25 June 1997


25 June 1997

Press Release


19970625 Special Session Reviewing Implementation of Rio Conference Recommendations Hears Statements from Further Twenty-One Speakers

The need for serious international cooperation to advance the cause of Agenda 21 over the next five years was strongly stressed by several delegations this afternoon, as the special session of the General Assembly continued its debate on the implementation of the programme. Speakers expressed relief at renewed pledges from the developed countries to meet obligations dating from the Rio Conference on environment and development in 1992, while pledging to continue their own efforts to make the next review exercise successful.

The international community was called upon to be creative in its approach to the implementation. The special session heard a suggestion for a standby international "Green Force", empowered to act in ecological crises. Governments were also told to consider an innovative financial mechanism called "debt for nature".

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that nearly all regions of the world are now experiencing lower fertility and lower population growth. Although global population continues to grow at an annual rate of 81 million, the UNFPA noted that it does help in the review of Agenda 21 that there is now a clear understanding that environmental and population approaches to sustainable development are not alternatives, but opposite sides of the same coin. "If we approach them from the point of view of the rights and needs of ordinary women and men and their children", the agency said, "we will be on the road to finding the long-sought balance among population, resources and the environment."

Addressing the special session this afternoon were the President of Hungary; the Vice-President of Malawi; the Crown Prince of Morocco; the Minister of Economic Planning and Development of Swaziland; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Solomon Islands; the Minister of Science and Environment of Viet Nam; the Minister of Forestry and the Environment of Sri Lanka; and the Minister Secretary-General of the Presidency of Chile.

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Other speakers were the Minister of Regional Municipalities and the Environment of Oman; the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Worships of Haiti; the Minister of the Environment of Mongolia; the Minister of Planning and Development of Yemen; the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova; the Chairman of the Delegation of Ethiopia; and the Chairman of the Delegation of Bulgaria.

The Vice-Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment of Paraguay; the Permanent Representative of Mauritius; the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States; the Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; the Executive Director of the UNFPA; and a representative of the Women's Environment and Development Organization also spoke.

The special session will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m. to continue with its general debate on the implementation of Agenda 21.

Special Session Work Programme

The nineteenth special session of the General Assembly met this afternoon to continue its general debate. The session was convened to review and appraise implementation of Agenda 21, the programme of action adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which was held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992.


ARPAD GONCZ, President of Hungary: Five years after UNCED we have become not only older, but a lot wiser as well. Our adaptation to the new challenges require a new vision beyond our shared commitments, perseverance and optimism. This should be based upon innovative thinking, which must be, however, firmly anchored in the sound cognizance of what is possible and achievable. The lessons and tasks emerging from global conferences and from other areas of United Nations activity have a two-fold nature. On the one hand, each of them, having its undisputed merits, appear to lend itself to universal collective action. On the other hand, taken in their totality, they require not only to set our priorities, but a thorough efficiency-probe, and maybe a fuller use of the principle of subsidiarity as well.

Globalization, integration and interdependence can be and should be important driving forces towards environmentally sound sustainable development. Sound environmental management and sustainable growth are constant challenges. They necessitate the prevalence of the rule of law and the sustained commitment of governments to work for the benefit of their own people with the principle of good governance. In the spirit of UNCED, we have achieved significant results in the restructuring of our economy and laying down the foundations of an integrated environmental protection. The Commission on Sustainable Development has proven to be an efficient forum for dialogue and concerted international action in promoting Agenda 21, among others. Hungary is proud to serve on this Commission and we look forward to contributing to the partnership begun in Rio and to making it relevant for the challenges of the next millennium.

JUSTIN C. MALEWEZI, Vice-President of Malawi: A number of policies and legal frameworks are now in place in Malawi, designed to squarely face existing environmental challenges. These policies and laws were formulated by all major stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations, community- based organizations, the University and government agencies. As one of the world's least developed countries, Malawi is severely hampered by economic constraints in its capacity to fulfil Agenda 21. Poverty eradication is critical to the conservation and sustainable utilization of natural resources.

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Malawi is very concerned about the decline of official development assistance (ODA). Achieving the target of 0.7 of gross national product (GNP) to ODA should be implemented as a matter of urgency. To date, technological transfer has been inadequate.

