27 June 1997


27 June 1997

Press Release


19970627 Special Session Nears Completion of Week-Long Review Of Recommendations from 1992 Rio Conference on Sustainable Development

The international community should establish precise goals and specific time frames for environmental protection, the Assembly was told by several speakers this morning as it resumed its general debate on implementation of Agenda 21 from the 1992 Rio Conference on environment and development. Significant progress had been made in some areas, it was stated, but the global environment still hovered dangerously on the brink of extinction. Innovative domestic efforts for sustainable development were counteracted by the continuing scourge of poverty and "suicidal" patterns of consumption and production.

Drastic measures on the national, regional and international level were today required to combat the pending environmental catastrophes. Economics and environment were not diametrically opposed. Business and workers must participate in the correction of global environmental problems.

In other action this morning, the Assembly adopted the report of its Credentials Committee, acting without a vote.

The Vice-President of the Gambia addressed the Assembly this morning. Also speaking in the debate were the Ministers for the Environment from Zambia; Georgia; Mali; and Bahrain. The Minister of Communication and Culture of Guinea; the President of the Economic and Social Council of Cameroon; and the Director-General at the Department of International Organization, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, also made statements as did the chairmen of the delegations of Kuwait; United Arab Emirates; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Lebanon; and Afghanistan.

The President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; the Assistant Secretary- General of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements; the Chairman of the Global Environment Facility; and the Secretary-General of the World Meterological Organization also participated in the debate. Statements were also made on behalf of the Third World Network, the International Chamber of Commerce, and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

Special Session Work Programme

The General Assembly's special session to review the implementation of the "Agenda 21" recommendations from the 1992 Conference in Rio de Janeiro on environment and development resumed this morning. This is the final day of the week-long session.


ISATOU NJIE-SAIDY, Vice President and Secretary of State for Health, Social Welfare and Women's Affairs, Gambia: The Gambia's commitment to sustainable development was formalized in 1977 through its Banjul Declaration. Principles of equity influence the Government's environmental policy and programmes, but institutional weaknesses limit the country's development. Donor inflexibility and limited capacity for decentralization also pose problems. Experience shows that a grassroots orientation enhances sustainability in environmental management.

The Gambia ratified the climate change convention, as well as the texts on biodiversity and desertification. National studies have been undertaken to review and formulate relevant policies. The thrust of the country's implementation of the biodiversity agreement lies in the creation of a protected area system. Ultimately, about 5 per cent of the country's total territory will be defined as protected area. Forest policy has been reviewed in the light of the desertification convention. The aim is to put some 50 per cent of the country's forests under community ownership. A national plan for poverty alleviation includes a rural credit and micro-credit programme for small scale enterprise development. The Gambia strongly supports increased overseas development assistance. International financial mechanisms should be more transparent and democratic. To achieve the Rio goals, environmentally- sound technologies must be transferred on concessional terms.

WILLIAM HARRINGTON, Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, Zambia: Zambia has ratified all the Rio conventions as well as those negotiated since. It has made efforts at the national level to protect the environment with these priority areas for attention: deforestation, land degradation, water pollution, inadequate sanitation, air pollution and depletion of wildlife. Deforestation is largely the result of exploitation of forests for food. Agricultural productivity is hampered by land degradation and drought. Socio-economic factors are the underlying causes of natural resources degradation. Despite concerted efforts to alleviate poverty, millions continue to live in an unacceptable manner. Poverty eradication requires both local and international solutions, given the global nature of world economies. In order to survive, the poor exploit natural resources unsustainably. Such practices, in turn, lead to environmental degradation which then increases poverty.

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Sustainable development, including poverty eradication, is also related to Zambia's huge external debt. Zambia currently carries an external debt of more than $6 billion. A number of creditor countries have assisted with bilateral debt relief, but there is urgent need for a durable solution to the debt issue. Pledges by the European Union and other countries to increase overseas development assistance (ODA) are welcome.

ALPHA IBRAHIMA DIALLO, Minister for Culture, Guinea: Guinea's national environmental policies focus on the protection and renewal of natural resources and poverty alleviation. After the Rio summit, the Government established a Ministry of the Environment, together with a national plan of action -- the country's version of Agenda 21. A national plan on population seeks to limit demographic growth, to improve the status of women, enhance education and living standards and to improve the technical capacities for the analysis of demographic data.

