final documents of Rio need to be reaffirmed as the foundations and long-term policy framework for sustainable development. We have identified the human activities whose uncontrolled expansion affect the ecological balance. We have found ways of following with decisive and clearly targeted steps the path of sustainable development. The Government of Liechtenstein is ready to shoulder its part of the common responsibility for the integrity of the global environment, development and peace.
Liechtenstein considers some areas crucial in attaining our common goal, attaching the utmost importance to a comprehensive and coherent energy policy. Energy issues are at the heart of current endeavours to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. All industrialized countries should commit themselves to substantial reduction targets and timetables as soon as possible. In the area
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of transport, efficiency gains are immediately offset by volume increases, with major impact on the environment. We support strengthening the regional dimension of the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development. Allocating financial resources, and promoting technology transfer and capacity-building are the most important elements in implementing the principles of Agenda 21 in developing countries and countries with economies in transition.
YAO KOMLAVI, Minister of the Environment, Togo: The new Constitution of Togo provides for sustainable development, and environmental concerns have been integrated into a new national code. The national committee for the environment -- a national-level version of the Commission on Sustainable Development -- will begin its operations in July of next year. A national reforestation programme will also begin next year. Togo has been able to mobilize its environmental programmes because of the partnership between Government and civil society and through national education campaigns. Because of economic difficulties, the people of Togo tend to over-exploit the environment as a means of survival.
The plan of action which emerges from the special session should outline realistic and viable projects, scheduled over five years, and guided by a mid- term review. The Assembly should give serious consideration to the document which was drafted by African ministers of the environment in Burkina Faso in March of this year. The international community should view the environmental crisis as a genuine human emergency. The fate of the rich man, in that regard, is the same as that of the poor.
SAMUEL BIGAWA, Minister of the Environment, Burundi: The link between the environment and development will determine the future preservation of the planet. Burundi has developed a national environmental strategy and plan of action and new legislation, all dedicated to the principles developed at Rio. Despite its good intentions, Burundi has not lived up to its Agenda 21 commitments because of the socio-political crises which began in 1993. Since that time, internally displaced persons and refugees have sharply exacerbated deforestation, pollution of waters and destruction of infrastructures. Burundi very much appreciates the assistance of international agencies and non-governmental organizations which have helped it to achieve social and economic recovery.
Re-forestation schemes in Burundi are being used to protect biodiversity and prevent desertification. Those national efforts desperately need international cooperation based upon the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The special session of the General Assembly should set out new strategy for environmental protection and sustainable development.
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ALHAJI ABDULLAHI ADAMU, Minister of State for Works and Housing, Nigeria: Five years after Rio, international cooperation has waned and the political will to implement Agenda 21 has continued to recede, especially on the part of our partners in the developed world. This session should not be an occasion to renegotiate the Agenda, but to assess how far Member States have delivered on their commitments. For the majority of the developing countries, the current trend towards globalization marginalizes the performance of their respective economies. We believe that the pursuit of sustained economic growth and sustainable development are essentially the responsibility of national governments. In this regard, Nigeria has launched a long-term development programme known as VISION 2010, a vision of sustainable development and political stability. We continue to take steps to protect the environment and preserve ecological balance.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) should continue to be the catalyst for international efforts to protect the environment. The Commission for Sustainable Development should expand the ministerial participation of its high-level segment to stimulate the political will necessary for the implementation of Agenda 21. The pattern of consumption of the developed economies is not sustainable, and calls for a change. On the other hand, developing countries, while pursuing development, should be mindful of the impact of development on the environment.
ANATOLIJS GORBUNOVS, Deputy Prime Minister, Latvia: Since the Rio summit, Latvia has made a significant investment in environmental improvements. Though the restricted budgets of countries in transition do not allow them to seriously invest in their national economies, for Latvia investments promoting infrastructure development are a priority. We are proud to note that 27 per cent of our total investments are aimed at improving the environment, especially through water management and sewage treatment. Our next step will be to undertake development with the goal of sustainability, primarily through complex cross-sectoral approaches both nationally and locally.
Latvia believes that participation in regional processes is of the utmost importance, and currently takes part in one Pan-European and two Baltic Sea regional processes relating to sustainable development. Forests cover almost one half of the country and are thus environmentally and economically essential for Latvia, which supports proposals to start the negotiating process for a global Convention on Forests. It is impossible to speak about sustainable development without mentioning competitiveness. Increasing environmental standards in just one country could harm that country's economy in competition with others. Latvia believes that strict and uniform standards regionally and globally are a precondition of equitable markets.
