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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Desai to Head Johannesburg 2002 Summit

23 October 2001-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has designated Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to head the World Summit for Sustainable Development that will take place next September in Johannesburg, South Africa.

As Secretary-General of the Summit, Desai will be responsible for building consensus among a broad coalition of governments, businesses, trade unions, non-governmental organizations and other major groups to develop measures to promote sustainable development, which is development that encompasses social and economic growth combined with environmental protection.

The Secretary-General also named Jan Pronk, Netherlands Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, to serve as his Special Envoy to meet with political leaders at the highest levels to assess their view on the goals for the Johannesburg Summit in the light of recent events.

In addition, the UN Secretary-General announced the establishment of a high-level advisory panel consisting of experts in various fields to provide advice on issues concerning sustainable development, and to raise awareness of the goals and the issues of the Summit. (Click here for a list of the experts on the Panel.)

After learning of his appointment, Desai said, "These are challenging times, but I believe that the Johannesburg Summit presents a major opportunity to address many of the persistent problems that we face, such as poverty and environmental degradation, through new approaches." He added, "I'm honoured to take on this job, and I'm determined to see that Johannesburg leads to concrete action to make sustainable development a reality."

Desai will continue to serve in his present position as Under-Secretary-General of DESA.

Hardly a stranger to efforts aimed at building support for sustainable development, Desai served as Deputy Secretary-General of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, better known as the Earth Summit. He is considered one of the leading architects of Agenda 21, the comprehensive plan of action for sustainable development that all countries agreed to at Rio.

According to Desai, Johannesburg is not, and should not, be an opportunity to revisit the agreements that were forged in Rio. Desai said, "At Rio, we defined an agenda to reduce poverty and disease, improve air and water quality, improve economic and social development, and ensure equity. Now, in Johannesburg, we have to figure out how we are going to make sure that these things get done."

None of the outcomes of the Rio Conference, namely Agenda 21 and what are called the Rio Conventions-on climate change, biodiversity, and desertification-are up for renegotiation, Desai said. "Where necessary, Johannesburg 2002 will amplify them or add to them, but the main thrust of the Summit will be to move from the answers agreed on paper to action on the ground."

Desai said that in Johannesburg, just as in Rio, it was vital to include representatives of all major groups in the process. But he noted that participation was not enough, and that although major group delegations had been fully involved at recent conferences, little progress on the ground has been seen. "If we want to accomplish something, we must make sure that everyone is involved in forging a consensus. This means more than just sitting in on meetings."

As a result, Desai said the structure of the Johannesburg Summit has been designed to create the space and the process for major groups to participate, not only as lobbyists, "but as people who can directly contribute, through their activities, to help realize the goals of sustainable development."

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24 August 2006