Live Coverage World Summit on Sustainable Development

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
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Johannesburg, South Africa
26 August-4 September 2002
ENV/DEV/J/2
26 August 2002

Plenary
1st & 2nd Meetings


SOCIETY OF WEALTHY ISLANDS SURROUNDED BY SEA OF POVERTY UNSUSTAINABLE, SAYS SOUTH AFRICA'S PRESIDENT, OPENING JOHANNESBURG WORLD SUMMIT

UNEP Executive Director, Summit Secretary-General Also Speak;
Summit Plenary Focuses on Health, in First of Partnership Sessions

 

Opening the World Summit on Sustainable Development this morning, South African President Thabo Mbeki urged the international community to strive for a shared prosperity, saying that "a global human society based on poverty for many and prosperity for a few, characterized by islands of wealth, surrounded by a sea of poverty, is unsustainable".

The international community has gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, to pursue new initiatives and build a commitment at the highest level to better implement Agenda 21, the roadmap for achieving sustainable development adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development -- the Earth Summit -- held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

President Mbeki, who is also President of the Summit, urged participants to take stock of the inertia of the past decade, during which, sadly, not much progress had been made in realizing the vision contained in Agenda 21, resulting in a tragic and avoidable increase in human misery. "We do not have a new agenda to discover. There is no need for us to reopen battles that have been fought and resolved." There was a need, however, to demonstrate to the world's billions of people a commitment to human solidarity and to adopt a programme to translate the dream of sustainable development into reality.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that when the journey towards sustainability began in Rio, the vision of a free South Africa was still a dream. Now, the Summit was taking place under the leadership of a freely elected South African President. That victory over apartheid had been referred to as a "triumph of the human spirit", and indeed it had been.

The eyes of the world were now on the Summit to bridge differences and find the political will for meaningful agreement, he said. "The transformation of societies to achieve sustainability will be that very triumph of the human spirit that must be our beacon." In two weeks time, the international community must reach an outcome worthy of the triumph of the human spirit achieved by the people of South Africa. "South Africa realized its dream of freedom", he said. "We must realize the dream of environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development, of responsible prosperity for all."

The Secretary-General of the Summit, Nitin Desai, asked the international community to fight the "global apartheid" described by President Mbeki with the

same vigour as it had fought apartheid in South Africa. The same sense of solidarity and responsibility the world had shown then was needed today. That would truly mark a change in the world -- the elimination of the global apartheid between rich and poor.

The Summit, he noted, was the last in a cycle of global conferences, which had defined a framework for development cooperation and a vision of what human progress was about. Of those conferences, the Earth Summit was the most ambitious one, producing among other agreements Agenda 21. Although there had been successes, especially at the local level in areas of poverty eradication, achieving sustainable consumption patterns and handling ecological matters, the overall record was very poor. Rio was a grand vision, a road map; but a route plan and resources were also necessary.

Also this morning, the Summit began a series of partnership plenaries, which will focus on the five thematic areas identified by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the Summit -- water, energy, health, agricultural productivity and biodiversity. This morning's issue was health, presented by David Nabarro, the World Health Organization's Director for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environment.

Mr. Nabarro said that some people were criticizing the Johannesburg Summit event, proclaiming it just "more talk" -- the culmination of a decade's worth of United Nations talkfests. In truth, the past decade had been highlighted by a lot of listening and understanding. One of the most important recent realizations had been that people and peoples' health were essential to sustainable development. "Good health for all was vital for the planet", he said.

Participants in the panel were Robert Hecht, Manager, Health Department of the World Bank; Angie Mathee, representative of the Medical Research Centre in South Africa; Vanessa Tobin, Chief, Water, Environment and Sanitation Section of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); and Kunio Waki, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The panel was moderated by Jan Pronk, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Summit.

The discussion that followed included comments from government ministers and representatives of Norway, Canada, Denmark (on behalf of the European Union), Swaziland, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Senegal, Romania, Finland, Cuba and South Africa. Representatives of the Women's Environment and Development Organization and trade unions also spoke.

In organizational matters this morning, the Summit elected Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, Minister for Foreign Affairs of South Africa, as Vice-President ex officio of the Summit.

Also, the following States were elected as Vice-Presidents for the Summit: Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Hungary, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovenia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand and Norway. The Summit will revert to the election of its Vice-Presidents from among the Asian States at a later stage.

The Summit also adopted its rules of procedure and agenda. It also approved additional requests from intergovernmental organizations applying for accreditation to the Summit, as well as an additional request from the Center for Applied Bioscience International to attend the Summit.

