TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT OF GENERAL ASSEMBLY RAZALI ISMAIL (MALAYSIA)19970619
ASG for Public Information SAMIR SANBAR, the Moderator: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and dear colleagues. It is my pleasure to welcome our friend, and a very familiar figure, the President of the General Assembly, Razali Ismail (Malaysia). He will, of course, be addressing the question of the forthcoming special session of the General Assembly. I would add that he will be doing so not only in his functional capacity, but also in his personal capacity, having himself participated in negotiations in Rio in 1992, and having himself been seized of this issue in different capacities and through his personal interest and commitments. So I will give the floor to President Razali, and, of course, he will be responding to questions as they occur.
The PRESIDENT: I have been looking forward to this opportunity, although I don't know how well prepared I am or whether the discussions will progress to the point that you will be able to write an interesting story.
You want me to talk about the special session, I presume. So let's go back to what Rio achieved in 1992. I have a sense of proprietorship about Rio because, as the Malaysian Ambassador, I was involved in putting together resolution 44/228, which was the milestone resolution that put together environment and development in the United Nations and brought about the possibility of the summit in Rio. If I am seen to be overzealous about the special session, it has to do with that linkage, way back.
In those days it was much easier because I was not neutralized. As the President I am neutralized - I really cannot say many things. But as the Permanent Representative of Malaysia at that time I could bang on the table, and say "This is wrong, that is wrong", or "Where is the money coming from?" and so forth. But you see me more circumspect, which is very uninteresting.
So, what did Rio achieve? Well, at that time we were truly able to build on the upsurge, on the recognition by people and governments who wanted to do something about the state of the planet and the state of the human person. I am not being over-dramatic. It is true; you could feel it in the air at that time. Bruno Mensa wanted to protest about deforestation. He had had an operation on his leg, because he had broken it in Switzerland. But in Rio he jumped from a parachute, riding piggy-back on somebody else, just to make his point. So people do go to extremities. You could really feel this atmosphere in 1992, and everybody believed that governments and people were sincerely committed to the issues and commitments that came out of Rio.
Those commitments included the concept of mutual interdependence, the linkage between environment and development; this business of intergenerational equity - now I cannot even pronounce it, but in Rio we understood what it meant: you do not waste what you have now, but leave something for the next generation; common differentiated responsibilities: what had to be done as a common programme, what had to be differentiated in
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terms of the responsibilities of the North to do certain things, and the time given to the South to undertake sustainability. Those were very clearly spelt out. If you look at the documents of Rio, it will all be there.
There was a clear understanding that the model of development of the North was no longer tenable because, ecologically, it depleted a lot of resources and that, at the same time, the South had the right to develop, but to develop on the basis of equity and shared responsibilities. If you look at the situation now, you will see that those things have been blurred. There has been a lot of back-pedalling on that kind of common understanding.
There was also an understanding that the development of the South would be helped and assisted through a basis of financing for the transition from unsustainable activities to sustainable activities through capacity-building, through being able to have access to environmentally sound technologies. Therefore, in essence it meant that the burden of having to make these adjustments was in some ways on the South and also, at the same time, in some ways on the shoulders of the North. A lot of those commitments, I am unhappy to say, have now been blurred.
So, that is one aspect of what has been achieved and what has not been done. Then, by 1992, we were able to elaborate - and this is quite a magnificent effort - policy and international law based on environmental protection, social justice and economic growth. Look at the Conventions: biodiversity, climate change, desertification, the Basel Convention. They clearly stood their ground on very important principles and were legitimized through international law. It is not something that the General Assembly put out - it is something that you do through a convention. These were precautionary principles, the "polluter pays" principle, environmental impact assessment - nobody talked about environmental impact assessments before 1992 - and the responsibilities of States to prevent transboundary pollution, transboundary movement of toxic wastes. These were the ideas that came out.
And then there were the international institutions that were brought into the picture, task managers, part of the United Nations and all that. There is the International Development Association (IDA) - it predated Rio, but nevertheless IDA was reinforced. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was brought into existence, not as big as it was meant to be, but it came into existence. You had the convention of the secretariats, you know, the various conventions had secretariats feeding into the elaboration of the conventions. You have United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and you have Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The role of UNEP was refocused and CSD came into being. I was involved in the CSD. And there were so many scientific and expert committees that came into existence, dealing with operationalizing the commitments of Rio.