An enabling economic environment must be created to allow developing countries access to international markets. Institutional frameworks for coordinating environmental issues should be reinvigorated. The international community must reaffirm its common and differentiated responsibilities in order to achieve the important goal of sustainable development.

CROWN PRINCE SIDI MOHAMMED of Morocco, speaking for King Hassan II: The Rio conference demonstrated the limitations of the economic growth model based on frantic production and consumption. International solidarity must meet the expectations of the countries of the South in terms of capital and technology transfer. Multilateral institutions and mechanisms must be endowed with the financial resources they require to ensure technological transfer and aid to countries in need. Morocco has taken measures at many levels to face the challenges of sustainable development. The Moroccan Government's plan for the preservation of the environment is founded on a medium- and long-term strategy based on broad participation, including by civil society organizations. Party to all international conventions, Morocco has fully supported multilateral cooperation.

Environmental protection and preservation of resources are essential to international peace and security. Sound water management should be given highest priority by the international community. Drought and desertification have global impact. The Assembly should consider establishing mechanisms to detect and address international environmental problems, and promote data exchange. Further, it should consider an international "Green Force" empowered to act in the case of ecological crisis. Education plays a decisive role in awakening consciousness. The spiritual and ethical dimensions of man's role is sanctioned by all religions; it should be included in any model of development.

ALBERT H.N. SHABANGU, Minister for Economic Planning and Development, Swaziland: Industrialization, population growth, urbanization, increasing agricultural demands and a declining economy have together exerted tremendous pressures on Swaziland's natural resources. The signs of environmental degradation are everywhere. Nevertheless Swaziland has made some practical advances in the implementation of Agenda 21, particularly by establishing a national environmental authority. Development projects are now subject to environmental assessment. Non-governmental organizations have performed important work in increasing awareness at the grassroots level.

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National strategies and action plans comprise only part of the solution to environmental degradation; financial resources, manpower and technological tools need to be mobilized. The vicious cycle of poverty and over-consumption of natural resources cannot be over emphasized. ODA must be increased, and environmentally-sound technology transferred from the North to the South.

DAVID SITAI, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Solomon Islands: The village of Sukiki, on Guadalcanal island, is the first village in the Solomon Islands to be lighted by a solar energy system. Each house in the village has electric lighting, as a result of a project funded by the United Nations Trust Fund for New and Renewable Sources of Energy and financed by the Government of Italy. Solar energy will change the lives of those villagers. Rural electrification employing renewable sources of energy, can be indispensable for public health, education, the advancement of women, communications, and sustainable economic and social development.

Solomon Islands is cooperating with the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme in a wetlands protection policy, and contributing to a sustainable forest industry. It has drafted a national code of logging practice which provides for the restoration of timber land through reforestation. It is carrying out an inventory of greenhouse gas and considering ways that it might deal with sea level rise. Through the International Coral Reef Initiative and through a conservation programme for sea turtles, Solomon Islands is protecting its marine resources.

PHAM GIA KHIEM, Minister for Science, Technology and the Environment of Viet Nam: Since 1994, environmental protection has been integrated into Viet Nam's socio-economic development planning on an annual and long-term basis. A national environmental monitoring programme has been put into operation and highly-polluting factories utilizing obsolete technologies have been urged to close down. Environmental impact assessments have been made compulsory for every new investment project.

Viet Nam has been promoting public awareness of the environment, has integrated environmental protection into social and economic development planning and has used ODA resources from developed countries for environmental protection. Future environmental programmes in Viet Nam will concentrate on poverty eradication, population, changing consumption patterns, community health protection, reforestation, sustainable development in mountain areas and technology transfer.

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NANDIMITRA EKANAYAKE, Minister of Parliament, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka has made efforts to implement Agenda 21 while countering a war waged by terrorists, and the twin problems of poverty and unemployment. Since 1992, the Ministry of the Environment has taken concerted action for conservation and the sustainable utilization of resources. In this effort, it has enlisted the participation of other partners, such as non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

Persistent poverty causes resource degradation. For example, "slash- and-burn" cultivation, and cultivation on slopes by the rural poor, cause land degradation, loss of habitats and biological diversity. Sri Lanka's forest cover has declined dramatically during the last 50 years. Poverty is a main cause of deforestation. It is necessary to provide alternative sources of income to the poor to wean them away from the over-exploitation of resources.