In addition, Emil Salim (Indonesia) was elected as Chairman of the Main Committee, which will meet from 26 to 30 August and if required from 2 to 4 September.

Further, the Summit appointed the following countries as members of the Credentials Committee: China, Denmark, Jamaica, Lesotho, Russian Federation, Senegal, Singapore, United States and Uruguay.

The Summit will meet at 3 p.m. today to continue its partnership plenary sessions, with a discussion on the theme of biodiversity/ecosystem management.

Opening Statements

THABO MBEKI, President of South Africa, following his election as President of the World Summit on Social Development, said that in the last 30 years the torch of sustainable development has travelled from Europe, to the Americas, through Asia, and now burned in Africa. After a protracted journey, that torch had arrived in the cradle of humanity. That fact emphasised the obligation of all to respond with a sense of urgency to adopt a meaningful Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, in the interests of all humanity.

He was convinced that all participants shared the view that poverty, underdevelopment, inequality within and among countries, together with the worsening global ecological crisis, sum up the dark shadow under which most of the world lives. Together, "we must strive for a shared prosperity". A global human society based on poverty for many and prosperity for a few, characterized by islands of wealth, surrounded by a sea of poverty, was unsustainable. That goal of shared prosperity was achievable because, for the first time in history, human society possessed the capacity, the knowledge and the resources to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment.

Agenda 21 had placed the appropriate framework for sustainable development at the centre of the challenges facing humanity. By accepting Agenda 21, the global community agreed to integrate social and economic development with environmental protection, in a manner that would ensure the sustainability of the planet and the prosperity of humanity. Sadly, not much progress had been made in realizing the grand vision contained in Agenda 21 and other international agreements. It was no secret that the global community had not, as yet, demonstrated the will to implement the decisions it had freely adopted. That had tragically resulted in the avoidable increase in human misery and ecological degradation, including the growth of the gap between North and South. "It is as though we are determined to regress to the most primitive condition of existence in the animal world, of the survival of the fittest", he said.

The central task of the Summit, he said, was to take stock of the inertia of the past decade and agree on clear, practical measures to deal decisively with the challenges the world faced. "We do not have a new agenda to discover", he said. "There is no need for us to reopen battles that have been fought and resolved." There was a need, however, to demonstrate to the world's billions of people a commitment to the vision and practice of human solidarity and to adopt a programme to translate the dream of sustainable development into reality.

NITIN DESAI, Secretary-General of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, said this Summit was the last in a cycle of global United Nations Conferences in the 1990s. Those conferences had defined a framework for development cooperation and a certain vision of what human progress was about. Of those conferences, the Rio "Earth Summit" was the most ambitious one, producing among other agreements, Agenda 21. Although there had been successes, especially at the local level in areas of poverty eradication, achieving sustainable consumption patterns and handling ecological matters, the overall record was very poor. Poverty and deterioration of the environment continued.

One of the reasons for that, he said, was that the world had changed dramatically over the last decade. During that decade the word globalization came into use. Driven by trade and financial liberalization, globalization had not led to greater equity. The Rio agreements presumed improvement in the macroeconomic climate, which the decade had not shown. The absence of macroeconomic support did not by itself explain the issues of growing poverty and deteriorating environment. There had been a failure to consider those issues together. Rio was a grand vision, a road map; but a route plan and resources were also necessary.

Johannesburg offered possibilities, he said. On the macroeconomic side, he mentioned the advancements reached in Monterrey at the World Summit on Financing for Development. The Millennium Summit had crystallized the focus on poverty eradication, health, and sustainable development. A Plan of Implementation focusing on targets and timetables would make progress possible. Not only a focus on mid-term, but also a focus on the long-term was necessary, as halving the number of people living below the poverty line was just half of sustainability. The conference would also mark a new stage of involvement of civil society in the United Nations, engaging civil society in processes of implementation.

He said the President of South Africa had described the world as one with "global apartheid," and had asked the world community to fight that form of apartheid with the same vigour as it had fought apartheid in South Africa. The same sense of solidarity and responsibility the world had shown then was needed today. That would truly mark a change in the world -- the elimination of the global apartheid between rich and poor.

