TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT OF GENERAL ASSEMBLY RAZALI ISMAIL (MALAYSIA)19970627
RAZALI ISMAIL (Malaysia), President of General Assembly: This is about the special session. I am of two minds whether to read to you or just to take questions. However, let me just say that a lot of people have worked very hard to try to do the special session and there has been a lot of preparation put into it, although I continue to say that we would have done better if we would have had more time to prepare for the special session.
The document called "Programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21" will be adopted this afternoon, I hope by about 6 p.m. It will be adopted by the Committee of the Whole and will then go to the General Assembly by 6 p.m. There will be no political statement. They worked very hard until 4 a.m or 5 a.m. this morning trying to get a political statement. They were not able to get it.
I think the overall result of that is pretty sobering. There are some important lessons to be learned about the expectations we have as diplomats. However, when these expectations are placed in the context of the absence of political will or the inability to extend politically in the long-haul process, then you have a problem. This is what happened where the discussions on the political statement were concerned.
I think I can say, at the same time that, although there is a sense of disappointment that there was no political statement, we should recognize that the fact that there is no political statement indicates a certain message. That message underlines how difficult it is to try to encapsulate issues in that context when over five years you have not had enough progress on some of these issues. That is how I would try to explain it.
But nevertheless, the issues that are not in the political statement will be in the main document, the document called "Programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21". In that document, there are some satisfactory results, and you should take that into account.
I would like to underline that this special session should go down as a very honest attempt to try to make an appraisal of the results and of how far we have gone on Rio. There was very little attempt to try to sweep things under the carpet, to put a gloss on something that is not there. And I must say that all the delegates concerned went into it without any stars in their eyes; they went into it to look at what was there and what was not there. And this is why you saw serious divisions when the negotiations started, because there was an attempt to try to get the actual picture, and you saw that situation reflected in the impasse on the political statement. I am happy with that - that we didn't go for the gloss, we went for the real thing. We now have an honest appraisal contained in the document.
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It is up to you to judge the value of the main document. I think there are some very good aspects to that document. You will have some language on forests, which does promote further the issue of an international agreement, but does not deal with a specific timetable. The idea of an internationally binding instrument is there, though it does not say specifically when. The word "convention" is not used, but there will be an internationally binding instrument explored.
I can give you the language here: on forests, there is language that recognizes the need to establish an intergovernmental forum on forests to promote and facilitate the proposals of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF); to review and monitor progress in the sustainable management and conservation of all types of forests; to consider matters left pending by the IPF, in particular trade and environment in relation to forest production services, the transfer of technology and financial resources; to identify the possible elements of and work towards consensus for international arrangements and mechanisms, for example a legally binding instrument. So that matter is there, but you can see the formulation that it is couched in. And then finally, depending on the decision by the Commission on Sustainable Development, the forum will engage in further action on establishing an intergovernmental negotiation process on new arrangements and mechanisms or a legally binding instrument on all types of forests.
So you see, there has been a serious attempt to try to project as clearly as possible what the situation on forests is. Here, you have different points of view, and the general agreement on the consensus is reflected as much as - you might call it very tortuous language, but it is honest language. That is the situation with the forests.
On the climate change conference in Kyoto, there is no agreed language yet, but there are important efforts being undertaken that will bring us to a convergence and conclusion within the next several hours.
Then, on finance, you have language that may appear to be a plus on the overall situation of declining official development assistance (ODA). You have language that is agreed that talks about recognizing the decline and taking steps to reverse that decline, so there is good reason to be happy about that. The target of 0.7 per cent has been, again, recommitted to, and developed countries are committed to meeting that target.
This is very important to the least developed countries where ODA is concerned. It is clearly important to underline that the idea of replacing ODA with foreign direct investment or anything coming from the private sector is not acceptable. We were quite clear about that.
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On aviation fuel tax, there is not yet an agreement. I don't know what the passage of that will be between now and six o'clock. Maybe there will be a breakthrough, I'm not sure.