Guinea has undertaken a major national effort on biodiversity in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It is conducting an inventory of natural resources and developing a plan of action. The Government is also working to effectively implement the Framework Convention on Climate Change enhancing public awareness of the text through a series of seminars. Guinea's national efforts require international cooperation. Developed countries should do more in that regard.

TURKI BIN MOHAMED AL KABIR of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Saudi Arabia: The "Basic Law of Governance" of Saudi Arabia assures the protection and development of the environment. A national Agenda 21 has been established and a report prepared on recommendations for future performance. Saudi Arabia was a founder of regional organizations for the protection of the marine environment and for the conservation of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Saudi Arabia has ratified international agreements on toxic substances and has also acceded to the Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as the desertification convention.

Desertification and drought are of grave concern to the Government of Saudi Arabia -- the custodian of the two holy mosques. Over the last two decades, it has contributed some $1.6 billion to combat desertification in Africa. Most arid countries do not possess the necessary scientific research facilities or technological means to deal with the problem. Developed countries should assume their responsibilities and make available the required financing. Saudi Arabia has provided some $72 billion in assistance to developing countries.

NINO CHKHOBADZE, Minister for the Environment, Georgia: Agenda 21 is possibly one of the best documents created by humankind at the end of the

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second millennium. The difference between the level of success achieved by individual countries in solving the problems of sustainable development is obvious. One of the prerequisites of such success is the development of a nation. This however, is not the decisive factor. A stable and well-targeted state policy, combined with international support, can become imperative for accelerating the development of a country. Georgia realizes that any global problem will be insoluble unless the solutions are found on the local, national and regional levels.

Georgia is not unique in its ecological problems. Besides the global ones, the basic problems high on our agenda are: conservation of forests, clean water, and hazardous wastes. To solve these problems, Georgia is creating action programmes at the national level. To implement the principles of sustainable development, it has included in its national legislation the universal norms on environmental protection as well as its international obligations. It is time for our planet to get wise and for the developing countries and the countries with transitional economies not to repeat the mistakes already made by the others in the past. Our task is to protect the environment from the human being and for the human being.

LUC AYANG, President of the Social and Economic Council of Cameroon: The survival of humanity is a collective responsibility. With that recognition, the developing countries committed themselves in Rio to environmental protection, while developed countries committed to making financial and technological resources available. Cameroon has, since Rio, been striving to develop environmentally-sound laws, institutions and national plans. Other African countries have shown keen interest in those efforts. Together with other States, and with support from United Nations agencies, a number of projects have been undertaken to support regional resource preservation. Domestically, Cameroon has created protected areas that encompass some 30 per cent of the country's territory.

Members of the international community have responded only half- heartedly to their Rio commitments. Financial resources needed to implement Agenda 21 are cruelly lacking. Growing marginalization is a global problem. The ideal of solidarity underlying Agenda 21 must be translated into concrete deeds. The poorest countries have committed themselves to sustainable development to leave future generations with a livable environment. However, growing external debt and poverty hamper these efforts. Specific realities must be taken into account in developing international cooperation for sustainable development.

MODIBO TRAORE Minister for the Environment, Mali: Expressions of intent must become specific action. The special session should pave the way for a new partnership to reverse "suicidal" human tendencies. Poverty is a leading source of natural resource over-exploitation. While millions of the poor turn

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to vulnerable resources for their survival, others produce enormous amounts of waste through unsustainable lifestyles. In Mali, poverty remains widespread, particularly in rural areas where resources are depleted because of unsustainable agricultural methods and other trends.

Environmental concerns are trans-boundary and thus must be addressed in a holistic manner with international cooperation. Mali has taken numerous actions domestically to develop an enabling environment for protecting resources. The convention on desertification requires a financing mechanism. The statement made by the Group of 77 developing countries and China merits unreserved support and new initiatives announced during the special session are to be welcomed. The call for new approaches should not detrimentally affect the availability of resources for implementing Agenda 21. Resources are needed, but also required is the development of a culture of sharing and sustainability.

SHEIKH KHALID BIN ABDULLAH AL-KHALIFA, Minister for the Environment, Bahrain: The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) defined sustainable development. The present review of the Agenda 21 being undertaken at the present special session of the General Assembly makes clear that the United Nations is the primary forum for debating the wise use of natural resources and sustainable development. Bahrain is keen to support some regional and international efforts aimed at sustainable development. It has acceded to major international environmental treaties and participated in the Barbados conference on the sustainable development of small island developing states.

