25 June 1997


25 June 1997

Press Release


19970625 On Third Day of Debate, Special Session Speakers Emphasize Problems of Poorer Countries in Meeting Goals of Action Programmes

However far-reaching might be the plan of action set out at the General Assembly special session dedicated to a review of the implementation of Agenda 21 -- the environment and development programme adopted at the Rio Conference in 1992 -- it would fail without concerted international cooperation, the Assembly was told this morning as it continued its general debate on the implementation of that programme. It was said that official development assistance (ODA) was declining at a time when developing countries were struggling to implement remediation programmes of afforestation, coastal zone and fisheries management, poverty alleviation and education.

Environmental restoration would require a fundamental rethinking of economic activity, the Assembly was told. Least developed countries were destroying the environment with poverty. In developed countries, where 25 per cent of the world's population produced 95 per cent of waste, the destruction was cause through over-consumption.

Also this morning, speakers called for a legally binding agreement on the sustainable management of forests to buttress existing Conventions dedicated to biodiversity, climate change and desertification. The agreement, it was said, should provide for sound and sustainable forest management that was predictable, non-discriminatory, rule-based and transparent. It was suggested that the convention might set out a "third way" between rigid conservation and over-exploitation.

Speaking in debate this morning were the President of the Marshall Islands; the Minister for the Environment of Venezuela; the Deputy Prime Minister of Madagascar; the Minister for the Environment of the Niger; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran; the Minister for the Environment of Austria; the Minister of State for the Environment of Indonesia; the Deputy Prime Minister of Lesotho; the Deputy Prime Minister of Malta; the Deputy Prime Minister of the Bahamas; and the Minister for the Environment and Cooperation of Finland.

Also speaking were the Minister for the Environment of Cyprus; the Minister for the Environment of Fiji; the Minister for the Environment of Jordan; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saint Lucia; the Minister for

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Tourism and the Environment of Antigua and Barbuda; the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Lao People's Democratic Republic; and the representative of Israel.

Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); Frederico Mayor, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank; and a representative of the Business and Industry Major Group also spoke.

At the outset of the meeting, the President of the Assembly, Razali Ismail (Malaysia), paid tribute to the French underwater explorer and film- maker, Jaques Yves-Cousteau, who died yesterday. It was appropriate, he said, that the Assembly was discussing the global environment at this time.

The special session will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its general debate on the implementation of Agenda 21.

Special Session Work Programme

The General Assembly resumed its nineteenth special session this morning, continuing its review of the implementation of the programme of action adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and known as Agenda 21. This is the third day of general debate.


IMATA KABAUA, President of the Marshall Islands: The Marshall Islands recently hosted a conference of 20 nations dedicated to managing tuna resources in the region, on which there is political will to establish a sound regulatory framework. Common priorities need to be established at the global, regional and bilateral levels, creating strong partnerships for sustainable development between government, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. Leaders of the South Pacific Forum have made modest headway in that regard.

The preparatory report for the current special session made clear that "little progress has been made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions". That is a disappointment to all in the small island developing States. Many people in those vulnerable areas have been active in climate change negotiations. But they have come to learn that the sum of their good will can produce very little without global cooperation. Global warming can be addressed only with concerted international action.

RAFAEL MARTINEZ-MONRO, Minister for the Environment, Venezuela: For more than 20 years, Venezuela had been dedicated to developing its resources in a sustainable manner. Contemporary global statistics are not encouraging. A quarter of the world's population consumes 75 per cent of its resources, and produces 95 per cent of its waste. Levels of official development assistance (ODA) continue to decline.

Combating poverty is the most important environmental challenge facing the developing world. Trade and environment must be mutually supporting; patterns of production and consumption in developed countries must change; the link between population and development must be profoundly recognized. The current special session of the Assembly should adopt an ambitious and broad- ranging plan of action, but that plan should be backed up by serious international cooperation.

HERIZO RAZAFIMAHALEO, Deputy Prime Minister, Madagascar: Five years after Rio, the "dazzling euphoria" of that Conference has passed. Commitments entered into publicly have not been fulfilled, and the global environment continues to deteriorate. Pollution has increased, forests have diminished, desertification has progressed and the endemic poverty of others have deteriorated. The globalization of the economy could mitigate the problem by improving the well-being of some persons, but the socio-economic conditions of

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others have deteriorated. The poor are destroying the environment with poverty, and the rich with over-consumption.

Madagascar's environmental restoration is dedicated to the protection of biodiversity, reforestation, grass-roots empowerment, and restoration of coastal areas. Issues such as health and human settlements are also being brought into the mix. Agenda 21 remains the essential reference document for any environmental plan. The United Nations was created to prevent annihilation through warfare; it should now concentrate on preventing destruction by other means.

