27 June 1997


27 June 1997

Press Release


19970627 Special Session Ends General Debate on Implementing Agenda 21 Of Rio Conference; Sets Extra Meeting To Consider Final Document

The crucial role of education in the global effort for the preservation of the environment was stressed this afternoon, as the General Assembly's nineteenth special session concluded its general debate on the implementation of the Agenda 21 recommendations from the 1992 Rio conference on the environment and development. Several speakers drew attention to the challenge of teaching the young about preserving the environment, while others pointed out that environmental instruction has been written into their national action plans.

On this point, delegates heard how, in Palau, the young were taught to preserve the natural beauty of their islands and instructed on the environmental challenges which they will confront in the twenty-first century. It was also stated that Africa places full confidence in its youth, who comprise the majority of the population and who, better organized than other social sectors and groups, could make the continent the "garden of the world".

Speakers this afternoon including the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mauritania, the Minister for the Environment of Bhutan, and representatives of Grenada, Vanuatu and Palau. The Assembly also heard from the Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, the Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Secretary- General of the South Pacific Forum Secretariat, a representative of the World Executive of the International Union of Local Authorities, and the Executive Director of the International Indian Treaty Council.

Acting without a vote, the special session decided to hold an extra meeting tonight to consider the report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole, and the adoption of the final document. The meeting for that purpose will take place at 9 p.m.

Special Session Work Programme

The nineteenth special session of the General Assembly met this afternoon to conclude its general debate on implementation of the 'Agenda 21' recommendations from the 1992 Rio conference on environment and development. It was also expected to take action on the report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the nineteenth special session.


ABOU DEMBA SOW, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mauritania: The end of this century will be recalled as a time when man's relationship with the environment was reconsidered. Since Rio, the environment continues to deteriorate in many poor countries. Poverty persists, natural resources are continuously overexploited. In Mauritania, desertification continues, with adverse impact on its populace. Important measures were taken pursuant to the provisions of Agenda 21. Mauritania has undertaken a long-term plan to achieve food sufficiency and environmental protection. It is currently part of an international effort to study climate change and desertification. It has adopted a national strategy on biodiversity. A rational policy for the use of fisheries and sea resources has been implemented.

Actions to combat illiteracy and poverty constitute a major element in sustainable development efforts. In Mauritania school enrolment has increased. Supply of drinking water has been made more widely available. Poverty has decreased. Obstacles remain in the quest to implement Agenda 21. Financial machinery for desertification has not been agreed upon. Implementation does not meet expectations, particularly in regard to the transfer of technology. Developed countries must do their share. The role of non-governmental organizations is important. Mauritania calls for greater international cooperation and reaffirms its commitment to sustainable development.

DASHO PALJOR J. DORJI, Deputy Minister for the Environment, Bhutan: The international community should not dwell on failures since Rio; instead, it should leave the special session with national obligations and specific policies and measures. Bhutan has maintained 72.5 per cent of its forest cover. This area serves as a very large carbon sink for the global community. All nations should accelerate negotiations on the text of a legally-binding protocol or another legal instrument to be completed in time for the third session of the third conference on climate change, to be held in Kyoto later this year.

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Bhutan's Government has stated categorically that it will not resort to unrestricted marketing of its natural resources. Such a policy would quickly undermine the country's tradition of conservation. The Government has chosen to forego immediate economic gains and instead place high priority on the conservation of natural resources and a programme of sustainable development. Bhutan is developing innovative global partnerships and working at a regional level in the field of environmental protection. The Government is fully committed to maintaining and preserving one of the world's last remaining pristine forests and rich biological diversity for the benefit of all future generations.

ROBERT E. MILLETTE (Grenada): Five years ago, the small island developing States participated in the Rio summit. Most of the countries in the region, including Grenada, have fragile economies and we face constant threats to our marine, agriculture, and forestry ecosystems. Our vulnerability to the threat of hurricanes and dependency on marine life for our economies require action on our part, and on the part of the international community, to ensure the sustainability of our economies and the protection of our environment for future generations.

The 1996 Barbados conference on small island States received assurances that the international community would play a significant role in the process of ensuring that resources, both financial and technical, would be put in place to address the various issues. Since then, progress has been slow, and we urge the international community to make resources available to assist us in achieving the principles enshrined in the Rio declaration.

To address the issue of poverty and poverty eradication Grenada, with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is trying to draw up a draft action plan. The Government is committed to sustainable human development, and aims to integrate related policies into national development planning. We hope this conference will lead to international cooperation, consensus-building, and programmes that result in the reduction of poverty, hunger and the spread of infectious diseases, and better living conditions for all. The developing and developed countries must invest in programmes and projects aimed at achieving sustainable development.