Bahrain looks forward to working with the international community to protect the environment in Bahrain and its regions. To this end, Bahrain is working closely with civil society and the private sector to develop environmental protection strategies. Those plans centre on the protection of marine mammals, migratory birds, wetlands, coral reefs and mangroves. United Nations agencies are working with Bahrain to study island ecosystems and will share that information with other regions. The Commission on Sustainable Development, UNEP, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the international financial community should provide technical and financial assistance to small island developing countries as they work to protect the environment and provide a decent life for future generations.

MOHAMMAD ABADALLAH ABDULHASAN,(Kuwait): Since the adoption of the Rio Declaration, Kuwait has concluded an integrated national environmental strategy along the principles and guidelines in the Agenda 21 document. A whole set of policies, measures and targets has been developed to cover various areas, including the economy, natural resources, the industry and energy. Kuwait, as the General Assembly is aware, has suffered probably one

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of the worst man-made environmental catastrophes in contemporary times with the setting ablaze of over 700 oil wells and the spilling of millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf water during the Iraqi invasion. My country has been pursuing the implementation of programmes of action contained in the Rio Declaration through the special national commissions set up to follow the carrying out of agreements emanating from the UNCED. Both the motive and purpose of this Special Session is to pool our energies in a joint effort on behalf of mankind. That we meet here under the aegis of the United Nations, the embodiment of world conscience, is yet another testimony to the universality of our existence.

MOHAMMAD SAMHAN, (United Arab Emirates): All Agenda 21 partners must fulfil their commitments, especially in the transfer of technological and financial resources. The United Arab Emirates considers developing human resources and protecting the environment of utmost importance and has taken a number of significant actions to achieve those objectives. The Government established institutions for applying environmentally-friendly principles, and research centres to develop genetic strands of flora and fauna. Further, the United Arab Emirates is making efforts to conserve fish stocks through legislative actions. Heavy marine traffic in its territorial waters causes environmental degradation. The Government is making efforts to address this challenge.

Conflict impacts negatively on social and economic development. The Arabian Gulf, one of the world's most economically strategic regions, continues to suffer serious environmental damage as a result of residues from wars over the past two decades. Responsibility for the region's conservation should be shared by national, regional and international actors. Disputes must be resolved peaceably through negotiation. The continuing Israeli occupation of territory, and its growing nuclear, chemical and bacteriological capabilities are a source of grave danger to the region. Israel must fulfil its national and bilateral commitments and respect the spirit of Rio.

MUMHAMED SACIRBEY,(Bosnia and Herzegovina): The people of all nations are inevitably tied together by the environment that we all share. Political borders, ideologies and economic systems cannot serve as effective environmental lines of demarcation. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small country handicapped by the consequences of war. Our contribution to this effort is constrained by our circumstances. The initial environmental consequences of widespread war, especially targeting the civilian population and their livelihood, ironically produced contradictory indications in terms of environmental issues. There does not have to be a diametric choice between environment and economics, between people and nature. Unfortunately there are already disturbing indications. Perceiving our desperation and urgency, some have been inclined to export to us old and even obsolete technology and exploitative economic activity. If shortsighted strategies and options are

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forced upon us, it can mean an ever-deteriorating situation combining the consequences of war, pollution and unconscionable industrial exploitation, with land-mines and industrial waste overwhelming the land, the people, the fragile peace and our common Earth.

SAMIR MOUBARAK, (Lebanon): Over the course of Lebanon's 20-year civil war, ecological systems and the human environment were seriously degraded. Wastes accumulated, sewage systems failed, mountainous lands became barren and forest cover dwindled from 30 per cent of national land area to less than 3 per cent. Social welfare, health and educational systems fell to their lowest levels. Since the Rio conference, Lebanon has returned to normalcy. The Government has embarked on an ambitious national reconstruction programme and has acceded to the major global environmental conventions. Nationally, Lebanon has stressed human development, institutional-building and reforestation. Social development and eradication of poverty remain high on the Government's list of priorities.

Lebanon supports the position of the Group of 77 developing countries and China regarding institutional frameworks and international cooperation for sustainable development in developing countries. ODA remains essential, and should be complemented by foreign direct investments from the private sector.

RAVAN FARHADI, of(Afghanistan): The plan of action adopted five years ago at Rio has lost none of its urgency. Sustainable development cannot be materialized by the turn of century if a good part of the world's population lacks the most basic necessities. Global sustainability will remain only "wishful thinking" so long as industrialized countries undermine the ecological life support system of the human family by wasting resources. Developing countries struggle to meet their environmental challenges while at the same time fighting against poverty. This was particularly true in countries devastated by war. Those States must receive additional and immediate assistance.