MAHANANE BRAH, Minister for Water Resources and the Environment, Niger: The present session provides a forum for the international community to pool its efforts to implement Agenda 21. Only a reinvigorated political resolve, translated into specific action, can lead to a reversal of existing trends. The Government of the Niger has established institutional mechanisms and research bodies to monitor environmental protection. It is also committed to political and strategic reform to achieve sustainable development. But domestic efforts are not enough. The special session should compel the international community to safeguard the environment and reduce social inequities worldwide. This ideal requires increased cooperation and additional financial resources to supplement the national efforts of developing countries to mobilize finances. The Rio spirit must be revived if Agenda 21 is to become a social reality. The Niger fully subscribes to the positions adopted by the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, as well as to resolutions adopted by the Pan-African Conference on the Convention to Combat Desertification.

ALI AKBAR VELAYATI, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Iran: Rapid industrialization of the developed countries, coupled with their unsustainable patterns of consumption, have had an irreversible destructive impact on the environment. The Rio summit raised great hopes at all levels and created a great momentum towards the realization of sustainable development. The fact that some progress has been made in its implementation is undeniable, but there is a glaring lack of progress in the fulfilment of international commitments undertaken. Given their role in environmental degradation in the past two centuries, and their current access to environmentally sound technologies and financial resources, developed countries bear legal and moral responsibility.

The gap between developing and developed nations, and the consequent increasing wealth and income disparities within and among countries, continues to widen. At this special session, we must strive to arrive at ways and means of better, more faithful and accelerated implementation of Agenda 21, in its totality.

Regrettably, our region faces numerous environmental problems. In an era of globalization, no individual or group of countries can overcome problems of a global nature. Today, the opportunity for international

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cooperation is greater than 25 years ago. Let us seize this opportunity.

MARTIN BARTENSTEIN, Federal Minister for the Environment, Youth and Family Affairs, Austria: We must not waste the opportunity afforded by this special session to reaffirm, at the highest political level, the commitment we undertook as an international community five years ago, to put our world unto a sustainable course. Nor must we waste the opportunity at the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention at Kyoto in December to agree on significant reduction targets for greenhouse gases for the years 2005 and 2010.

Leadership in today's world means not only leadership in technology, economy or military strength, but perhaps above all to lead the world into sustainable development. The next stage in our joint struggle to this end must be to develop appropriate regimes for the sustainable management of natural resources. There are agreements already on desertification and on straddling fish stocks. Additional work is needed with respect to the sustainable and equitable management of fresh-water, energy and forests. If we fail to develop appropriate ways of managing scarce resources in an equitable way, consequent scarcity and the resulting population movements could prove to be sources of violent conflict in the years to come.

SARWONO KUSUMAATMADJA, Minister of State for the Environment, Indonesia: Five years after Rio, and 20 years after the environment conference in Stockholm, human activity continues to threaten the environment. Unsustainable patterns of production and consumption in developed countries, together with poverty and underdevelopment in the developing world, are the predominant sources of environmental degradation. The promise of Rio with regard to the mobilization of new resources, the transfer of technological capabilities and enhanced human capacities was short-lived.

Indonesia has translated many of its pledges made at Rio into concrete action. It has undertaken a project to develop a comprehensive national strategy for sustainable development. More than 1,000 participants are integrating economic, social and environmental development into a single policy package. A legally binding agreement on the sustainable management of forests was needed to buttress existing Conventions dedicated to biodiversity, climate change and desertification. The agreement should provide for sound and sustainable forest management that is predictable, non-discriminatory, rule-based and transparent. PAKALITHA B. MOSISILI, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Lesotho: We must share the burden of our collective failure since Rio. We must also share the credit for the modest successes gained regarding the targets that we set for ourselves in Agenda 21. For the developing countries, poverty, lack of financial resources, and access to appropriate technology have remained major constraints to the implementation of the commitments of the Earth Summit. But it is encouraging to hear the renewed commitments made by our development partners at this special session, particularly member States of the European Union, to reverse the downward

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trend in ODA.

Multilateralism is central to sustaining global environmental protection and development. At the national level, sustainable development must be supported by political stability and sound economic policies founded on democratic governance, protection of human rights, gender equality and full commitment to the eradication of poverty.

In Lesotho, poverty still pervades the fabric society, and is closely associated with environmental degradation. We have set up a new institution for the coordination, regulation and monitoring of all national environmental activities. Lesotho is a mountainous country with fragile ecosystems. The mountains are an important source of freshwater, not only for Lesotho, but for much of southern Africa. In this context, the provision of financial resources and appropriate technology to the country assumes great significance.