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Then, finally, there was this broad-based, participatory, democratic, accountable decision-making: the concept of the right of stakeholders to be involved in decision-making - "stakeholders" as detailed in Agenda 21, the particular chapter talking about women, indigenous people, civil society, scientists, business and industry. So, that meant empowerment to a lot of people as a result of Rio.
Now, what has happened since then? In some ways, there has been progress. I would not say there has not been progress. There has been limited positive progress on the national and local levels in terms of implementing Agenda 21, particularly strategies, and the concept of Agenda 21 has been more universalized, so that you can call that progress.
And then, there has been progress in particularizing - this, the countries of the South did not like too much, but nevertheless I could conceive it as progress - that aid or assistance was not seen as money in a gunny sack, brought over to countries to do with what they liked. Now, after Rio, you have to be specific in the areas of resources that you require and you have to put out strategies in what you want to do. You have to convince the South and specific agencies how you want to do this and whether there will be success in what you are doing. So aid and assistance were more specific result-oriented, which is good.
And then, you want also to take into account as progress world population stabilization. According to what I have read, the health indicators for the general health of people improved significantly in the last so many years.
But as against the positive, let us look at the negative. There is the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. That gap has widened significantly more. Then, on the question of external indebtedness, particularly of the least developed countries, the attempt to try to give debt relief has been very slow, not fast enough.
Then, in the context of globalization and trade liberalization, not enough protection has been given against the excesses of TNCs [transnational corporations] in terms of their corporate responsibilities. That aspect of it has not been properly underlined, even five years after Rio. There is, it seems to me, a total embrace of free market and globalization mantras to the effect that nobody has seriously considered the problems of marginalized countries, people not being able to compete in terms of market principles and what happens to them. What happens to the activities of TNCs operating in areas where governments are weaker than TNCs. So, governments are weakening in their ability to regulate activities of these huge corporations. That has not been done.
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Then we have the World Trade Organization (WTO), which is a creature or institution of the Uruguay Round and globalization. But the WTO is not democratic. It is very much an institution that deals with market factors and liberalization of trade as pushed by the major trading countries of the world. That is not necessarily bad, but as it stands now a lot of the problems are not being properly looked at. Certainly, within the context of WTO, there is not enough redress on issues dealing with marginalization. I would have thought that the United Nations, being more democratic and more universal, would be the body that would be able to oversee activities of the WTO, but it seems to me that, more and more, the WTO is wanting to cut its links to the United Nations. So that, to me, is a negative development.
Then, of course, we come to the question of official development assistance (ODA). In 1992 and 1993, there was something like $55 billion available in the pipeline; in 1997, we are looking at less than $50 billion available. From a figure of 0.33 per cent, we have moved down to 0.29, someone says 0.27. I am not sure what it is, but the decline is very clear, very significant, and no attempt has been made to reverse that decline and there has been no attempt to look at innovative financing. Efforts in that direction have been politically vetoed by major countries.
And finally, there is the question of the explosion of information technology, the kind of multimedia, superhighway ideas that are becoming advanced now, and in Malaysia too. These things are extremely important, but they are outdistancing the rich from the poor, the haves from the have-nots. What can be done about it? Is there a role for the United Nations in this? So far, I have not been getting clear signals of what the United Nations can do, and so I see that as a negative unless something is done.
I could go on a long way. What do we see as happening now? I would say that, for the last five years, we have examined the issue of sustainability only as environmental ministers and environmental ministries. This has been happening in the CSD. I know it doesn't sound good to say this, because the CSD has in some ways has been quite successful, but we have only seen very much of the atmosphere of an environmental ministers' club in the CSD. We have not had the trade ministers and the financial ministers here. It would be good if, in the next incarnation of the CSD, one could talk in terms of trade ministers, financial ministers and development ministers, who would come here to deal with issues that they have dealt with in, say, the Development Committee of the World Bank. There is no reason why the same ministers cannot come to both meetings. So that is something that we should look at.
There has been too much national focus in terms of implementation and not enough global focus. Global responsibility has been downplayed; we should look into that also.