Shanties and other urban constructions cause drainage, flooding and waste disposal problems, which are compounded by urban migration in search of employment. Overcoming problems associated with poverty and unemployment is a serious element in conservation and sustainable resource use. Developing countries are often used as dumping grounds for substances not permitted in the markets of the developed world. Export growth and environmental measures should not be used to restrict market access to developing countries; an equitable multilateral trading system must be promoted. Sri Lanka's efforts to date have been hampered by restricted access to affordable technology and export markets.

JUAN VILLARZU, Minister Secretary-General of the Presidency of Chile: The implementation of Agenda 21 and the other commitments of Rio requires a profound internalization of the concept of sustainability at all levels and in all areas of activity and public policy. Chile's development strategy incorporates the spirit of Agenda 21 in every sector. Since its return to democracy seven years ago, Chile has shown that this challenge is possible. It has been able to achieve, simultaneously, high rates of economic growth, a marked decrease in poverty, and substantial advances towards the protection of the environment.

Chile's commitment to sustainable development not only corresponds to an ethical commitment, but also reflects the fact that its development is sustained by the availability of resources. Chile does not want to be caught in the false dilemma between growth and environment, nor will it accept pressures from interest groups or countries that would impose excessive demands. The commitment signed in Rio by the developed countries should be respected and enhanced. The offer of some developed countries in this Assembly to reaffirm those commitments is appreciated.

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AMER BIN SHUWAIN AL-HOSNI, Minister of Regional Municipalities and Environment of Oman: In terms of Agenda 21 and the Rio principles, Oman has made great progress. Its Arabian oryx sanctuary is included by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the World Heritage List. Oman's present integrated system of protected areas, which includes six sites, is an early implementation of the convention on biodiversity and chapter 15 of the Agenda.

Since the Sultanate of Oman is part of the Arabian peninsula, which suffers from desertification, the Government has given special attention to that problem. Having demonstrated its commitment to Agenda 21, Oman urges other parties committed to the Rio Declaration -- especially financing agencies, organizations, and States with scientific and technological capabilities -- to assist developing countries to attain this goal. Especially important is technical assistance to formulate plans, projects, legislation, monitoring, data on hazards and ecosystems degradation, and for training and scientific research.

FRITZ LONGCHAMP, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Haiti: At Rio, the international community decided that economic progress should centre on human development without negatively impacting the natural environment. Unsustainable consumption and population patterns could not continue indefinitely.

In Haiti, forest cover accounts for only 4 per cent of the land area. The resulting soil depletion has affected groundwater, and thereby the overall fertility of the land. In 1992, the people of Haiti were living under a de facto dictatorship; today, in a transition to democracy, the people of Haiti are struggling to escape their grinding poverty and overpopulation.

The Government of Haiti is looking to the participation of civil society to carry out national environmental planning. Non-governmental organizations play a crucial role in environmental education. Haiti's economic development has not always been easy. The Government budget deficit is under control, but inflation is still a problem. Poverty alleviation and improved living conditions of the unemployed, women and youth are the priority targets of Government efforts.

ADYASUREN TSOHIO, Minister of the Environment of Mongolia: Economic reform in Mongolia has coincided with environmental initiatives put into place after the Rio conference. Economic planning is now well integrated with environmental concerns. Mongolia, as an arid country, is very concerned with global climate change. The average national temperature is rising by 0.7 degrees Centigrade every two or three years. Water levels in national rivers have dropped by 20 to 30 per cent. Half of agricultural lands are degraded, and soil productivity has declined by 30 per cent.

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A new package of environmental laws has laid a sound foundation for environmental protection. The amount of protected land in Mongolia has been increased from 10 to 15 per cent of national territory. Mongolia is participating in the international conventions on climate change, biodiversity and desertification. Tangible results have not issued from the implementation of those agreements; progress seems to be hampered by a lack of political will and by declining levels of ODA.

ABDULKADER BAGAMAL, Minister of Planning and Development of Yemen: International cooperation must be an essential part of any plan of action emerging from the special session. Water is a crucial problem in Yemen; groundwater levels have been affected by the cutting of plant coverage and desertification. Coastal areas have been negatively affected by international vessels which have dumped wastes into the marine environment.