GEORGE W. VELLA, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Environment, Malta: The Rio principles and objectives set in 1992, if appropriately followed, will lead us to a brighter twenty-first century. We must revitalize the concept of sustainable development, the identification of innovative approaches for cooperation, the definition of priorities, and the raising of the profile of insufficiently addressed issues such as changing consumption patterns, energy production and utilization, transport, urban issues, and availability of freshwater, among others. Humanity still faces the painful realities of poverty and destitution around the globe, resulting from uneven development and unjust distribution of the world's wealth and resources.

As a small island State, conscious of its vulnerability and believing that threats to its security at this time are mostly environmental, economic and social in nature, Malta has, over the last 20 years, and even more since Rio, undertaken various initiatives to protect and safeguard its environment. Malta's interests cannot be segregated in any way from the concerns of the Mediterranean region as a whole. Why we have been at the forefront in setting up the Mediterranean commission for sustainable development within the framework of the Barcelona Convention and Mediterranean Action Plan. FRANK H. WATSON, Deputy Prime Minister, Bahamas: The world has abandoned the premise that the environment is self-renewing and embraced the reality that environmental responsibility is needed to protect our fragile planet. Acid rain is no longer accepted as a by-product of progress.

Since Rio, the Bahamas has incorporated the principles of sustainable development into its national development policies and taken direct action for environmental protection, but that progress is not enough. Island States are particularly vulnerable to both natural and environmental disasters, yet they generally have limited capability to address their problems. They generally have delicate economies and depend on a narrow resource base. Tourism, the lifeblood of the economy of the Bahamas, can have staggering environmental

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impact if not properly managed. Global warming increases the environmental challenge to small island developing States. While technology in tracking storms can prevent crises, such preparation is costly and frequently beyond the capacity and reach of the populace.

Sustainable development must reflect a balance of environmental well- being, social harmony and economic opportunity. The task ahead is to alleviate poverty, and equip the world's people with education and skills to make social and economic well-being. Many countries, both developing and developed, have failed to honour the Rio commitments. Promised financial assistance and technological transfer have not materialized. If the international community fails to reverse the trend towards environmental disaster, the world's biological clock may lock on to self-destruction.

PEKKA HAAVISTO, Minister for the Environment and Development Cooperation, Finland: The social dimension of sustainable development has gained importance since Rio. Public health care, environmental health issues and social security contribute to the social and human capital, and consequently to national wealth. The gender issue is a key element in sustainability.

As a forested country, Finland sees forest management as a key element for sustainable development. Long-term commitment to combat deforestation and forest degradation is essential. A legally-binding instrument on all types of forests would complement existing agreements and conventions. Some say that the forest convention would only be a so-called 'chain saw convention', allowing overlogging. Others fear it will prevent all use of forests. There is a third way -- sustainable forestry.

Finland renews her commitment to Agenda 21 and the other Rio commitments. We will continue to work towards them at local, national, regional and global levels. The goal of sustainable development cannot be achieved without adequate international institutional arrangements. The financing of Agenda 21 in developing countries requires both domestic and external resources as well as public and private resources. Finland is ready to share this responsibility.

COSTAS PETRIDES, Minister for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment, Cyprus: Unsustainable lifestyles have not altered; excessive demands on natural resources have not slackened. Countries in need have not gained access to technological and financial resources. Accomplishments cannot be overlooked, but unequal growth remains. Sustainable development means inter- and intra-generational responsibility, as well as national, regional and international responsibility.

It links the right to sovereignty over natural resources of States with the right to a secure environment free from external security threats. Cyprus is well aware that aggression and occupation lead to immense human suffering, economic destruction and irreparable damage to the environment. Plans for the

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construction of a coastal nuclear power plant in an area of high seismic risk, opposite the country's northern coasts are a source of great concern.

The right to an environment of high quality is an essential human right. The international community must place greater emphasis on the human dimensions of sustainable development. Priority must be placed on eradicating poverty and addressing the problems of urbanization. This effort requires effective redress of international inequalities, by securing appropriate technical and financial bilateral and multilateral levels. There is need to reconcile trade competitiveness and environmental protection within the framework of the World Trade Organization.

VILISONI CAGIMAIVEI, Minister for Urban Development, Housing and Environment, Fiji: Economic development is the most vital component of sustainable development and overall growth. In developing countries, economic development requires international cooperation in several areas. Overseas development assistance is one such area. Despite promises, such assistance has been declining, resulting in a stagnation in the development efforts of small island developing States. Trade is also of utmost importance to those efforts.

