Mr. Bertie Ahern T.D.
Prime Minister of Ireland

to the Plenary Session of the World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa
3 September 2002

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

May I first thank the President and Government of South Africa for their outstanding work in hosting and chairing this major event.

What we seek to achieve in Johannesburg is profoundly important to the world community. What we conclude here does matter and can make a vital difference. There is an enormous responsibility on all of us to play our part to the fullest both at national and international level.

Mr President,

At the time of Rio ten years ago, there was a serious food crisis in southern Africa. A potentially devastating famine in the region was only narrowly averted.

Ten years later, southern Africa is, once again, threatened with famine.

We are acutely conscious of the depth of human suffering, and the threat of famine, in the immediate neighborhood. The food security crisis in southern Africa is a very visible failure of sustainable development. My Government has allocated emergency funding amounting to almost 8 million Euro in response to the humanitarian needs of the region.

The present crisis is even more serious, as the countries exposed to severe food shortages are also bearing the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Our commitments must be grounded in the reality that for millions of poor people, particularly in Africa, the fundamental basis for sustainable development - a healthy life - has disappeared.

Recurring, serious food crises and the unchecked spread of deadly infectious diseases call in question the progress on sustainable development since Rio.

The threat to the environment continues to grow and economic growth has not been decoupled from environmental degradation. Unsustainable patterns of production and consumption persist in the developed world.

An environment that is compromised affects us all. But the poor are most vulnerable
and least equipped to adapt to environmental change.

Mr. President,

Our Summit should focus on a number of over-riding priorities. I want to stress the following:

  • The Millennium Development Goals must be at the core of our efforts here. Poverty reduction through sustainable development is what Johannesburg is about. I welcome the Summit's focus on poverty eradication.
  • We must move forward on the basis of partnership. Partnership across society in support of sustainable development has been fundamental to Ireland's economic and social progress in the 1990s. Looking outwards, our programme of development assistance is based on genuine partnerships with the developing countries.
  • The benefits of globalisation can best be shared through common commitment to sustainable production and consumption. I therefore strongly support the intended ten year framework of programmes to accelerate progress in this area.
  • Significantly increased Overseas Development Assistance is essential to meet our Goals. The decline in global ODA in the 1990s is shameful, indefensible and inconsistent with the commitments given at Rio. I re-iterate Ireland's absolute commitment to achieving, by 2007, the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNP on Overseas Development Assistance. Our aid budget has increased this year by 100 million Euro, more than the value of our entire aid programme a few years ago. Further significant increases will be provided for over the next few years to enable the UN target to be met, as promised, by 2007.
  • We must work hard for a timely and successful outcome to the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations and the creation of a fair world trade order. We need to deliver on our promises made at Doha.
  • We must do more, much more, to alleviate the debt burden on poor, heavily indebted countries. Ireland supports, in principle, the cancellation of their debts. We see debt cancellation as an important contribution by donors in support of the New Partnership for Africa's Development and its commitments to democracy, the rule of law, the fight against corruption and the protection of human rights.
  • We must spend all development resources as effectively as possible. All official development assistance should be completely untied from national commercial interests. None of Ireland's ODA is tied and this will remain the case as our programme of development assistance expands.
  • I also strongly support increased spending on support for health systems, on research into the diseases of the poor, particularly HIV/AIDS, and on agricultural research aimed at food security, livestock, agro-forestry and water management.
  • We must bring new technologies into development. Ireland will make its expertise in e-government and e-learning available to our developing country partners. We will also work with the private sector and international agencies to develop standards of best practice in the use of IT in development.

Mr President,

On a national level Ireland has experienced rapid economic growth from the mid-1990s. We are working towards a fairer and more inclusive society sharing the gains we have made; and levels of consistent poverty have declined.

We attach high priority to environmental management and protection. Despite rapid economic development, our economy is now more environmentally efficient than it was ten years ago.

We are gearing up to meet our Kyoto commitment and prepare for the tougher action that is necessary to tackle climate change.

We remain adamantly opposed to nuclear energy and any expansion of the nuclear industry which in our view have no role in the pursuit of sustainable development.

Mr. President,

10 years ago Rio provided us with a vision of sustainable development: our task is to realise that vision.

What we need now, and need urgently, is action.

Johannesburg must initiate the decade of action on sustainable development. We must pick up the pace and act with political vision.

As I said at the outset Johannesburg does matter.

It matters for the many, many millions who are poor and starving.

It matters for our children and for future generations.

Let us not fail in this historic task.