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The conventions started in a very exciting fashion, but since then they have moved very slowly. What has happened with the convention on biodiversity? Not much. The question of intellectual property rights, the question of genetic benefits to be shared by all has not been touched on. And that is perhaps the biggest hurdle to the proper implementation of the Biodiversity Convention. On climate change, we are still politically waffling around, trying to find targets that can be accepted by the industrialized countries on commitments they have made to reach the 1990 level by the year 2000, or is it 2005?
And we still have not done anything about the omnipotence of transnational corporations in the context of a globalized world. Something has to be done about that.
The WTO and the TNCs - that is a very explosive combination. I think we must have more transparency on the way things are conducted under the rubric of commercial secrets. What does this mean, commercial secrets? It means an unwillingness to have an honest dialogue, or what?
All these things can happen if two things are changed.
One, the United Nations must be strengthened. It must be stronger than it has been in the last five years. A weakened United Nations may be the intention of certain countries, but a weakened United Nations will not bring about significantly increased chances for operationalizing sustainable development.
The other one has to do with the profession that I belong to. I think that the nature of diplomacy - we must somehow wake up one morning and realize that we are too slow, too laborious. The whole business of trying to find a consensus, while important and needing to be honoured, is too slow and takes too much time. It takes three years, four years to do things. People reminded me, when I tried to push faster, that the discussions on the Law of the Sea Convention took over 20 years, so why was I in a hurry? Well, yes, I am in a hurry, because the longer it takes, the more trees are cut down, the more fish are caught in nets that drift for 50, 80 miles at night in the sea - that is why I am in a hurry. So perhaps diplomats should be given a refresher course on how to get things done in a shorter time and in a more expeditious fashion.
We need to have targets and priorities for this special session. I would like to see something that one can measure in terms of looking at what countries can do to address unsustainable consumption and production patterns. Are they prepared to make the kind of adjustments that they are expected to have to make? Can we think in terms of a hike in the price of petrol? Can we think in terms of a reduction in the use of energy? Can we think in terms of
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giving a clear political signal to Kyoto that governments will accept significant commitments on the reduction of CO2?
At the moment, this is all very murky; nothing is clear. Some of these issues are not allowed to be discussed within the negotiations that are going on - at least there will be no decisions on some of these things.
Can we also have something clear about reversing the decline of the ODA? Everybody from Denver is going to act as a group and try to sweep this matter under the carpet, and not own up to the fact that this is a major responsibility emanating from the 1992 Rio decisions. What is going to happen to the decline of ODA? You can take any kind of national implementation, but the facts remain that you have not honoured your commitment to ODA in the context of enhancing ODA and of additional financial resources.
My final point is to say that we have failed to include in the documents certain important aspects. I see that no link has been made between military spending and financing sustainable development. I think it is a kind of act of political amnesia by all concerned not to want to discuss this. I think that this is not honest. This is political dishonesty. You cannot deal with sustainability five years after Rio without making a linkage between enhanced military expenditures, sales and purchases and the fact that there is not enough money to help people face unsustainable development. Here, I hope the countries in Denver will have the political courage to recognize their sin of omission.
We do not have enough formulation in terms of the question of the impediment of the IPR [intellectual property rights] regime for technology transfer and for bringing about equitable sharing, particularly in areas of conventions such as the one on biodiversity. So that is also not there.
Finally - and this is something close to your heart - the role of the media in promoting unsustainable consumption. There is much too much advertising, too much of a culture of materialism, particularly in this part of the world. That pushes to the recesses of your mind any attempt to be sustainable. How can you be sustainable if you have 400 different choices of cars and 45 different brands of oats, and this business of "This one is better than the next, I should try this one and that one". So advertising must also apply a certain norm, a certain standard, and I hope that this is something that will be looked at honestly by the ministers when they come here. They are the ones that can do this. Diplomats will not be able to do this.
In fact, as far as the documents are concerned, I can see that there will be some aspects that will be left to the ministers. I think that the issue of forests and deforestation, which is extremely important, is not something that can be concluded by the negotiators at this level. I hope
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that, as was the case in Rio, ministers will come to the rescue. There must be a clear and honest effort in dealing with what to do with the convention on forests. Is a convention on forest to the benefit of the forests or is it to the benefit of the industries? We must look at this clearly. Is it necessary to have a forest convention, or is a forest convention going to lead to more time being wasted? So these things have to be looked at.