Although globalization aims to increase global wealth, Fiji and other small developing countries are wary of the expected benefits because of the changes needed to adapt to the global market. There will never be equality of opportunity between vastly unequal trading partners, and the ultimate consequence will be that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The loss of trade preferences in 2000, after the expiration of the Lome Convention, will lead to even greater disadvantage for Fiji, and for African and Caribbean countries.

Despite the challenges, Fiji remains committed to the Rio Declaration and the Barbados Programme of Action for small island States. It has taken a number of initiatives on sustainable forest use, and helping people advance through commerce and education. The conservation and management of fish stocks at national, regional and international levels should be an international priority. Commercial fishing operations exceed the ecological limits of the oceans and unravel an intricate web of marine life.

TAWFIQ KREISHAN, Minister for the Environment, Jordan: The Government of Jordan has established a new legal framework for environmental protection and pollution control. It has carried out a national study on biological diversity and has developed a plan to expand natural reserves. There has also been a national study on greenhouse gases with a view to legislatively limiting the emission of those gases. A national committee on desertification is studying that issue.

At the pan-Arab level, Jordan abides by the document on inter-Arab action on sustainable development which was adopted by the Arab Council of

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environment ministers as a follow-up to Rio. Jordan's future strategies on the environment centre on the preservation of agricultural land, encouraging "reverse migration" from cities to rural areas and developing a waste- recycling plant to convert organic matter to fertilizer.

GEORGE WILLIAM ODLUM, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Saint Lucia: The spirit of Rio haunts us like a bad dream when we appreciate the dilemma of small countries struggling to achieve developmental goals under the severe constraints of sustainable development and environmental integrity. While confronting these problems, we have strong initiatives by a major power to push our fragile banana industry into fiercer competition, by way of a World Trade Organization ruling, and these very pressures force our producers to extend their cultivation to forest reserves and water sources in a bid to achieve economies of scale. It is here that the spirit of Rio "mocks us" in the lack of new and additional resources to finance sustainable development.

Despite the recurring problems of natural disasters, hurricanes, storms, flooding of our river banks and the threatening rise in sea-levels, we have attempted to preserve the spirit of Rio in a number of ways. Saint Lucia and other small island developing countries are playing their part in furthering the goals of Agenda 21. We now urge more developed States to provide the necessary support to assist our transition to a more sustainable modern economy.

RODNEY WILLIAMS, Minister for Tourism and the Environment of Antigua and Barbuda: The international community has collectively failed to capitalize on the promises made in Rio. People have not been made partners by governments in the process of sustainable development. The effects of global environmental degradation are already being felt. For example, small island developing States feel the impact of global warming through increasing tropical storms. All nations should make targets and a timetable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and carry through on those commitments. The third conference on climate control, to be held in Kyoto, should lead to adoption of a protocol or another legal instrument along the lines of the one submitted by those countries most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. All concerned need to pledge here and now that the Rio commitments will be honoured in a timely manner.

The industrialized countries must change their consumption and production patterns to save the global environment. They must also assist developing countries in their efforts to provide for the basic needs of their populations. Declines in official development assistance (ODA) unfairly shift the burden for sustainable development to developing countries, undermining the balance established at Rio. A combination of private capital flows, foreign direct investment and debt relief should be part of an overall financial package. While many of the problems related to water quantity and quality can be addressed locally, intergovernmental dialogue and international investment in cost-effective technologies for water use are needed. The

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protection of coral reefs is of utmost importance. The formulation and implementation of environmental programmes and multilateral and bilateral organizations should increase their support to women's organizations.

SOUBANH SRITHIRATH, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lao People's Democratic Republic: Since the Rio Conference, the concept of sustainable development has been incorporated into relevant national development policies and programmes. Unfortunately, progress since then has given little room for optimism. The Lao delegation attaches great importance to the goal of eradication of poverty through decisive national action, international assistance and cooperation. Key issues such as finance, technology transfer and eradication of poverty have been the subject of debates for several years.

Conscious of its own commitments, the Government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic has enacted several laws governing the use of land, water, forestry resources and mining. It has identified eight priority programmes and incorporated them into a development plan up to the year 2000, aimed at improving the well-being of the people, promoting economic growth and sustainable development, and taking the country out of the ranks of the least developed countries by the year 2020.

DAVID PELEG (Israel): For many years, afforestation has been the cornerstone of Israel's efforts to cultivate and rehabilitate its land, to develop arid areas, to preserve native species and to influence weather patterns. Believing that international cooperation is essential to the resolution of international environmental problems, Israel has shared its unique experiences, including the use of solar energy and the re-use and recycling of waste water. Last year, 4,000 trainees from around the world studied in Israel. This year, Israel inaugurated the International School for Desert Studies.