KLAUS TOEPFER, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that the Summit was a defining moment in the efforts of the international community to put our planet on a sustainable path for the future. When the journey towards sustainability began in Rio, the vision of a free South Africa was still a dream. Now, the Summit was taking place under the leadership of a freely elected South African President. That victory over apartheid had been referred to as a "triumph of the human spirit", and indeed it had been. The eyes of the world were now on the Summit to bridge differences and find the political will for meaningful agreement. "The transformation of societies to achieve sustainability will be that very triumph of the human spirit that must be our beacon."

Much had been achieved since Rio, he continued. New international legal instruments had been developed, awareness had increased and progress had been made at the local, national and international level in confronting environmental challenges and achieving sustainability. At the same time, new scientific evidence of the planetary dimensions of global environmental change had raised the need for a quantum increase in our efforts. "We have all agreed that this is the Summit of implementation, the Summit of accountability and of partnership. We have all agreed that concrete implementation must be the focus of our work."

The UNEP Global Environment Outlook, compiled as a result of the work of hundreds of scientists around the world, had singled out the root causes of global environmental degradation, he said. They were embedded in social and economic problems such as pervasive poverty, unsustainable patterns of consumption and production and vast and increasing inequities in wealth distribution. The world was characterized by divided and dysfunctional cities, dwindling water supplies and potential conflict over scarce resources and the accelerating loss of the environmental capital that underpinned life on Earth. Problems of planetary dimensions required global responses. Investing in sustainable development would be investing in the future security of all.

Just as unsustainable patterns of development result in environmental degradation, negative environmental trends impacted most severely on the poor, on those most poorly equipped to deal with them and often those who had the least responsibility for causing them. Recognizing the integral relationship between environment and development, UNEP's preparations for the Summit had been undertaken under the theme "Environment for Development". In that regard, the international system still had a long way to go in integrating the three pillars of sustainable development throughout its activities. In two weeks time, the international community must have reached an outcome worthy of the triumph of the human spirit achieved by South Africa. "South Africa realized its dream of freedom", he said. "We must realize the dream of environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development, of responsible prosperity for all."

Interactive Partnership Plenary

DAVID NABARRO, the World Health Organization's Director for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environment, made the presentation for the health issue. He said that some people were criticizing the Johannesburg Summit event, proclaiming it just "more talk" -- the culmination of a decade's worth of United Nations talkfests. But, in truth, the past decade had been highlighted by a lot of listening and understanding. One of the most important recent realizations had been that people and peoples' health were essential to sustainable development. "Good health for all was vital for the planet", he said.

Indeed, the participants at the major international conferences and summits of the 1990s had expressed a growing sense of urgency about health issues, placing particular emphasis the health burdens faced by the poor, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, maternal infirmities and environmental hazards. The ill health of the poor was now recognized as a cause of poverty that impeded the development of nations. It was also recognized that that illness led to the widening of the gap between rich and poor. "Poverty cannot be reduced unless poor people were healthy enough to prosper", he said.

The international community must strive to ensure that energy, agricultural and industrial practices did not exacerbate ill health, he continued. All must work to ensure that health was at the centre of sustainable development and ensure that peoples' well-being was a vital end unto itself. The international community must listen to poor people, as it extended and improved heath systems. That required more participation with civil society and non-governmental organizations. Most of all, health needed cash. Without significant additional resources, the poor were not going to be able to enjoy access to basic health services or the benefits of long-term development.

Following the presentation, JAN PRONK, the Secretary General's Special Envoy to the World Summit, moderated a panel discussion that included participants from the World Bank, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), South Africa's Medical Research Centre and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Responding to one of Mr. Pronk's questions, ROBERT HECHT, Manager, Health Department of the World Bank, said since 1992 many lessons had been learned in the health sector. One of those lessons was that environmental health issues tended to fall between the cracks. Those issues required special partnerships across sectors. There was also a need to anticipate new health threats, such as HIV/AIDS and the epidemic of tobacco and smoking. A third lesson was that more money was needed for the health area. But, resources needed to be combined with sound policies, raising the level of human resources capacity in developing countries, with a greater focus on data and results.

ANGIE MATHEE, of the Medical Research Centre in South Africa, said in her country several partnerships and programmes of cross-sectoral cooperation were under way. One of them was a partnership between government, utility companies and others to address the problem of in-house air pollution. South Africa had a very open attitude regarding participation of partners in the planning stage.

VANESSA TOBIN, Chief, Water, Environment and Sanitation Section of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), answering Mr. Pronk's question on what ought to be done regarding the vulnerable position of children, said children's survival was essential for any country's survival and development. She stressed the importance of inter-sectoral approaches. The Millennium goals would not be achieved if preventive aspects of health were not approached in a cross-sectoral way. Answering another question, she said summits like the Children's Summit of 1990 were important for mobilizing energy and efforts to implement their outcomes.