What have I missed? Have I missed anything? Oh yes. Instead of the political statement, we have agreed to a consensus text called a "Statement of Commitment", which is actually a preamble to the main document, the "Programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21". That Statement of Commitment will, in general terms, affirm or reaffirm commitments to implementing all the decisions in Rio. It will try to re-energize the political will to work harder with more determination in meeting targets set in Rio and in meeting sustainable targets. It will serve as a preamble, as I said, to the main document.
That essentially would constitute what I can tell you. I can tell you also that one of the important features of this special session is that we have been able to bring the non-governmental sector right into the plenary of the General Assembly. This is a milestone, and it is recognized in the Statement of Commitment that Heads of State and heads of delegations have worked together with their other partners, which are the non-governmental organizations and the international institutions, to review the progress. So I am particularly very happy to see youth, farmers, women's organizations and indigenous peoples being able to be there at the special session, working hand in hand with governments and making the point together with governments, alongside governments. That's good.
QUESTION: Where do we go from here with some of the things as you've just portrayed them? What happens in the coming years?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I see it, this is kind of a wake-up call to the United Nations. First, we have to recognize that the bane of international cooperation is that governments cannot maintain commitments, not just on resources, but on doing things over the long haul. Somewhere, other constraints come into the picture, and this is part of what we have learned in the last five years. We have learned that what we said very enthusiastically five years ago that we would do, that we would implement, that we would honour, has not really been done sufficiently. So, it seems to me that that is something that has bedeviled international cooperation. So the United Nations must learn from this.
And then the other point I would say is, the United Nations must be made to deal with the hard-core issues of economics. The United Nations is at the moment dealing with what I call the soft aspects of economics: environment, development policies, debate on debt, drugs, refugees. The United Nations is not given a place to deal with the hard-core issues of economics: trade, identification and mobilization of resources. These are the things we should
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be looking at, because we are in the situation of having a playing field that is not level.
So, when you try to establish results or a consensus in the context of a playing field that is not level, you are going to have a lot of these kinds of problems. So this is a good lesson to learn.
Where do we go from here? The main document will have to be very closely looked at by the Commission on Sustainable Development and by the General Assembly. We then have to debate why there has not been proper progress over five years. And let us look for more palpable, tangible political commitments of a different sort from the countries concerned in order to implement sustainability and Agenda 21.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the Statement of Commitment. Could that not also be a statement of obligation, calling upon States to sign and ratify what they have not yet signed and ratified, and calling upon them to enact the necessary legislation to ensure compliance? In the document there is a section on compliance, but we have got to make sure that there is something to comply with. And there are a lot of States that have not signed and ratified the Convention on Biodiversity, for example. The question is, could this be included as well in the statement? It's not just Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, but also other international obligations: legally binding documents that States have failed to sign. Let's show the political will.
THE PRESIDENT: I think you have to read the Statement of Commitment in the context of what happened yesterday and this morning, and the very tortuous discussions that took place. So what we have got is about all we can get. That tells the story by itself.
QUESTION: Looking at the main document - not just as journalists, but as people who are interested in what the effects of Rio have been - can one make out clearly what has happened and what has not happened?
THE PRESIDENT: I should believe so. I should hope that one would be able to see what has been progress and what has been the opposite of progress.
QUESTION: Can you say specifically why there hasn't been a political agreement, why it hasn't been possible to agree on a political statement?
THE PRESIDENT: We all said that there would be a political statement, and now we are not able to do it, so I know that everybody will ask that question. But if you look at it soberly, you will see that many of the parts that were supposed to be reflected in the political document are already in
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the main document: language on finance, language on ODA, language on forests, language on climate - they are already there.
QUESTION: But there must be a reason why it wasn't possible to agree on a four-page document.