Israel is an active partner in the effort to develop and preserve the Mediterranean basin within the framework of the Barcelona Convention and the Mediterranean Action Plan which have demonstrated the efficacy of regional cooperation. Israel regrets that it has not been able to tap the full potential of environmental cooperation with its closest neighbours. The Middle East peace process, designed to identify and define joint developmental challenges, is not functioning effectively due to the refusal of some of Israel's neighbours to cooperate. Peace and the environment are interdependent; peace makes possible regional protection of environmental resources.

RUBENS RICUPERO, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD): The equitable sharing of access to finance, markets and technology is a precondition of common but differentiated environmental responsibility. Over the past five years, the developmental side of sustainable development has not met expectations. Since Rio, globalization and liberalization have demonstrated the close relationship

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between trade, investment and environmental action. The world economy today is fundamentally different from what it was at Rio. In 1990, ODA exceeded foreign direct investment (FDI) by 30 per cent; today, FDI exceeds ODA by 300 per cent. Markets alone cannot solve the problems of the "global commons". The UNCTAD is working hard to make trade and investment useful as tools to promote a better environment. It is also developing practical ideas to make the climate change and biodiversity treaties economically operational.

FEDERICO MAYOR, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): At the end of the twentieth century, 800 million people are illiterate. Education is the key to sustainable development. The UNESCO, together with the World Bank, is engaged in a worldwide campaign to make basic education accessible to all, with special emphasis on women and girls who comprise 65 per cent of the illiterate in the world. Their empowerment is the key to reducing fertility rates. It is because of education that world population growth slowed from 2.1 per cent per year in the early 1960s to 1.5 per cent in 1996.

Global climate change is a great unknown; there is a grave possibility that a point of irreversible no-return has been crossed. No precedent exists to foretell the effects of global warming. The international community can act now if it is prepared to invest some of the resources it devotes to military defence in the defence of nature and the well-being of the planet.

EUGENIO CLARIOND REYES, of the International Chamber of Commerce speaking on behalf of the Business and Industry Major Group: Since Rio, business has increased its commitment to sustainable development. The concept of eco-efficiency has been developed, meaning that waste and pollution do not make sense from a business perspective. Financial results improve as eco- efficient technology is utilized. The corporate world is increasingly recognizing environmental management as a high priority; smaller corporations need to be more involved in this effort. Regional groups are being created and new agreements concluded. Today, the tax burden lies on labour or on creation of wealth. Growing structural unemployment, along with great wastes in resources, must be stopped, even if this is politically difficult.

There has been progress; but many challenges lie ahead. Challenges include more than just cleaner production. Today the world has 400 million more inhabitants than it did five years ago. Most population growth takes place in less-educated sectors and in less-developed countries lacking financial resources. Intelligent decisions must be taken for controlling population growth. Some religions claim that preventing pregnancy is a sin and that those who do so will end up in hell. "What in the world are they talking about?" Hell already exists in the lives of those lacking essential human needs.

Implementing Agenda 21 has until now been the responsibility of environmental ministries. Economic, fiscal and trade resources are in the

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hands of bodies which generally exclude environmental authorities, who have the responsibility but not the means, to contribute greatly. The responsibility of securing sustainable development has to be shared.

JAMES D. WOLFENSOHN, President of the World Bank: The Bank is more aware than ever of the continuing link between environmental degradation and poverty. It is committed to doing more for sustainable development. It is essential that at the Kyoto meeting later this year, industrial countries make a strong commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to implement that commitment.

Environmental values must be reflected in the marketplace. The Bank is creating "Market Transformation Initiatives" with the private sector and non- governmental organizations to move the use of forest and marine products industries to a sustainable level. The chief executive officers of some of the world's forest products companies and conservation organizations are being invited to join forces with the Bank to arrest the current rate of forest degradation. The Bank is engaging in a new partnership with the World Wildlife Fund. A major challenge in the field of ozone depletion is to eliminate ozone-depleting substance production in Russia, which accounts for nearly half the world's chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) production and whose illegal smuggling to other countries is threatening to undermine the Montreal Protocol. The Bank has developed a program to eliminate CFC production in that country by the year 2000.

The Bank is the largest financier of drylands investment. It has embarked on a revitalized rural strategy which emphasizes the links between poverty and land degradation. The global water partnership offers an opportunity to solve water issues in a more holistic way and to raise additional financial resources.

In all these areas, the Bank will work in partnership with others. It will expand its work with the private sector to promote practical business opportunities for sustainable development. It will join others to promote higher standards of environmental and social performance for private and public investments around the world.

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For information media. Not an official record.