STATEMENT BY MR. NITIN DESAI,
UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL
FOR ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS

TO THE

PREPARATORY COMMITTEE FOR THE WORLD SUMMIT
ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
(New York, 30 April 2001)

Mr. Chairman,

First, may I begin by congratulating you on your election as Chairman of the preparatory committee, with the very important responsibility of preparing for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held next year in Johannesburg. Your election is a particular pleasure for me personally, as we have known each other for a long time, going back to the time of the Brundlandt Commission. Your strong commitment to the basic ideas and principles of sustainable development were first given high political prominence through the Report of the Commission. May I also take this opportunity to congratulate all the Vice-Chairpersons who have been elected to the Bureau.

Mr. Chairman, you have correctly outlined many of the concerns which are shaping the expectations for this Summit, the concerns about the degree to which we have, or have not, achieved progress in implementation of sustainable development. Much of this was the subject of discussion during the meeting of the CSD-9, which took place over the past two weeks and which is reflected in the Chairman’s Summary of the High-Level Segment. In my own assessment a few themes stood out in those discussions and which I believe also reflect the concerns of many people in general.

I will frame the first concern around a few questions:

Have we really come to grips with the implementation of sustainable development, do we really know what it means in operational terms?

What does operationalization mean?

To what extent can we talk of operationalization at the global level?

Is the operationalisation of sustainable development something that will have to be done much more at a local, national or regional level because of the varying conditions in different countries?

What I sensed during the discussions at CSD-9 was that there are many elements of operationalisation that can be talked about and discussed. I would point in particular to initiatives that require cooperation between countries, such as in technology transfer, in the provision of financial resources or simply in terms of joint programming. Then again, there are areas that could be developed which are of a broader application than simply at a local or national level. Operationalization is partly a matter of defining more specific areas of cooperation at the sectoral level. To a certain extent operationalization also entails laying out clear goals for sustainable development. Operationalization also means drawing more specific guidelines which shape the operations of the entities that are involved in the operational part of the international system, including on the financial and development assistance side.

The second larger theme that has come up in our discussions is that the World does not look the same as it did when we met in Rio ten years ago. Changes have taken place, which we cannot but take into account when we meet again at the Johannesburg Summit. The most important of these is globalisation.

Globalisation has resulted in the growing integration of economies, but not just of economies, but also of many other areas of life, the impact of which needs to be considered in Johannesburg. We need to look at the impact of globalisation on the possibility for sustainable development at the local or national level and we need to look at the particular areas that should be addressed. An important subset is the concern about how we make the operations of large companies and transnational corporations compatible with sustainable development.

Clearly, people expect the Johannesburg Summit to analyse and address the many concerns about the impact of globalisation. The anxieties about globalisation have manifested themselves, not just in demonstrations in the streets, but also in the debates among governments, particularly here in the United Nations, in this Commission, in the Economic and Social Council and in the General Assembly.

The third theme, which clearly came up very sharply, was the importance of connecting the sustainable development agenda with the emerging agenda on poverty eradication. Much of the agenda on poverty eradication is people centred. It focuses attention on services to be delivered to individuals. What sustainable development can contribute to this agenda is a focus on the resources dimension. An individual cannot be brought out of poverty unless you address squarely the quality, the integrity, and the productivity of the resources on which that individual’s livelihood depends. This is particularly true for the rural poor in the developing world, but is certainly also important for addressing the concerns of the urban poor. Many of their concerns are concerns that connect directly with the sustainable development agenda.

During our discussion there were, of course, important expectations on securing some clear sense of advancement and forward movement on the issue of financial resources for sustainable development and on the issue of technology transfer. One thing is in common to us all, which was articulated wonderfully by our Chairman in his opening statement, – we all have a common interest in the possibility of human survival on this planet; – we all have a common interest in the sharing of prosperity; – we all have a common interest in the management of the risks that we confront, all of us equally. This is what brings us together. I sensed that there was a recognition of that we will never achieve sustainable development unless we can generate a global ethic of responsibility or stewardship. Sustainable development must be guided this and Johannesburg must, in some ways, become an expression of such a global ethic.

These are the major themes that I believe came up in the discussions in CSD -9. I think it is very important that we focus on what we want out of the Summit. One of the difficulties of sustainable development has been the diversity of expectations that people have of this process. Even in the Commission on Sustainable Development, people come here with diverse expectations of what they want and part of the reason for this lies in the very nature of sustainable development.

When social, environmental, economic dimensions are being brought together, as in the Commission on Sustainable Development, it is unavoidable that some people come with expectations couched very much in terms of the impact on say poverty, or social cohesion. Others come to this process looking at it more from the perspective of how it is going to boost possibilities of development; and yet others come here expecting that it will contribute towards the greening of economic processes. Part of the problem that we have in securing agreement on substantive issues in the Commission on Sustainable Development has been trying to meet these diverse expectations of what is it that we actually want to have an agreement on when we talk of, for example, energy, or tourism, or agriculture or oceans, or water.