Yemen has adopted the principle of sustainable development and is now carrying out environmental impact assessments in development projects. A new legislative framework ensures environmental planning, and that the principles of the Rio summit are applied locally. Yemen has a very complicated environment and a rapidly expanding population. International financing and technical support is essential to environmental programmes and research, particularly with regard to coastal zone management.

VALERIU BULGARI, First Deputy Prime Minister, Republic of Moldova: The Republic of Moldova's political will to implement sustainable development policies is illustrated by its ratification of international ecological conventions, as well as efforts on the national and subregional levels. Implementation of Agenda 21 requires active participation of all parties, including government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, scientific circles and local communities. In Moldova, more than 60 non- governmental organizations are currently involved in sustainable development. This is an important step towards a fully functioning civil society.

Countries in transition, such as Moldova, should not be considered markets for ecologically harmful technologies. Global climate change affects all countries, but particularly those in which agricultural production plays a leading role in the economy. Abnormal weather conditions have increased in past decades, with negative effects on Moldova's agriculture. The European Union's determination to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 15 per cent by the year 2010 is welcome, as is its resolve to transfer ecologically safe technologies to the developing world under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Political declarations must be supported by practical steps and adequate financial resources. The principle of shared but differentiated responsibility should be applied to each nation's negative effect on the world environment.

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DURI MOHAMMED (Ethiopia): Ethiopia has to cope with trying to harmonize today's outside world with a large part of its yesterday which, because of the peculiarities of history, has been carried over to today. This is true of most of Africa. The problem is reflected in the widespread poverty which exists in spite of immense endowment of natural resources. This potential wealth has predisposed Africa to be the victim of predatory interference from outside, thereby making endogenous initiative difficult. Sustainable development is seen not only as a sound path for development, but as an international shield from external disruptive interferences.

Agenda 21 has tried to introduce justice into this world of inequity. Globalization could turn out to be good for all. If predatory tendencies are not curbed, the effort may cause chaos, and the process of globalization be disrupted. In this context, we are encouraged to hear many leaders of industrialized countries accepting their original commitment to the funding envisaged in Agenda 21.

PHILIP DIMITROV (Bulgaria): Mobilizing adequate financial resources for implementing Agenda 21 is among the most important tasks faced by the international community. National governments should promote innovative financial mechanisms, such as "debt-for-nature" exchanges. On the matter of water, increased international cooperation is urgently needed, particularly among countries alongside transboundary watercourses. Bulgaria supports the German initiative to set up a worldwide network of protected areas under the biodiversity convention. The Kyoto conference on climate change should be concluded with a protocol containing legally binding commitments for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Bulgarian Government is now working to reverse the destructive results of years of communist governance. Bulgaria has adopted a number of environmentally sound documents, but the nation faces serious difficulties implementing national programmes because of lack of financial resources. It is undertaking national and community-level reforms and efforts to strengthen institutions and build national capacity, which will influence sustainable development. Bulgaria's main contribution to sustainable development to date is its democratic transition and market reforms.

ARNULFO FRETES ESCARIIO, Vice-Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Paraguay : Paraguay signed the Rio conventions in the belief that they would offer access to the economic and technical support necessary to pursue sustainable development. The lack of financial assistance and technology transfer in the wake of the Rio conference means that developing countries will continue to struggle with building their national economies and preserving their natural resources.

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Paraguay has established a plan for the sustainable development of its national resources in line with the provisions of Agenda 21. Sustainable development is a model for gradually transforming production and consumption patterns with full respect for environmental and social necessities. Paraguay has established a new legal framework which aims to guide Government action in the protection of national resources. It also provides for rational use, and for monitoring the use of, ecosystem resources. Local and municipal governments play an active role in land-use planning, and polluting activities are controlled through environmental assessment regulations.

WAN CHAT KWONG, (Mauritius): There has been a regrettable lack of progress in international cooperation since the Rio conference. ODA is in decline and the level of funding of the Global Environment Facility is diminishing. If there is no concerted international effort to improve the lives of the poor, then poverty will exacerbate environmental problems in the traditional manner. Mauritius is seeking to find alternative forms of energy, such as the development of electricity through the use of sugar-cane refuse. As an island nation, Mauritius is seriously concerned about the impact of global warming on small island developing States. The unwillingness of industrialized countries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is a matter of deep concern. Immediate action in that area is required as a matter of international survival.