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BEGUM SYEDA SAJEDA CHOWDHURY, Minister of the Environment and Forest, Bangladesh: Since Rio, Bangladesh enacted laws for the protection of the environment and set up "green courts" to administer these laws. It formulated a national environmental plan, ratified almost all related international conventions and established a governmental coordinating mechanisms for the environment.
Developing countries are marginalized from the global trading system because of constraints, including complex environmental requirements. Technical assistance must be extended, on a preferential basis, to these countries in order to avoid further marginalization. Recommendations in Agenda 21 on special measures in favour of least developed countries must be adopted. Climate change and the related catastrophic effects must be prevented. Toxic chemicals and hazardous wastes must be safely managed. Developing countries require help for that purpose.
Freshwater supply and management is an issue that urgently requires international action. In Bangladesh and other countries, possible over- exploitation of ground water has led to arsenic contamination posing serious health hazards. Bangladesh has the world's largest mangrove forest; it must be protected. No global agenda can be implemented without adequate national and international financial resources.
ABDOULAYE BATHILY, Minister of the Environment and Nature Conservation, Senegal: Today the Rio commitments are still essentially nothing more than declarations of intent. National selfishness has supplanted the Rio spirit of partnership. Individual success is impossible without international cooperation. Senegal has taken local, national and regional action to implement Agenda 21.
The current special session should be a forum for renewing Rio commitments. Lack of progress on implementation of the convention on desertification is extremely regrettable. This session also provides a chance to reconfirm international commitment to the important matter of forest conservation and safe exploitation. Sound macroeconomic policies and international resources are required to implement the objectives set forth at Rio. The debt crisis must be settled and equitable terms of trade established, in the spirit of international solidarity. Considerable resources can be freed by ending irrational methods and patterns; these then can be channelled towards sustainable development.
JOSE ANTONIO MONTEIRO, Minister of Agriculture and the Environment, Cape Verde: National and regional environmental and economic policies in Cape Verde have been completely integrated. Of particular importance in that regard has been application of the Barbados Plan of Action for small island
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developing countries. Cape Verde is focusing on forest issues, biodiversity, water management and coastal zone management. Reforestation has multiplied the vegetation in Cape Verde twenty-fold over the past two decades. Forests now comprise fully one fifth of the national territory.
Poverty is a serious obstacle to development. Eliminating it is an imperative for implementing Agenda 21. Day-to-day survival for many people in Cape Verde occupies all of their energy. Poverty alleviation is still contingent upon the delivery of official development assistance (ODA), as foreign direct investment has not yet replaced the role of international aid. Access to housing, food, health and education was a fundamental human right. The community of Portuguese-speaking countries which was established last year, will be an important factor in the implementation of Agenda 21.
ATEF EBEID, Minister of Environmental Affairs, Egypt: Since Rio, Popular interest in the environment has expanded substantially, as reflected in the number of non-governmental organizations dedicated to those issues. There are still immense challenges facing both the developing and developed world. Clean water is unavailable to millions of people around the world; forest areas need to be protected and expanded. New, clean technologies which can minimize the impact of human activities on the environment are critically needed.
The world's population is still expanding. Over the past 10 years, a billion more people have been born, primarily in the developing countries. That population will need education and development assistance. A new international environmental fund, financed with a one dollar level on each international plane ticket, would create a constantly replenished $1 billion annual fund. The funds would be easy to collect and their level would increase as international travel expands.
ELIZABETH THOMPSON, Minister of Health and the Environment, Barbados: Five years after Rio, an essential question remains: how do poor countries meet their Agenda 21 commitments without access to additional financial resources? Without international cooperation, the degradation of the environment in developing countries will continue. The current special session must address the financial resources crisis in developing countries and commit to reversing present trends. The programme of action which emerged from the conference of small island developing nations which took place in Barbados in 1994 will undergo a complete review at the General Asembly's twenty-first special session in 1999.
Barbados has achieved great success in using solar energy for heating water. It has established mechanisms for poverty alleviation, programmes for water resource management, a national waste management strategy and sewage
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systems for its coastal areas. Its national commission for sustainable development is raising awareness throughout society. The special session of the General Assembly should affirm that national programmes of economic development can be achieved only if they are based on environmental protection, and should recall that environmental protection is an investment in the future of the earth.
