Achim Steiner 
Director General of the International Union
for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources


at the
World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa
30 August 2002 

Mr. President
Honourable Ministers
Distinguished Delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen

I must honestly admit that I stand before you with hesitation. Because what is the point of my address, how can I make a difference?

It is disconcerting that ten years after the Earth Summit we seem to be renegotiating what was agreed in Rio. It is sad that in those ten years, where economic growth has been unprecedented, we have not been able to eradicate poverty, but we have continued, in the words of President Mbeki, to expand islands of wealth in a sea of poverty.

The natural resources on which our economic activity is based are threatened as never before.

Environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity have not been halted, and have in fact increased. In Rio, many of us had doubts about climate change yet we adopted a convention. Now that we have certainty, we cannot agree to implement the first emissions reductions. We are loosing more species and more forests. Fourteen out of seventeen of our fisheries are massively depleted. Our freshwater resources are heavily degraded and desertification continues at an accelerated pace.

Were the targets of Rio set too high? IUCN believes the targets were not too high, but were rather the lowest we could aim for - and achievable. Can we live with an outcome to this meeting that sets no target ? What does it take to move to action?

Mr. President, with poverty and environment there is no creative accounting. We cannot juggle our figures and cook the books, and somehow present our costs as profits. Poverty eradication is based on the equitable sharing of the benefits of a healthy natural resource base.

Sustainable development is about the integration of social, economic and environmental policies and strategies, and the integrated, and above all, collective action on the ground for poverty eradication and environmental protection. The Millennium Development Goals aimed to ensure the mutual supportiveness of international policy instruments and they need to be reaffirmed and strengthened here.

At this point in the negotiations, the environment is getting short-changed, especially in relation to trade. Trade liberalisation is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The goal is sustainable development and each of the international regimes and institutions should be judged on their contribution to poverty eradication and maintaining a viable natural resource base.

The importance of trade is clear, yet this Summit is not about trade alone. It needs to provide the platform to ensure harmonisation among different policy sectors. It must build the bridges between trade and environment, between investment and development, and between finance and sustainable development.

The task at hand, as set by you - our governments - in the UN General Assembly, is to develop an action plan with specific time-bound measures. There have already been so many conferences, so many political declarations, so many concrete actions and targets agreed - this conference must build on the solutions that have already been found, by governments and development and conservation organisations alike that have seriously applied the spirit of Rio. We need resources and political will to make it happen.

There is broad agreement on water for a forceful step forward to integrated water resources management that builds upon the principles of good governance to achieve both development and conservation goals.

On biodiversity, the Convention on Biological Diversity has agreed to the ecosystem approach and sustainable use of natural resources as fundamental pillars to achieve improved environmental management. Why are we renegotiating the target that was agreed only four months ago ?

These advances should not be forgotten, as they are the result of decades of dedicated work by many who are in this very room. We cannot slip backward, we cannot stand still, but we must step forward.

Sustainable development means that each one of us accepts responsibility, and that we work together to make it happen. If you take a look outside this room, you will find thousands of dedicated people, from governments, civil society and the private sector, who are taking that responsibility and are looking to this room to do the same.

The responsibility of this Summit is to express the will of this world for justice and equity, for a world that does not squander its riches for the short-term benefit of the few, for a world that protects its natural resources, for ourselves and future generations.

For many species, ecosystems and communities it may be too late. But conservation is not a voice of doom and gloom. It is a resource for change that assists societies to make the right choices when they increasingly recognise the costs of unsustainability. A possible failure of this Summit will not mean the end of the world, but it will increase the terrible price of unsustainable development.

Thank you for your attention, Mr. President.