AHMED ESMAT ABDEL MEGUID, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States: Arab countries adopted the Arab Declaration on the Environment and Development in 1986, establishing an Ad Hoc Committee of Environment Ministers of the Arab States. Everyone in the international community must work to offset the most serious dangers facing the planet as a whole. The occupation of Arab lands on the West Bank, Gaza, southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights has exposed the peoples of those areas to occupation and oppression and has caused severe environmental damage.

Rational utilization of resources is essential for sustainable development. International cooperation and full compliance with the commitments entered into at Rio are essential to fulfilling the goals laid out in Agenda 21. Arab States face environmental challenges related to desertification, groundwater contamination, urbanization and coastal zone management. Agricultural lands are giving way to industrial development and biodiversity has been seriously diminished. The Arab League is ready to work with regional and international partners to preserve the earth for future generations.

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IBRAHIM AUF, Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC): The OIC, the world's second largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations, represents more than 1 billion people who inhabit vast geographical territories between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, with all types of land, sea and climatic conditions. It is, therefore, natural that successive resolutions of Islamic summits and conferences of the foreign ministers, affirm the support of the OIC for all relevant world conventions, declarations and plans of action, as well as for the objectives of Agenda 21.

Member States of the OIC are deeply concerned over the escalation of the illegal and inhuman practices being perpetrated in the Middle East region, which have resulted in serious consequences to mankind and to the environment in the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories. Israel, regrettably, persists in policies which are detrimental to the environment. It is also deplorable that this same State, in a region which has been unanimously declared an area free of nuclear arms, persists in its nuclear military programme. Peace is a prerequisite for undertaking any development or devising any sound ecosystem. The international community assembled here must mobilize all efforts to put an end to such extremely dangerous practices.

NAFIS SADIK, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA): Thanks to widespread growth in the voluntary use of family planning, nearly all regions are experiencing lower fertility and lower population growth. Population, however, continues to grow by 81 million a year. Regionally, nearly two-thirds of world population is in Asia and the Pacific. In Latin America and the Caribbean, fragile ecosystems in poor rural areas are continually endangered by the rapid expansion of human settlements. Fertility remains high in many African countries, although there are encouraging signs of a trend towards smaller families in some of them. In the industrialized world, and increasingly for developing countries, the main concern relates to the consequences of increasing numbers of elderly people.

In many developing countries, slower population growth in the near future is a highly desirable and attainable policy option. There is only one effective way to ensure that population growth rates are low and stay low, and that is to ensure that every man and woman can exercise their reproductive rights. Many developing countries, and some industrialized ones, have moved decisively from rhetoric to action. All countries must continue and intensify their work, including the requirement for additional resources: $17 billion a year from all sources by the year 2000.

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It helps in our review of Agenda 21 that there is now a clear understanding that environmental and population approaches to sustainable development are not alternatives; they are opposite sides of the same coin. If we approach them from the point of view of the rights and needs of ordinary women and men and their children, we will be on the road to finding the long- sought balance among population, resources and the environment.

WANGARI MAATHAI, Women's Environment and Development Organization: The international community appears to be divided by the old, cynical view that the world will always be divided between rich and poor, the powerful and the weak. Will there always be a North and South? Or will the two worlds honour their Rio commitments with a renewed sense of urgency? As long as the world's power blocs continue to hide behind alliances, dehumanizing history, traditional heritages, debilitating debt burdens and unfair and unjust trade - - all of which put profit before people -- calls to reduce poverty, and to promote peace, justice and equality for all, will remain an empty gesture.

The international community is still divided over such issues as debt burdens, poverty, human rights, the environmental and social costs of globalization and threats to the environment. Unsustainable, wasteful patterns of production and consumption that characterize the lifestyles of rich countries are being adopted in poor countries. The survival of people all over the world should not be sacrificed in favour of ever-greater profits. The General Assembly should not send a message of despair to the peoples of the world.

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For information media. Not an official record.