SYEDA ABIDA HUSSAIN, Minister for the Environment, Pakistan: Since Rio, there has been a number of positive developments. At the global level, a growing body of international environmental laws and norms as emerged. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other United Nations agencies, as well as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have been undergoing a process of "greening". At the national level, scores of countries have set up ministries and other institutions devoted to the achievement of sustainable development. Despite economic and financial difficulties, Pakistan has taken significant steps towards the protection and conservation of the environment and sustainable development. A comprehensive national environmental law has been prepared.
However, the successes are dwarfed by the growing threats to the environment in most parts of the world. Scores of developing countries face the threat of joining the ranks of the least developed. Poverty and environmental degradation are deeply intertwined. The socio-economic stagnation in the developing countries has perpetuated the unsustainable exploitation of all natural resources, including land, soil, water and forests. We must reverse the current negative trends. We need to muster the political will. Special attention needs to be paid to the creation of an enabling economic environment, the eradication of poverty, the availability of financial resources and the transfer of environmentally sound technology.
LAW HIENG DING, Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment, Malaysia: Malaysia has met its international obligations and commitments largely through its own resources. Malaysia has long supported environmental protection, and recently implemented a modest technical cooperation programme based on sharing technology with developing countries in Asia and Africa. Internationally, efforts to meet the Rio objectives are hampered by inadequate resources, unsustainable consumption and production patterns and the lack of genuine partnership between developed and developing countries.
The international community must break from the North-South divide and act on the basis of shared values. This special session should issue a strong political statement reaffirming the international community's commitment to the full implementation of Agenda 21. Commitments on biodiversity must be implemented before it is too late.
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The downward trend of overseas development must be reversed. New financial resources must be mobilized. The Expert Group on Finance has proposed several innovative financing mechanisms. The work of this Group should be carried forward through an intergovernmental process. Environmentally sound technology must be transferred from developed countries to developing countries. Malaysia urges support for the World Solar Programme, mentioned by the President of Zimbabwe, which can make an important contribution to sustainable development. Industrial countries must adhere to fixed targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The meeting on climate change, to be held in Kyoto later this year, will provide the opportunity for industrial countries to make such commitments.
MARTIN ALIKER, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Uganda: In adopting Agenda 21, all countries undertook to implement development policies and actions that safeguard the environment for the benefit of the present generation and posterity. Agenda 21 was, therefore, a compact whose implementation was premised on a global partnership, and also a shared responsibility which recognized varying capabilities, means and obligations within and between countries. Within this framework, Uganda has undertaken a number of measures to implement Agenda 21 and the relevant outcomes of major international conferences. We share the concern over the erosion of commitments under the programme, in relation to financial resources, environmentally sound technology transfer, and the institutional arrangements for implementation and monitoring.
An enabling international environment, conducive to economic growth and development, particularly of developing countries, is necessary for our countries to be able to generate the requisite resources and capacity needed to address poverty and other environmental problems. Negotiations on a convention on forests should not compromise the sovereign right of States over their natural resources. It should be equitable and comprehensive to cover all types of forests. There is also urgent need to formulate concerted approaches to integrated water resources development and management.
TUILOMA NERONI SLADE (Samoa): On behalf of the Alliance of Small Island Development States: The Alliance welcomes the decision of the Commission on Sustainable Development to provide for a review to the 1994 United Nations Global Conference on the sustainable development of small island developing nations. The Barbados Action Programme which emerged from that meeting stands as a commitment of the international community to support such countries with the implementation of Agenda 21.
Climate change threatens the life force of islands, although those islands make virtually no contribution to the emission of greenhouse gases. Global climate change may be the subject of uncertainty, but the evidence of
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warming trends appears to be overwhelming. Specific plans for the reduction of greenhouse gases within specific time-frames is called for. The upcoming Kyoto Conference should take strong and effective decisions with regard to cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
JOAO SERODIO DE ALMEIDA, Vice-Minister of the Environment, Angola: Since the Rio Conference in 1992, Angola has been engulfed in a civil war promoted by interests alien to its population. But a new period of peace appears to be on the horizon. With peace, Angola can set about fulfilling its responsibilities under Agenda 21. It has ratified the Conventions on biological diversity and desertification, and parliamentary deliberation has begun on others, as well as on the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Because of civil conflict, Angola has not yet ben able to implement environmental projects, but the country is now ready to work in that area, needing all the international assistance it can get. Angola will soon enact a basic environmental law to defend biodiversity, implement user and polluter fees, and establish special measures for the protection of the urban environment.