KUNIO WAKI, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that although the issue of partnerships was very important, he had missed the issue of reproductive health in the discussion, as well as gender issues. Those aspects should be taken up in the action framework.

Asked about cost estimates, Mr. NABARRO, said that according to a 2001 report of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, an additional $13 billion would be needed yearly. That amount would, among other things, result in a six-fold increase in the value of production and save millions of lives a year. It would constitute 0.1 per cent of donor countries' gross domestic product (GDP).

Asked if United Nations organizations were good partners, Mr. HECHT said the level of partnerships at the global level was intense. The challenge was to bring the partnerships to the country level, so that funds could be used as efficient as possible. Ms. TOBIN said relationships in the field of health -- particularly in immunization programmes -- had been very strong.

In the discussion that followed, delegates noted the important links between health and environment. Norway's Environment Minister highlighted the fact that almost one third of global diseases were caused by environmental degradation. The Summit, he said, must show that political will could be harnessed in Johannesburg to address the challenges related to health, poverty and environment.

Several speakers stressed the need to place emphasis on vulnerable sectors, including women, children and the disabled. The representative of Canada also noted that indigenous and aboriginal populations were particularly vulnerable to health threats. Women were and continue to be major promoters of health and well-being, the representative of the Women's Environment and Development Organization stated. Health was not just an absence of illnesses, but also the guarantee of human rights, such as the right to clean water and proper sanitation, affordable and sustainable energy, and safe and affordable health services. She asked the World Bank to comment on structural adjustment programmes, which forced governments to cut down on health expenditures, with serious repercussions for women.

Health was a key determinant of economic growth and sustainable development, noted the representative of the European Union. At the same time, bad health was both a cause and an effect of poverty. Taking action on the agenda for sustainable development was, therefore, also taking action to improve human health. He added that development cooperation alone did not solve the problem. For efforts to be effective, developing countries must mobilize their own resources and create policies and national budgetary frameworks that delivered better health services.

On the issue of resources, the Minister of Health of Swaziland stressed the need for greater global intervention. When talking of environment, pollution and health, investors and investment were needed, particularly in her subregion. However, sometimes those very investments left the local populations devastated, because investors felt they could use different standards in other countries than those used in their own countries.

She asked the World Bank whether loans for health didn't serve to further impoverish countries. Also, while it was important to strengthen health systems, what about the countries of the North that continued to recruit health professionals from the South, depleting the human resource base in southern countries?

The importance of taking into account health problems related to occupational accidents and diseases was emphasized by the representative of the trade unions, who pointed out that most of those accidents and diseases were very easily preventable. Tackling those issues required cooperation between national ministries, as well as between international organizations, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and WHO.

In addition, several environment ministers highlighted various measures their governments had taken in the area of health and environment.

Cuba's Minister of Environment, Science and Technology said it was impossible to ignore the extraordinary relationship between health and environment. Indeed, more than 25 percent of preventable diseases were directly related to water impurities, poor sanitation and air pollution. Hundreds of millions of people now suffered from diseases once thought to have been eradicated. She stressed the need to promote cooperation between third world countries, as well as the need for countries of the North to make basic and advanced medicines, and new technology available and affordable for all.

The Minister of Health of South Africa said since Rio there had been some advances in health, but the reality was that the global community was not on target to achieve overall international health goals. The slow progress related to women's health remained a major indictment against all humanity, particularly in light of the critical role women played in poverty-reduction strategies. She emphasized that global partnerships aimed at fighting AIDS and other communicable diseases as well as the International Framework on Tobacco offered visible evidence of how all could work together.

She went on to say that global leaders should agree to an international code of conduct for the recruitment of health personnel from developing countries, as well as agree that international trade practices should no longer promote death, or deny treatment or medicines to the world's poor.

In closing, Mr. NABARRO said the discussion had highlighted such challenges as the necessity to have healthy people in order to reduce poverty, as well as the need for a health conducive environment. Much more needed to be done for people to have access to food, water and sanitation. Also, more attention must be paid to health workers, access to essential medicines and to
health services for the most disadvantaged. All groups and all sectors must contribute to the area of health.

Summing up, Mr. PRONK said three main points had emerged from the exchange of views: targets were not being met; poverty was both a cause and result of bad health; and maximum cooperation between all concerned was necessary.

 



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