I think we must understand that it is important that these different expectations are voiced; this is the whole point of the political process. The purpose is not that one point of view will prevail – that there is some wonderful definition of sustainable development that is so clear and obvious, that somehow it will prevail and everything will fall neatly within that framework. We have a certain framework, Agenda 21, but no matter the framework, when we get down to operationalisation, when we get down to action and to making it real, we must expect that there will be differences in expectations. The function of the political process is to find the common ground.

I strongly believe that there has been success in finding much of that common ground over the past ten years since Rio. That has been the strength of this process, and it is why so many of you come here, that is why so many people participate.

It is also in the nature of a compromise that you look at it only from the perspective of what did not get in there. I hope we avoid this. I hope we recognize that what we are entering into when we prepare for the Johannesburg Summit must be a genuine process of conversation and dialogue between people who are entering this with understandably different expectations, with understandably different concerns, and, in certain cases, with understandably different interests. Reaching concrete agreements are always difficult. We must expect this difficulty, we must respect the differences and recognise that finding the common ground and forming essential partnerships for implementation, is the real point of this whole process.

Sustainable development is a political matter, not simply a matter of experts defining what sustainable development is, which then everybody implements. We must respect the politics of the process and work with it. This is why the structure of the preparatory process that is defined for the Johannesburg Summit defers from the usual.

Furthermore, this is why, between now and the First PrepCom in January of 2002, we have a very intensive series of regional meetings. We have the big regional intergovernmental meetings in the five regions but, beyond that, we also have regional roundtables organized by countries with the participation of a lot of eminent people. In addition, stakeholders are planning many substantial activities. The next six months will mean a considerable amount of preparatory work taking place at the base level, where different points of view will be expressed, and articulated – and that is precisely what we want – and that is what we will take on when we start the global preparatory discussions in January of 2002.

Much emphasis has been placed on national preparations, precisely in order to generate this sense of fermentation of ideas at the local, at the national and the regional level. A large number of countries have set up national preparatory bodies. We have encouraged and requested countries to launch specific processes to build up a sense of national involvement, such as, through identifying successful examples of sustainable development. We have asked countries to launch awareness-raising campaigns for children, as well for the general public. We have asked countries to ask themselves what are their challenges, which they would like to meet in terms of sustainable development. Through these, and other different ways, we hope there will be a strong process of national preparation. Much of this is already under way.

In addition, more work is being done by the UN system. There are a whole series of reports that you can expect from the system: UNEP’s GEO-3 Report, WHO’s World Health Report, the UNDP’s work on poverty and environment, the World Bank’s World Development Report, the FAO’s report on the Five-Years after the World Food Summit. All of these will be major, substantive contributions to the thinking process that will go on leading up to the political discussions in the global preparatory process starting in January of 2002. Our Task Managers that have been involved in the work of CSD are very deeply engaged in this process.

We will need a strong sense of political involvement at the national, as well as at every other level. This is a challenge. I will be the first to admit that the degree to which this Summit has entered the radar of the political systems of the national or regional level will need to improve the closer we get to the Summit. That cannot come simply by saying, this is important – worry about it. That can only come if, through all of this preparatory work, we generate a sense of that there is a potential at the Summit for answering real problems that worry people at the political level. This is our challenge over the next six months and much of that is reflected in the work that has already been done. The United Nations Secretariat, as well as in the Secretariats of all other entities involved in supporting the Commission on Sustainable Development, have already been preparing and supporting your work here. You already have before you today a series of initial assessments of what has been achieved over the past ten years.

Given all this decentralised activity, a vital element in the preparations in the next eight months will be exchange of information. Keeping people informed of what is happening. We don’t really come together at a global level until January 2001. So, we need to ensure a sense of a maintained overall preparation. It is for this reason that we decided to invest a fair amount of effort in the preparation of a strong website. The website is going to be one of our major instruments for keeping people engaged, for keeping people informed. This is a website that is powered by cutting-edge software known as "The Brain". A company called The Brain Inc., an information technology company in California, has developed it and I am very grateful to them for the services they have provided. The site will be fleshed out as things get more defined, for instance, as we get the outcomes of the regional processes, but we hope that this website will also provide a certain vehicle, a mechanism, for interaction. And, let me tell you, this is one thing that is different from Rio. In 1992, when we agreed on Agenda 21, there was no worldwide web.

I will now turn my attention to describing how you can navigate through this website. (http://www.un.org/rio+10). Before doing so let me assure you, Mr. Chairman, and your Bureau, that we in the Secretariat, as well as other parts of the United Nations system, are here to work with you to ensure that we have a truly successful Johannesburg Summit in 2002.