Afghanistan is a country ravaged by more than 10 million land-mines. The heavy toll constantly taken upon farmers and upon their children -- the future farmers -- is preventing Afghanistan from revitalizing its green areas. Agriculture, which is the most important factor of environmental protection in Afghanistan, will never be fully promoted until mine-clearance is effectively implemented. In Afghanistan in the towns invaded by the Taliban, women, many of whom are destitute widows who have to feed their children have been deprived the right to work.

While some measures have been taken against deforestation in neighbouring Pakistan, forest wood cut from Afghanistan is transported to that country without any limitations. The war in Afghanistan destroyed basic rural infrastructure and traditional irrigation systems. Because of that armed

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conflict, directly imposed by foreign intervention and still ravaging the Afghan economy, nothing has been done to implement rehabilitation.

AHMED FATHY SOROUR, President of the Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union: The major obstacle to resolute action for sustainable development is essentially political. Overcoming it calls for mobilization by all actors in society and, first and foremost, by members of Parliament. For Parliamentary action to be effective, parliaments and their members must themselves be convinced of the need to give preference to the long-term interests of society and to call into question the dominant model of development.

Renewed vigour in the worldwide partnership for sustainable development is of absolute importance. Only international solidarity will enable us to build a safer world, a world that is more than just and more free -- for today and for tomorrow. It is largely the failure to embrace the cause of solidarity which is curtailing the success of the programme established by UNCED. Solidarity must also lead to a resolve to settle the problem of the debts of developing countries, particularly for the poorest of them. To counterbalance these efforts, the countries of the South must urgently create conditions favourable for social and financial investments which foster the preservation of the environment and lead to the eradication of poverty.

WALLY N'DOW, Assistant Secretary-General OF United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat): The promise of the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992 will be fully realized only when improved shelter and housing are provided and when human settlements are better managed. The objective of the City Summit at Istanbul was to raise global awareness for an urgent improvement in the living conditions of 1.5 billion who are inadequately housed. That Conference focused the world's attention on urbanization which disproportionately challenges hundreds of millions of poor and disadvantaged people. He added in urban slums and rural shacks they lack employment, housing, clean water, sanitation, fuel for domestic use, transport, recreational facilities and minimal green space. Many speak of pending ecological disaster, but for the world's poor that agony has already begun. Over the five years since the UNCED, priority areas have emerged in the field of human settlements as it related to the implementation of Agenda 21: shelter for all; improved environmental infrastructure; reduce terrestrial pollution; improved urban management to increase capacity for local sustainable development; and inclusive an gender-sensitive human settlements strategies and plans. Five years after Rio, and one year after Istanbul, shelter strategies have been reformulated in 80 countries; urban management has become a priority of national and international action; essential infrastructure has improved in many cities; but plans of action for sustainable development including 1800 "local Agenda 21s" have proliferated; and participation by organizations and institutions of civil society is being pursued.

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The sixteenth session of the Commission on Human Settlements this May in Nairobi adopted an enhanced normative role for the commission in the implementation of the Habitat agenda by the United Nations system; a revitalized and strengthened Centre for Human Settlements capable of fulfilling its role as focal point for the implementation of the Habitat agenda; and the involvement of partners in the work of the commission -- specifically local authorities and their associations, non-governmental organizations, youth, the private sector and researchers.

MOHAMED EL-ASHRY, of the Global Environment Facility (GEF): The GEF represents the first and most significant financial commitment arising from the Rio Summit. With its restructuring in 1994, the Facility now ensures universality in membership, flexibility in operations, transparency and democracy in governance, predictability in funding, as well as accessibility and non-conditionality. It has 161 participating nations and through its implementing agencies -- UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank -- it is at work in more than 110 countries, a clear sign of a successful strategic alliance between the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions for the purpose of global environmental management.

Solutions to the issue of climate change need to be wide-ranging, cost effective and based on cooperation of all nations with jeopardizing the right of the developing countries and economies in transition take the first steps in developing energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies. There will not be a global impact on climate change unless industrialized and industrializing countries do what they must to reduce their emissions. It is not too late to reach an equitable and effective agreement at the Kyoto meeting in December if the international community marshals the political will and resolve to take the necessary steps now.

