The Hon. Shivaji Rukman Senanayake
Minister of Environment and Natural Resource

at the 
World Summit on Sustainable Development 

Johannesburg, South Africa 
03 September 2002

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen

At the outset, please allow me to convey to you Mr. Chairman and to this august assembly, the greetings and best wishes from the President, the Prime Minister, and the people of Sri Lanka for the success in the deliberations of this unique gathering of the world summit on sustainable development.

My country, Mr Chairman, has a proud history and an ancient civilisation. In the old agrarian society of Sri Lanka, our forefathers lived in harmony with nature. The unique hydraulic civilisation which flourished in my country for over two thousand five hundred years, bears ample testimony to how our forefathers skillfully utilised ecological balances in the use of the natural resources.

Sustainable development is not new to Sri Lanka. It is deeply rooted in our culture, in our traditions, and in our values. My country has always followed the principle of renouncing extremes, in our development efforts. Our vision of sustainable development is to become an advanced, prosperous, equitable, and environmentally sound nation by following the traditional Sri Lankan way- the middle path.

The Rio Earth Summit not only inspired us to further action, but also fortified and strengthened our determination to adopt time tested principles of sustainable development. Well before the Rio Summit, the concept of protecting the environment was given legal validity in our Constitution of 1978. We enacted national environmental legislation that created an institutional and legal framework for co-ordinating all environmental activities in the country. The national conservation strategy was prepared a few years after. Furthermore, since the Rio Summit, my country has taken many significant steps towards implementing the Agenda 21 in order to meet our national obligations. We have also strived hard to meet our national commitments to the international community on the basis of the Rio principles.

Sri Lanka has ratified all major international conventions and protocols including those on Climate Change, Biodiversity, Basel and Desertification. The Kyoto Protocol also will be acceded to in the near future. We have formulated a new National Environment Policy based on the Rio principles. A new law is being formulated to replace the existing environment legislation and to strengthen the legal framework. We take pride in the fact that policies and programs formulated for environment protection during this period sprang from a visionary political leadership - a process which was facilitated by consensual and bipartisan policy making. Much of these policies were adopted at a time when the country was passing through a difficult period in its development path, including a great deal of social and economic hardships. However we were able to display the courage and determination to confront these issues and it is in this context that the national agenda recognizes national reconciliation, poverty reduction, economic development and environment protection as priority issues.

We also perceive sustainable development as a process through which we could mobilize the active participation of all stakeholders in civil society, government and private sector as key players. We will continue to draw inspiration from the past, to raise awareness on issues and deploy strategies that will facilitate grass root level type involvement in formulating and implementing main stream policies for sustainable development. It is our fervent hope that the above process would facilitate wider participation of the people as stakeholders, and effectively support the development of a local agenda that will enable local communities to become true partners in sustainable development.

We are conscious of the fact that Sri Lanka is an island nation located in the south Asian region -- a region which is home to sixteen percent of the world's population. We are aware that it is our bounden duty to follow a path of regional co-operation. We are also aware that we are members of the global community, bounded by global commitments. As members of the international community, who have come here to find ways and means to prevent this world from following a path that will lead to certain destruction, each one of us has a major role to play nationally, regionally, and globally in contributing towards this global task. In our struggle to save the environment we cannot function as rivals. It is friendship and friendship alone that will help us in our endeavours. For neither the most powerful nor the most humble can survive alone.
I thank you.