Desertification is also a problem. I hear that issues dealing with means of implementation in terms of desertification will be dealt with by the ministers. Climate change targets, the same. And then there is this proposal on aviation fuel tax. That also will have to be looked at by the ministers.
I am happy to report that in terms of the special session, I am able to bring about this time a clear and palpable commitment and participation by non-governmental organizations at the plenary level. It is almost at the same level as Governments and others. So I am very happy, and I have gone to a lot of trouble with this, choosing the right NGOs, not [inaudible] of NGOs but people who matter. I am happy to announce that I have a list here of major NGO groups that have been invited to speak at the plenary.
From the indigenous people, we have Joji Carino from the Igorot group of indigenous people of the Philippines, who is with Survival International. I have Thilo Bode from Germany, Executive Director of Greenpeace; he will be speaking. From business and industry, there is a gentleman from Mexico, from the Grupo IMSA. Representing women's groups, Wangari Maathai will be speaking, and from the scientific and technological community, Yolanda Kakabadse, head of IUCN - you may know her. From the farmers, I have chosen an organic farmer, Denise O'Brien from the United States, who is a member of Via Campesina. She will be coming. For children and youth, Sheku Syl Kamara from Sierra Leone. Is that the person who may have problems coming up? He is trying to get a visa from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Guinea in order to make it here. You know the conditions in Sierra Leone. Then there will be Martin Khor from another non-governmental organization, the Third World Network. Another person from business and industry is David Kerr of Noranda Incorporated. I have asked Bill Jordan from the workers' trade union to speak. For local authorities, Collin Matjilla of South Africa. And from another indigenous people's group, Andrea Carmen from the Yaqui Nation of California.
To break that down, I will have five women and seven men. A great deal of effort has been made to try to make sure that this special session is not only about governments getting together. And it is not about only governments and the private sector getting together. It is about all the major stakeholders getting together to look at, and hopefully to make an honest appraisal of, how far we have come and what we have not been able to do. That
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means taking difficult decisions to try to improve on our performance over the last five years.
QUESTION: Welcome, Mr. President. Thank you for taking the time to brief us on the upcoming summit. In speaking about targets and priorities, you spoke twice about the Denver summit, which is happening this weekend. You brought up the issue of the price of petrol and military spending linked to sustainable development. What could come out of Denver that possibly might reflect on the success of Rio + 5 here, and if there are no positions like the ones we have mentioned, would that reflect on the failure of Rio + 5 here? The other part of the question is, are you satisfied with the level of participation by the South on issues related to the environment and sustainable development?
The PRESIDENT: On the second question, I am quite disappointed that representation from the South for the special session is not as great as I would have hoped it to be. I must confess that I hoped that Malaysia would be represented at a higher level, and that India would be represented at a higher level. Many of the countries from the South that were active in Rio appear to be sending representatives not at the level that they did before. I wonder if there is something to be learned from that. I spoke to my Prime Minister in an effort to get him to change his mind, and he told me very clearly that he is disappointed over the results of Rio, and the fact that he is not coming relates to the fact that he thinks that there has been a lot of back-pedalling and fudging on many of the commitments of Rio, and that the countries of the South have been given a very bad deal. So maybe the fact that the South has not come has to do with that. I am, of course, interpreting - except for the case of Malaysia, which I know for a fact.
What was the first question? What do we expect to get from Denver?
QUESTION: Particularly the pricing of oil and the linkage between military spending and sustainable development. I mentioned those two in the context of Denver.
The PRESIDENT: I am - what is it? Ventilating or levitating? Whatever it is, I am doing both. I am being provocative because I very well know that there will be no decisions like that in Denver. If you look at what happened in the last one year or so, there has been a lot of inward-looking, a lot of parochialism among the industrialized countries, who have been taking care of themselves from within. So let us not expect anything big. But I really hope that they will come from Denver with language that will make people be a bit more confident that they really mean what they say, that they will be able to reaffirm commitments in a fashion that underlines commitments in Rio. That is what I hope they will do. I would hope that they will not work as a pack, as a group. I hope that one or two outstanding Heads of State
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or Government - and there are some - will come out and say, "I will do these things. I will commit my country to reverse the decline of ODA and I will do it even if the others do not come along with me." That is what we need to hear.
