To the Second Committee of the General Assembly Agenda Item: "Sustainable Development"

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished delegates,

It is my pleasure to introduce the agenda item on sustainable development, as well as the Secretary-General’s reports.

I’m sure I do not need to call your attention to the urgency of sustainable development.

It is already evident.

Twenty years have passed since the Earth Summit. And the world finds itself far off track in realizing the vision of Rio.

  • Too many people live in extreme poverty.
  • Too many children die of preventable causes.
  • A growing number of species are becoming extinct.
  • Forest area is being lost at an average rate of more than 5 million hectares per year.
  • Development gains are being outpaced by population growth.
  • Unsustainable consumption continues to erode the health of our ecosystems.

All of this is alarming in itself.

But if we continue business as usual, the situation of our planet will only get worse.

It will continue enduring irreversible damage. More people will suffer from natural disasters, increasing inequality and poverty.

Thankfully, progress has been achieved in some areas. It shows that, given political will, we can stop the deteriorating trend and move toward the sustainability track.

Since the MDGs were agreed upon in 2000, we have witnessed decreases in poverty, and increase in water access.

This indicates that real political commitment, clear agendas, and international support, can lead to change.

Furthermore, the Montreal Protocol has achieved unprecedented success… greatly reducing the consumption of ozone-depleting substances.

This success was due to effective transfer and dissemination of ozone-friendly technology.  This success was a success of partnerships.  Sustainable development unites north and south, east and west.

We need similar momentum to accelerate sustainable development.

As elaborated in the Secretary-General’s reports before the Committee, achieving sustainable development requires, first and foremost, long-term political commitment, supported by better coordination and coherence among sustainable development institutions.

We must recognize that a change of direction requires a combination of factors, including access to technology and finance for poor countries, development and deployment of advanced technologies, enhanced access to energy services, and shifts in lifestyles and values.

Real change requires reversing the existing patterns of resource use and depletion.

It also means widening the contribution of new and renewable sources of energy to the global energy system.

Major changes in agriculture and rural development are also needed.  Finding solutions to the food, energy, water and climate challenges depends on it.

Real change means addressing major threats to oceans and especially to coral reefs.

Unsustainable fishing practices, coastal development, pollution, ocean warming and ocean acidification have already damaged one fifth of the coral reefs beyond repair.

Real change requires addressing the vulnerabilities of SIDS, especially in areas that may hit these countries particularly hard. Climate change, disaster risk management, biodiversity, energy, structural disadvantages, food security, sustainable tourism and debt are all issues affecting SIDS.

Like SIDS, mountain regions and their inhabitants are also disproportionately affected by current global challenges.  Mountains are fragile ecosystems that often are sites of natural heritage.  We need to protect them and we need to do so while providing their inhabitants with sustainable livelihoods.

Ultimately, sustainable development is about our whole planet.

These challenges can be overcome.
The reports of the Secretary-General that you have before you today address in detail the challenges I just mentioned.

All these reports, in one way or the other, also draw our eyes to the Rio Conference next year.

Distinguished delegates,

The Second Committee will need to discuss the modalities of the Rio+20 Conference.

You have a report before you that specifically addresses this topic on the Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

It provides an overview of the status of preparations for the Conference and includes preliminary ideas on how the work of the Conference could be organized.

Success at Rio will depend on our capacity to gather political commitment and engage all stakeholders.

At Rio, we should aspire to achieve:

  • a forward looking and action oriented outcome to deal with the challenges of 21st century;
  • an implementation strategy supported by means and resources required to translate this strategy into action;
  • a renewed commitment by all stakeholders that the agreed agenda will be implemented on the ground—no matter what it takes.

This is the last session of the General Assembly before the Rio Conference next June. I hope that your deliberations will open the door for success in Rio.

The world needs it.

It is in our hands to decide whether Rio will deliver.

Finally, let me assure you that we stand ready to support your work during this session.

Thank you.