THE PRESIDENT: I will try to explain this. When an attempt was made to encapsulate everything in a shorter document, then there were problems, because, obviously, when one tries to do that the gap between what was promised and decided at Rio and what was not done on the ground could not be filled. So there was clearly a sense of frustration. Delegations went into the meeting from the very beginning convinced that not enough has been done. In fact, if you listened to the General Assembly you actually saw Ministers saying that they had not done many things. You actually saw Ministers, from Europe particularly, saying, "Yes, there has been a terrible decline in ODA; there should be a reversal; my country is prepared to do something about it". But when you want to cobble everything together as a consensus, one or two countries would not allow it to be put together. So that is where we are. In doing a political statement, that kind of problem was encountered.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the failure to get a political statement represented an act of defiance by much of the developing world, because they feel that they haven't got what they were promised in terms of ODA, technology transfers and other things?
THE PRESIDENT: I think to some extent that is accurate, not just in the context of the political statement, but in the whole negotiation process of the special session. There was a sense of being aggrieved; that many of the things that were promised in Rio had not been made available. Yes. But the problems of the political statement did not come from just the developing countries. That is not true. There were divisions from within the developed world too, on quite a few issues.
QUESTION: You have spoken about the lack of political will several times, Ambassador. Would you care to say which States, which interest groups, which blocks you think have displayed that lack of political will most?
THE PRESIDENT: I do not have the political will to say that.
QUESTION: In terms of the political statement, does it signify the lack of political will on the part of the international community to deal with the problems? Do you agree with that idea?
THE PRESIDENT: Let us call a spade a spade. When over five years there obviously have not been enough things done, then in that context the impasse that came out of the political statement reflected that.
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QUESTION: Ten months from now the Commission on Sustainable Development will be meeting again and handling many of the same problems. Will this job be made any easier or more difficult by what happened this week?
THE PRESIDENT: It will be made more difficult, but the Commission on Sustainable Development now knows that it has to do much better than it has done before; so does the General Assembly; so would the high-level group of ministers that come to the Commission. They have a much bigger responsibility now. I mean, after five years there have been some disappointments. You cannot go down the road after this saying the same bunch of platitudes.
QUESTION: Would you say the conference was a failure, Ambassador?
THE PRESIDENT: Most certainly not. I think this is the kind of conference that was due to happen. I am glad it happened here at the United Nations. For the first time, we are honest enough to recognize the limitations of our promises, our political commitments and our continuing inability to meet the targets in the international context.
QUESTION: It is almost as if, Sir, you are not playing the traditional role of the chairman, which is to bang heads until people finally have a consensus. It sounds almost as if you are satisfied with the statement that is made; that you recognize a non-statement as an action in a way that has not been recognized before.
THE PRESIDENT: If I thought that banging heads was a way out and that it would portray a true picture of where we are, then it may be worth it to employ that tactic. But I do not think it would help at all, nor would people allow me to bang their heads because there are a bunch of people out there who are very strong about the non-implementation of a lot of things coming from Rio.
QUESTION: You mentioned the fact that in the discussion on the political statement, there were some divisions within the group of developed countries. Can you describe what kind of matters divided them?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, in trying to reflect some of the issues that are already in the main document in the political statement, there were problems such as, in talking about certain sectoral issues, which sectoral issues to reflect, and all that, and to what degree of explicitness you would reflect commitments. Certain developed countries wanted to go a long way, and some did not want to go so far, so in the end it could not be done.
QUESTION: Retrospectively, do you think it was a mistake to make this session Head of State or Government-level?
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THE PRESIDENT: No, not at all. I think it was very good that we brought the Heads of State here to see that not everything is rosy and that there are all these problems, so they can go back there and bang their heads together, perhaps, and see what can be done about the next meeting we have. I mean, there are all the other follow-ups to the main summits that we have had, and obviously there are lessons that can be learned from this special session.
QUESTION: You said that governments cannot maintain their commitments because new actors or factors have come into the picture. Did you, by any chance, mean the corporations? Non-governmental organizations have spoken about the United Nations embrace of the corporations, and you yourself lunched with quite a few CEOs the other day. Were you possibly trying to persuade them to be a little bit less greedy and allow the governments to keep their commitments regarding pollution and other issues?