MARTIN KHOR, Director of the Third World Network (on behalf of some non- governmental organizations): The Third World Network is deeply disappointed that the spirit of Rio seems to have vanished. Financial resources continue to be sucked from developing countries through debt servicing and declining terms of trade. Instead of the promised technology transfer, the new intellectual property rights agreement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) is creating barriers to the access of developing countries to environmentally sound technology. The agreement also accelerates the practice of "bio- piracy", in which genetic resources and the knowledge of local communities on the sustainable use of biodiversity are hijacked and transformed into patents and patented products that are the new source of enormous profit for the big corporations.

Non-governmental organizations are concerned that the role of the United Nations in social, economic and environmental issues is being steadily eroded

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and transferred instead to the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO, which represent a different model of international cooperation. The Commission on Sustainable Development and other United Nations agencies should deal with the globalization process and sustainable development, and make them cross- sectoral issues to be discussed each year. In dealing with globalization, it is vital to reassert the principles at the heart of the spirit of Rio: the poor have the right to development; the rich have the duty to change their lifestyles and to help the poor; and the common but differentiated responsibilities to save the Earth should be put into practice.

DAVID W. KERR, International Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of the Business and Industry Major Group: Sustainable development requires inter- sectoral and international cooperation. Governments today are correctly withdrawing from areas where other groups such as civil society and business can and do perform required functions better. Through free trade, business is spreading technologies and skills. Given the right global frameworks, business can be used to spread the practices of sustainable development. Governments, NGOs and the media call on business to be responsible for all aspects of sustainable development: from creating wealth and jobs to cleaning the environment to providing health care. But such expectations cannot be met. Though it can contribute to sustainable development, business operates on the underlying theme of profit. Market competitiveness must therefore be an integral part of sustainable development.

Global trends indicate that business is paying more attention to the sustainable development agenda in order to stay competitive. Polluters are increasingly facing economic sanctions, and the environmental agenda is becoming more relevant to the business community. To increase this pattern, lines of communication between business, governments and NGOs must be improved. Governments must create an enabling environment for balancing ecological, economic and social objectives. Businesses require free and more open markets, as well as stable and predictable trade rules. International quality and environmental standards are needed to avoid creating trade barriers. Progress towards sustainable development requires contributions from all sectors.

BILL JORDAN, General Secretary, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions: It is a grave indictment of the effectiveness of international cooperation that so many of the commitments undertaken at Rio by the world's nations have not yet been realised and that the battle is being lost on so many fronts. We believe this illustrates the fallacy of thinking globally without acting locally. Too often, the most vital point for real change, the world's workplaces, have been left out of the search for solutions. In more than 2 million workplaces throughout the world, the International Confederation represents 124 million workers who have a tremendous potential to stimulate change. We know that trade unions, with governments and

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employers, could mobilise workers in these workplaces to enable significant shifts away from unsustainable patterns of production.

Last year, at the World Congress of the Confederation, the largest gathering of trade union leaders in the history of the world committed themselves to campaign for the involvement of workers and trade unions in sustainable development decisions affecting the workplace. Those leaders offer a clear message to this special session: if you are serious about meeting the challenges that face mankind today involve the trade union movement. A massive education drive must explain to people why consumption patterns have to change drastically, in domestic life and in the workplace and how it can be done. Trade unionists represent the world's largest standing army mobilised and motivated to spread knowledge, establish values, change attitudes, harness commitment.

GODWIN O.P. OBASI, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization (WMO): The WMO's mandate cuts across a significant number of key sectors vital to the sustainable development of all nations. Following the Earth Summit, the WMO was designated task manager within the United Nations system on areas relating to the world climate programme, drought monitoring and natural disaster reduction, and co-task manager for chapter 9 of Agenda 21 dealing with Protection of the Atmosphere. In view of its longstanding experience in addressing a large range of environmental issues, WMO has been in a unique position to provide the vital observational and scientific information necessary to bring relevant issues to the forefront of the world's scientific and political agenda, and to contribute to global actions in response. The issue of global climate change gained prominence after scientists began observing, a few decades ago, that greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, had been accumulating in the atmosphere as a result of human activities. As part of its monitoring exercise, WMO issues annually a statement on the status of the global climate providinggovernments, policy-makers, scientists and the general public with the latest information on this important issue.

As part of its implementation of chapter 9 of Agenda 21 and through the national meteorological and hydrological services the organization monitors the concentrations of greenhouse gases, ozone, the long-range transport of pollutants, the acidity and toxicity of rain and atmospheric levels of aerosols. In the next five years there is need for stronger commitments by all countries to the various Conventions aimed at the protection of the earth's environment. Governments must transform those commitments from words into real action.

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For information media. Not an official record.