We need to hear particularly from countries that are now making a bid to be as important as the P-5 [permanent five] in the Security Council. There is no reason why Japan cannot have a more assertive voice. Japan truly has been very supportive of sustainable development, as a government if not as a private sector. I await an occasion to hear the Prime Minister of Japan making clear commitments to say that he will really help the issue of global poverty. In Germany they can do the same. If they want to make themselves the right people to be considered to be permanent members, there is no reason why they cannot commit themselves more than the rest of their colleagues.
QUESTION: A small group of countries, among them, we understand, Malaysia, Germany and Brazil, are working on a special initiative regarding forests. Could you give us some more information about the purpose and scope of that initiative?
The PRESIDENT: I am not sure I have that information. I know that the Malaysians, with Canada and a few other countries, are pushing for a convention on forests. I know that there is opposition to that. I know that Brazil is not supportive of it at this moment. The issue of whether or not there will be a convention has to be examined in many aspects. Obviously a convention cannot be trade or industry driven, but must be one that takes into account all aspects of activities that deal with sustainability of unsustainability. It must take into account the role and fate of forest people, indigenous people. There are so many factors here, such as the activities of TNCs in forest industry. So at the moment I cannot tell you more than that. They are still debating whether to have one or not. In any instance, I hope that the presence of the ministers will bring about a solution where there can be a clear decision about what to do with the forests. I don't think one should be in a hurry to make political headlines by having, say, a convention that is ill-prepared without the right terms of reference. It is better that we work hard and prepare more for this before we commit ourselves to any one line of action.
QUESTION: Anne Cooper from National Public Radio. You spoke about the need to strengthen the United Nations as part of carrying out all of these things. But if you do have this meeting next week, and the Group of Seven countries come, and they don't make any strong new commitments, and there is nothing really at the end of these several days that can be described as concrete progress, don't you run the risk of discrediting the United Nations with people like Senator Jesse Helms, who already complains about the United
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Nations sponsoring these huge international meetings that do not really do much?
The PRESIDENT: I understand the drift of the point you made. But if the United Nations is discredited, almost all of us are also discredited, including the United States - in many ways the United States more so than any little countries. After all, it is the action or the inaction of the major countries that leads to the marginalization of the United Nations, that discredits the United Nations. It is not because of the question of the United Nations being too big or needing downsizing. It is not that.
Major countries are not prepared to invest in a resurgent United Nations. It is as if a term of reference has been given to the United Nations that keeps it within a certain bounds, a certain perimeter, and it is not allowed to go beyond that. I mean, if you look at funds, how much has the United Nations got in terms of funds available in any one year. The World Bank has $26 billion; the United Nations has hardly $5 billion to deal with. It is not equal to the leverages that the other bodies have, so if Mr. Helms and company comes to the conclusion that nothing happened in the special session, then everybody has to take a share of that blame. It is not the United Nations as such; it is the countries that do these things.
For me, if we are not able to come up with anything really important from the special session, I think that in itself would be a result that in itself would be very salutary. Everybody will then understand that this is the manner of international cooperation. When governments made commitments five years ago, and after that quite forgot them, and the domestic pressure that had been pushing for environment and sustainable development that was there five years ago is on the eclipse, this is the kind of result you have. I think it would be, in a way, "good results".
QUESTION: On the forest convention issue, I understand that a major problem with the countries opposed to a convention is that they don't want to put their natural resources, which are essentially within their borders and under their control, under any form of control at the international level. To what extent is this a valid issue and what other issues are there that you see pro and con?
The PRESIDENT: I can understand the sentiments of countries that have huge areas of forests. We are talking about tropical forests, I suppose - everybody talks only about tropical forests, not about temperate or boreal forests. I don't know why, but they are also forests that have biodiversity and all that.
