Sustainability Prominent in Global Debate by World Leaders
Tracking Sustainable Development by Heads of State at the UN General Assembly
While many nations gave particular attention to security issues related to the Middle East at the opening of the General Assembly this year, some leaders devoted their allotted speech-time to the very real threats to peace, security and development that they face and climate change and the need for national and international policies geared towards sustainable growth and sustainable energy were prominent on the agenda.
For some, the references were fleeting; for others, sustainability issues constituted the bulk of an address. For example, Hungarian President Dr. Janos Ader devoted almost his entire speech to the problem of water and sanitation.
"The severe and growing impacts of climate change are there before our eyes – yet too many people in power seem wilfully blind to the threat," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his address to the leaders of 193 countries at the General Assembly last week.
For many smaller nations, such as Kiribati, climate change was seen as a security threat. They urged the world needs to take an urgent action to adapt to and mitigate the negative impact of climate change. "Whether or not we are willing to acknowledge it, climate change and sea level rise are a result of the unsustainable use of our planet's resources," said President Anote Tong.
Qatar and Lesotho, among others, called for greater international cooperation in constructing a binding agreement to reduce global carbon emissions. Lesotho’s Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane, said weather changes had contributed to intense droughts that decrease crop yields and thus incomes and access to food. "Evidence of climate change is all around us. Extreme weather conditions, floods, drought, soil degradation and the rise of sea-levels, threaten the very existence of humanity. In my country, drought and floods have heightened food insecurity, and famine is looming." And Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said climate change threatens the secure food supply which guarantees development.
Some countries took the opportunity to highlight initiatives they are taking to make positive impacts where they can. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said, "Japan will realize a low carbon and sound material-cycle society and take the lead in solving common energy challenges facing the world." Japan pledged to follow through on commitments it made at the Rio+20 Conference this past June where it announced its 'Green Future Initiatives.'
Several countries, referring to "The Future We Want" outcome document from Rio and the Sustainable Development Goals—SDGs--emphasized that action was needed on the outcome document and also cautioned that the SDGs cannot substitute the Millennium Development Goals, but should instead complement the MDGs.
There was also a warning that real sustainable development depends on growth with responsibility. "Sustainable development is not a clichéd utopia," says Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. True development, he says, "can be nothing other than sustainable," and yet unsustainable development, such as the irresponsibly debt-financed development that has caused the global financial crisis, often masquerades as sustainable development.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
"My action agenda highlights five imperatives, as I have set out in January this year: sustainable development, prevention, building a more secure world, helping countries in transition and empowering women and youth. I take heart from important steps forward on some of these fronts."
H.E. Mr. Yoshihiko Noda, Prime Minister of Japan
"In an effort to protect the global environment, a significant outcome was achieved for sustainable development at Rio+20 in June this year. Japan will realize a low carbon and sound material-cycle society and take the lead in solving common energy challenges facing the world."
H.E. Mr. Lyonchoen Jigmi Yoezer Thinley, Prime Minister of Bhutan
"What inspired me even more at Rio was the indomitable spirit of the hundreds of side events, several of which I was honored to participate in. These were organized by civil society, grassroots organizations and the private sector. They came to share best practices and learn from each other but, more importantly, to demonstrate that sustainable development was not just an idle dream but that there are individuals and organizations who are breathing and living lives to realize what is profound and necessary."
His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Amir of Qatar
"One of the great challenges that we must face is the question of climate change and its bad and destructive consequences for all countries. This requires us to cooperate and work together to reach the best solutions for this challenge."
H.E. Mr. Danny Faure, Vice-President of the Republic of Seychelles
"With regards to the high volatility of international fuel prices, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) can strengthen their resilience through investment in renewable energy. We warmly welcome the sustainable energy for all initiative championed by the Secretary General, and we commit our support to making it a success."
H.E. Mr. Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati
"I frequently find myself watching my grandchildren and wondering what sort of a future we are leaving them. For their sake, climate change is an issue that I will continue to talk about for as long as I have breath in my body. Whether or not we are willing to acknowledge it, climate change and sea level rise are a result of the unsustainable use of our planet's resources."
H.E. Mr. Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, President of Panama
"Panama will keep advocating that the international community work on an institutional multilateral structure that reinforces the right of all people to have a planet with an environment that allows the development of a healthful and peaceful life. We will insist on a new high level forum of the General Assembly on the protection of the environment."
H.E. Ms. Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil
"Rio+20 shone a powerful light on the future we want. We must consider climate change one of the main challenges to present and future generations. The Brazilian government is firmly committed to the targets for controlling greenhouse gas emissions and to the unrelenting fight against deforestation of the Amazon rainforest."
H.E. Ms. Dalia Grybauskaitė, President of Lithuania
"First, we need to increase global energy sustainability. Here, I would like to congratulate Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for his 'Sustainability for All' initiative which is really relevant and timely. Improvement in energy effectiveness, diversification of energy supply, global accessibility to energy—these are for sure the goals to strive for."
H.E. Mr. Thomas Motsoahae Thabane, Prime Minister of Lesotho
"Evidence of climate change is all around us. Extreme weather conditions, floods, drought, soil degradation and the rise of sea-levels, threaten the very existence of humanity. In my country, drought and floods have heightened food insecurity, and famine is looming…We must continue to work for the "Future we Want" and deserve."
H.E. Mr. Danilo Medina Sánchez, President of the Dominican Republic
"Equity and sustainability are the two sides of the same coin with which we must fund human development."