NARENDRA BIKRAM SHAH (Nepal): It is cause for grave concern to hear so many leaders at the special session state that the momentum of the Rio Conference is in recession, if not on the verge of collapse. Lack of safe drinking water for one third of the world's population, continuing soil degradation, increased acid rain and transboundary pollution, increased global warming, unchecked urbanization and population, and failure to protect mountain ecosystems are all threatening signs of environmental crisis. Sustainable development can be achieved only by attacking poverty at its root. The segment of the world's population trapped in poverty should not be the weakest link in the global chain of environment and development. Nepal is party to all Rio-related Conventions and has established a government Ministry of the Environment, together with a high-level environmental protection council.
SERGIO ALEJANDRO ZELAYA, Vice-Minister for National Resources and the Environment, Honduras: Since Rio, Honduras has increased public awareness and taken direct action for environmental protection, including adopting relevant legislation. Gasoline containing lead is now prohibited, and cleaner industries are being developed. Honduras has supported regional and international texts on the environment. Based on respect for the environment, human rights and multiculturalism, new institutional mechanisms have been developed within the Honduran Government. The private sector, too, is becoming environmentally aware.
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Environmental degradation is a universal problem, arising primarily from the actions of developed countries, who act in the interests of profit and consumerism. Development must include the poor. It must be on behalf of all people.
EMILIO IZQUIERDO (Ecuador): Ecuador gives the highest priority to its environmental defence. It seeks the fullest participation of indigenous people and ethnic minorities in the country's social and economic development. Further, it fosters internal and external mechanisms to strengthen the protection of the practices of indigenous communities related to biodiversity. The Galapagos Islands are negatively affected by population growth and increase of illegal fisheries, as well as natural phenomena. Ecuador considers the protection of the Islands a national priority. The Government works to stimulate civilian participation in all phases of environmental issues.
Ecuador welcomes statements made by industrialized countries that international assistance will be increased. The international community must implement a system of transparency in commerce that would allow the integration of the developing economies into the world economy.
JAMES GUSTAVE SPETH, Administrator, UNDP: As the "task manager" of the Agenda 21 chapter on national mechanisms and international cooperation for capacity-building, the UNDP believes that those mechanisms must be based on real needs and local ownership. Policies driven by global concerns alone are not sustainable. The "Capacity 21" programme, established in response to the Agenda 21 mandate, is funding projects in 40 countries, designing national plans and formulating conservation strategies. The UNDP is also playing a significant role in the implementation of United Nations environmental conventions.
The continuing deterioration of the environment and the need for an international approach to environmental issues underscore the contribution that an international agency can make to promoting sustainable development. An international partner is also essential for working with new entities such as the World Trade Organization. The UNEP should be strengthened to support the implementation of Agenda 21.
HIROSHI NAKAJIMA, Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO): Health, the environment and human development are inseparable. Improved access to primary health care increases life expectancy and improves the quality of life. Together with the promotion of women and children's health, quality public health services slow down population growth, reducing pressure on the environment. For the health sector to become a full partner in sustainable development, change is needed in most countries. National health
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systems still tend to favour curative and clinical approaches rather than preventive public health.
Rapid urbanization creates ideal "vector-breeding" conditions for disease. Global climate change will alter the geographic distribution of insect vectors, leading to increased transmission of vector-borne diseases, particularly tropical diseases. Inadequate environmental management and short-sighted development policies are damaging natural resources and human health. Government environmental legislation should take into account public health concerns. Health sector reform should emphasize those functions which strengthen primary health care.
YOLANDA KAKABADSE, President, World Conservation Union (speaking on behalf of the Scientific and Technological Major Group): Recent scientific research has shown that one quarter of mammal species on earth are in danger of extinction, that human activities are directly affecting global climate and that degradation of the environment directly leads to a decline in human health. As a result of environmental degradation, an increased number of human health crises are expected, including the spread of infectious disease, growth in malnutrition and health problems associated with climate change.
It is regrettable that international institutions have not been able to underpin sustainable development research through predictable financial mechanisms. Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, concerted action, employing the precautionary principle, should seek to prevent the introduction of alien and genetically modified organisms into the environment. It should ensure that intellectual property policies respect scientific achievement while providing incentives for the conservation of ecosystems, and protect healthy ecosystems through networks of protected areas on land and in the sea.
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