THE PRESIDENT: My position is quite clear. I have underlined the dangers of an embrace of the private sector and all aspects of globalization, and I warned against it. I warned against it for the benefit of the marginalized people and for the benefit of marginalized societies, those people who are not ready to deal with globalization in that context. But I have recognized that globalization is an inevitable thing. We have to deal with the private sector, but we have to have a framework relationship with the private sector. That was the object of the lunch - to establish a framework relationship where we are able to manage the induction of the private sector into the United Nations and into governmental decisions at the United Nations. I am satisfied that that lunch served that purpose.
QUESTION: Just as a follow-up to that question, is it possible that any agreement from here on, in terms of getting a consensus on many of the issues that were talked about this week, is going to be impossible to get, unless these global corporations are brought much closer into the negotiating picture and almost have a place at the table. Would that go any further towards solving some of the ...
THE PRESIDENT: I would not say that at all. I think that governments must govern. Governments must decide and governments must regulate, particularly in the context of dealing with globalized factors. The decisions that were not able to be taken today, or at this special session, reflect the inability of governments working together to come to a consensus. It does not mean that because they were not able to do this that the private sector should come to the rescue; not at all. I think that they have two different roles altogether.
QUESTION: You mentioned a short while ago that the United Nations is not on a level playing field, comments that sounded to me like you are saying that the United Nations should have its mandate broadened to include trade,
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etc. Don't we already have institutions that deal with this, such as the World Bank and, more recently, the World Trade Organization (WTO)? If I've got the picture wrong, could you please clarify what you mean by saying the United Nations needs to be on a level playing field?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you haven't got the picture wrong, but that is the sad fate of the times, that we have a United Nations that is only operating within a certain perimeter, while the others have bigger portfolios, dealing with issues that make a difference to the developing countries.
If only the decisions of the United Nations were able to impact on decisions taken in the WTO or in the World Bank on issues dealing with trade imbalances - and that impact makes a difference - then the United Nations begins to gain in importance. But if whatever we decide here is given only a marginal reference point, then the United Nations becomes that much less. So, this is what I mean. To me, as an activist of the South, that is not satisfactory at all.
QUESTION: Do you think this wake-up call, this new realism, will add new impetus to the process, or are you saying that you think this cold shower, if you like, will actually slow things down for the future, because people are now aware of how difficult everything is and they are going to be much more realistic, pragmatic and, perhaps, slow in trying?
THE PRESIDENT: I think this wake-up call will have a salutary effect on the kind and nature of the conferences we organize next time. We have been very careful about committing ourselves to having conferences unless we have the goods to deliver. I think, for the United Nations, it will have a very positive effect, very much in keeping with the new, upbeat, up-swing approach of the new administration of the Secretary-General in his attempts at reforms.
It is not chastising the United Nations; it is trying to ensure that the United Nations does better in the future.
QUESTION: [inaudible] ... asked for a Rio + 10?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
QUESTION: Which means that you will have a repetition of this in five years?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I hope we have not already decided that five years from now we are not going to have any results. Surely, having learned from this, there must be better results, more tangible results, to show in 2002.
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QUESTION: Some people outside the United Nations might be surprised to hear about the language of the political statement when it comes to environmental and development questions. What relationships do you see between political questions and these technical questions? Do you, for example, see any relationship between questions of environment and development and peace and security questions?
THE PRESIDENT: It's a very big question. I don't know how I can answer that.
QUESTION: What are the political aspects of this special session? Can you list two or three?
THE PRESIDENT: I think we have been speaking for the last 30 minutes or so, underlining the political implications of where we stand in the context of this special session.