But if you are talking about tropical forests in countries like Malaysia and others, this property is part of our national sovereignty, so I can
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understand the uneasiness of accepting these as part of the global commons and all that. I am glad that that kind of language is not being discussed now about global commons and forests being part of that. Forests have a certain place, a very important role in terms of balancing the climate, taking in CO2 and all that. Yes, I agree with that. Forests have immense wealth by way of biodiversity and they benefit a lot of people, a lot of communities.
Now, I think in the past five years there has been a better understanding of the role of governments in relation to what has to be done internationally as far as forests are concerned. That issue has moved quite a bit. You have a country like Malaysia that was dead against it before, and now would be prepared to have a convention, perhaps not for all the reasons that should be, but nevertheless we are not opposed to a convention. But we have a situation now where certain civil society groups do not want a convention, also for very good reasons. They think a convention would delay implementation of the issues that have already been looked at under the forest panel and they would want these issues to be implemented at the same time as you negotiate for a convention. I think this is a fair request. You can have a convention that begins to prepare, but at the same time the governments concerned would be ready to undertake some of the aspects of principles of forests that can be implemented.
QUESTION: What is the reason argued against a convention? The United States and India, for instance, are opposing it. Why?
The PRESIDENT: Well, I think in the case of the United States, it is going back to what we were like before: stress on national sovereignty. These are areas that should not be looked at by anybody else but us and the Congress. It is going backwards, I think, that kind of position. At this moment, the United States is undergoing a mood of inward examination with elements of sovereignty, rights and all that becoming overly stressed.
In the case of India, it has to do with poverty. You have to understand the needs of the poor people of India. The forest is their resource, and nobody should prevent poor people from having the right to a resource. Unless there is a way of alleviating their problems of poverty, of developing them, you cannot prevent them from going, when they need to, cut the trees down.
QUESTION: Did you ever consider, perhaps, courting the enemy, so to speak: inviting representatives from the transnational companies to come and to participate in this session and to hear what the debate might be - a bit of back and forth with these people in question, the companies in question?
The PRESIDENT: They are not enemies. If anything can be done on operationalizing sustainable development or sustainability, it must mean the cooperation of the business sector and the government and all the other
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stakeholders working together. And the government and private sectors are very important. The others are important too, but the private sector in a globalized world is extremely important. So, whether we like it or not, we must find a way to get them to be accountable to the United Nations, in many ways, and to work with the United Nations.
In that context, there have been people from the private sector that have approached me, aware of their responsibilities. I have taken a lot of trouble to choose the right candidates to come and speak, representing the private sector - Mr. Reyes from Mexico - we have looked into their background. I hope I am not wrong, but they appear to be very committed to sustainability in all its aspects.
At the same time, I am having a round table on 24 June, the second day of the session, where I have, with the help of Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, put together a dozen important CEOs - from companies like 3-M, Japanese companies, steel companies, a company from Mexico - and about a dozen governmental representatives, including the Prime Minister of Norway, the Minister from India, the Minister from South Africa. Hopefully we will have a very high-level representation from Zimbabwe. From the North, there is the Minister for Development from the United Kingdom - very high level representation. The Secretary-General will be there.
At that round table, which will be from 1 to 3 while we eat, we will try to establish a framework of relationships between government, private sector, the United Nations and other stakeholders. The NGOS will be there, too. There will be two NGOs: one from Third World Network and the other one from Ghana. There will be two academicians: David Cotton and Jonathan Lash. We will try to establish a framework of relationship that takes into account, first, the policies that the United Nations and governments in the United Nations will be looking on sustainability, and the funds and programmes that are under the bodies that deal with operationalizing sustainable development, like United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNEP, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) - bodies like that.
So, before the private sector can be involved in the funds and programmes, let us build first a framework. Will they be prepared to volunteer information on their best practices and worst practices wherever they are? I am sure a lot of the private sector will not want to do this, but there will be some. And one of the things that is good about the private sector: if the major ones come on board, there will be others that want to do it. So we are hoping to be able to attract people who will volunteer information on this.