QUESTION: Give us some idea about the preamble that will be adopted. Will it incorporate some of the opening paragraphs that had been approved from the draft political statement? Specifically, will it say, for example, that we're equally concerned that overall trends of development are worse today than they were in 1992?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. That is a generalization and we have to deal with words like that. It will be so reflected.
QUESTION: Do you think the prospects for Kyoto are better or worse than they were a week ago?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, the prospects are much better than they were a week ago. A week ago, we didn't know what we wanted to say that would move us farther down the road towards dealing with the absence of political will, the absence of factors to implement Agenda 21 and sustainability.
Now we know. We know that we have to come to grips with them. So that, to me, is a plus. No question about that.
QUESTION: You've said a number of times that you thought the document had some useful information in it in terms of sending a wake-up call to the Member States and that sort of thing. But does it have anything useful in it, any sort of serious, concrete steps that are going to do something useful for the environment? Can you remember a conference of this importance, with this many world leaders, where there haven't been really substantial, concrete measures taken on an issue?
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THE PRESIDENT: I am told that there are some results, good results, in the language of the main document, about a worldwide phase-out of the use of lead in gasoline through enhanced technical and financial assistance. And then there is good language also on the new international partnerships on freshwater energy, etc. And also, something in relation to use and excess of energy, and on some aspects of consumption.
I haven't seen the documents; I can only say that we have yet to adopt that document on the use of lead in gasoline.
QUESTION: Is this the least productive conference of this scale that you can remember?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I don't know. I think one should be pretty realistic and go on a platform of realism. This is not a bad conference.
QUESTION: You were in Rio five years ago. You were one of the key players who managed to produce agreement on the documents adopted in Rio. What has happened since that made it impossible here to reach agreement? Was it that in 1992 there was still some left-over euphoria from the end of the cold war, and now everybody is looking at his own pockets? What happened?
THE PRESIDENT: I think I answered that question before at an earlier press conference. Yes, we reached the zenith of our enthusiasm and commitment to sustainable development and the environment in 1992. Since then, many other things have come our way which have distracted our attention from that. Since then, a sense of parochialism has spread over much of the developed world, a parochialism that has affected the willingness of those countries to make available funds, resources, ODA, technology transfers, all kinds of things. I have spoken about this before.
QUESTION: What strikes me is, you still have a chance to do something. You know, it's not over today, yet. You mentioned a wake-up call; we have a few more hours. Why don't you go back to the original statement in 1992 talking about the urgency, about how humanity stands at a defining moment? You have not dealt with the urgency. Get them to do something. It's not the fault of the United Nations; people talk about United Nations reform. The United Nations has a body of 50 years of profound documents related to human rights, peace, environment, social justice. It is the fault of the States. You've got to wake them up; that's your job. And you've got a few hours to do it.
THE PRESIDENT: I know what I cannot do. Let me turn the question around and answer that this is an occasion when the non-governmental organizations should come to the rescue. I think the job is clearly cut out for the NGOs to re-examine this document, see what is wanting, then go back to
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the grassroots and push and agitate for more sincere, honest implementation of all the aspects of Rio. I think that the onus is on the NGOs this time not just to have conferences. I think the idea of conferences, both for governments and for NGOs, is almost over. There is no point in conferences, talking among yourselves - particularly the committed people - about what is right and what is wrong. It is time to go around and say, "We will not elect you if you don't do this or don't do that". That is when the NGOs apply leverage; and this is the right time for it.
QUESTION: What will be in the final document, when it appears, about ozone-depleting chemicals and persistent organic pollutants?
THE PRESIDENT: Quite frankly, I am not very savvy about that.
QUESTION: You talked about a failure, to a degree, in the political process. I am wondering if you can characterize that failure in purely environmental terms: in terms of lost opportunities to make some significant changes and improvements to the health and well-being of the environment?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that what has happened has made us understand what can go wrong in a process. In terms of the substantive aspects, if you check with the main document you might be in a position to say that there have been some positive results. But the process, in trying to deal with the political statement, has definitely been wanting.
Thank you very much.
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