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Over 100 Governments already volunteer at the CSD every year their experiences of how they have implemented national strategies on sustainability. There is no reason why business houses cannot do the same, especially as they operate all over the world. So this is going to happen. And once you have this framework, then it is possible to think in terms of getting the private sector to come together with the government in terms of core financing on some United Nations projects. This is an exciting notion. And at the moment, this is being done quietly, without any set of rules or standards by the various agencies, through foundations or in other ways. It is necessary to have a comprehensive framework, and I am quite confident that I can have enough private sector support for this and that we can look at it together with other stakeholders. So this may be one plus coming out of the special session.
QUESTION: I am sensing a little bit of frustration here from you in terms of diplomats that are not moving quickly enough and perhaps governments that are not taking this as seriously as they did five years ago. I am wondering, Ambassador, what is the best that you see coming out of this, or what is the most progress that you see being made here next week?
The PRESIDENT: Well, I think I have spent the last hour trying to say this. You have to decipher what I have said. I cannot go through this again. I mean - and somebody is shaking her head. But I have said this. We have to look at targets; we have to make honest appraisals, even if we have to admit that we have not done enough. We have to make clear commitments. I am sure that I have said all these things.
As far as frustration is concerned, I recognize 1992 as the time when all of us hit the zenith of commitment on environment and development, and looking at poverty and all that. And since then - and please forgive me for being frustrated - we have been standing on the slippery slope of no longer having a commitment to that extent. Hence the frustration.
QUESTION: In the last 45 minutes, when you spoke about NGOs, CEOs, governments, and when you spoke of the South, at no point did you mention the participation of an Arab country or individual, though they have a lot of resources and represent 12 per cent of the membership. Now is it because they are not interested? Are you frustrated also by the lack of participation by Arab countries, though they are 12 per cent of the membership here? Would you address yourself to them - sort of non-participation on a high level, and is it also across the board?
The PRESIDENT: As far as this participation is concerned, it is all worked out in Agenda 21. These bodies are identified, so in Agenda 21 there is no group, such as Arabs or Malays or Christians in that group, so that is easy enough.
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But the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States is coming to speak at the plenary. There was a request by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to speak, but the Secretary-General of the OIC is not able to come, so if it is not at the highest level, he or she cannot speak at the plenary. It's as simple as that. But there are areas of the globe that have not seriously looked at issues of sustainability, and the Middle East is one of them.
QUESTION: There is obviously a link between consumption and conservation. You touched on it only briefly, in connection with the savings on energy. How much attention is going to be given during this session to changing the consumption pattern, particularly in the first world?
The PRESIDENT: The idea would be to have a clear commitment. If the North, for example, committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15 or 20 per cent by the year 2005, that would be a huge commitment. But I doubt that we will get specific targets like this. I have my doubts.
And why not look at the target of eradicating poverty? There is some language in the document that talks about eradicating poverty over the long term: that is, a 50 per cent reduction by the year 2005 and 100 per cent by the year 2010. It seems like a long haul ahead, but if we commit ourselves to those kinds of targets, that will evoke a chorus of support at the ground level. That will give a signal to the people at the ground level that this special session is about them and about helping them. Can we do that?
QUESTION: You mentioned earlier that one of the problems in getting these matters dealt with in speed is the need for the consensus of the United Nations - the rules of decision-making. I just wonder if there is any possibility that next week we may get a move to change those rules of decision-making?
The PRESIDENT; I am sure that you know the answer to that. No, there is no way that we can have the rules of procedure changed by next week.
QUESTION: I recall that in Rio, there was an attempt to do that in the plenary hall, I think.
The PRESIDENT: I think that whoever chairs the meeting, if there are one or two or three people standing in the way of the others, should shame those people into submission. Tommy Koh did this very well in Rio. I remember that. He did this, and those countries finally folded and gave up. But really, this business of consensus is becoming a huge albatross around the neck of a lot of delegations.
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QUESTION: On what particular item would you say that you have indications that you may be able to reach agreement on a target next week?
The PRESIDENT: I don't know. I am told that there has been progress on the trans-boundary movement of radioactive waste, there is language on that. And on the energy issue and here again I remain to be corrected I am told that there is some language that may find consensus on consensual financing on energy. Am I right? Yes? You can speak on my behalf, if you want! But yes, there is. And I think there is consensus on fresh water, even on targets.
QUESTION: Which is?
The PRESIDENT: I do not know what.
MODERATOR: Thank you all very much.
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