JEAN RAVOU-AKII, (Vanuatu): Vanuatu has included environmental issues in its educational programmes. We ratified the conventions on climate change and on biodiversity. These and others are included in the national legislation of our country in the area of environmental protection. In the third national development plan, 1992-1996, environmental issues are a key component. A book on sustainable development published in conjunction with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in 1996 further demonstrates the importance and commitment of the nation to the issue of the environment.

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DAVID ORRUKEM, (Palau): The island nation of Palau was not yet an independent nation five years ago when the Earth Summit convened in Rio. The people of Palau watched and listened as the assembled leaders discussed the protection of the environment, global climate change and sustainable development, aware that we would soon be joining the worldwide discussion about these urgent issues. Palau is an archipelago of extraordinary natural beauty. Anyone who spends a day among Palau's beautiful rock islands recognizes the importance of protecting our earth, air and water. Palau is striving for sustainable development that will not blight our land or pollute our air and water. We realize that we must protect, not exploit, our natural resources.

Palau stands in solidarity with its neighbour islands in the Pacific who also face this peril. The ocean that surrounds us sustains us. But it also has the power to destroy us. We must work in solidarity with the world community to address the issue of global climate change. We must continue to promote environmental education. Our children are our greatest resource. In Palau we try to teach our young people their duty to preserve the natural beauty of our islands. They will be the ones who will face the environmental challenges confronting Palau in the twenty-first century.

JEAN-LOUIS TAURAN, Secretary for the Relation with the States, Holy See: People are both spiritual and material, both guardian and consumer of natural resources. Environmental protection relates to the survival of all humankind. Human beings are at the centre of sustainable development, and this is aptly reflected in the final document under consideration. But the Holy See has reservations at the present special session similar to those it has expressed at other United Nations conferences regarding references in the draft final document to "reproductive health", "sexual health" and "family planning". The international community has a duty to protect nature in order to defend humanity.

Education is one of the simplest and most efficacious methods through which the insights and resolutions of Rio can become a reality. In that important mission, Believers are in the front line. They want to help their fellow men and women share resources so as to rediscover a "sense of awe" before the beauty of nature.

PASCAL GAYAMA, Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU): Africa considers poverty reduction as a strategic objective within the overall goal of sustainable development. Strengthening the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) would send a clear message that the international community is committed to environmental integrity. Multilateral cooperation is important in establishing the link between environment and development, and multilateral institutions should therefore be supported. Africa attaches great importance to the first conference of States

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parties to the convention against desertification, scheduled to be held in Rome later this year. An African regional programme of action should be prepared, complete with an adequate funding mechanism.

The global mechanism for the desertification convention needs real financial power to make it operational. Combating desertification is of vital importance to Africa. In addition, it is important to establish arrangements with regard to forests, upon which the future of the world depends because of their direct influence on climate, biodiversity and other ecological imperatives. Efforts over the past five years are not commensurate with the stakes involved in environment and development. Egoistic consumption is an engine for economic growth but a poor distributor of economic well-being.

Africa must exercise increasing control over its environment. The political upheavals in the Great Lakes region over the past years have been devastating to the environment. Also, Africa must create conditions conducive to harmonious political, economic and socio-cultural development. Africa places full confidence in its youth, who comprise the majority of the population. They are better organized than other social sectors and groups. Africa could be the garden of the world. From today, the global village should not be based on commercial dogma.

IEREMIA TABAI, Secretary-General of the South Pacific Forum Secretariat: Members of the South Pacific Forum, 16 independent States, aspire to better living standards and increased economic opportunities. Recent years, however, have seen declining aid flows, erosion of trade preferences and disruptions of export production. Many countries now pursue economic reforms aimed at attracting investment and private sector development with the recognition that to be sustainable, economic growth must take into account environmental considerations.

The major environmental issues for the Pacific Island countries remain largely unchanged since the Rio conference. These issues include loss of biodiversity, deforestation, degradation of marine environment and reef resources, as well as climate change and sea-level rise. Sustainable development requires participation at the national, subregional and global levels. Many environmental problems facing the region were "imported". Global warming and the expected rise in sea levels threatens many atoll island States. If such threats are not quickly addressed, whole countries, cultures and peoples will cease to exist.

Fresh water and waste disposal are of particular concern to the South Pacific countries. Lack of water constrains agriculture and tourism. Most of the Pacific Island States lack sufficient facilities to address ship-borne wastes, pesticide disposal and recycling of items such as used batteries. The transportation of nuclear wastes through the South Pacific remains a

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particular concern to the region. Even if the risks of such practices are minimal, public perception of radioactive contamination can lead to fear of eating fish from the region. With national and international action, and mutual support, the international community can achieve its aim of advancing the present without compromising the future.

COLLIN MARAKE MATJILLA, International Union of Local Authorities: The relationship between local government and the United Nations has come a long way since the Earth Summit in 1992. At that historic event, the debate about our common future was often polarized into the choice between rural sustainability and urban migration, between the 'green agenda' and the 'brown agenda', between developed and developing economies. In these debates, the roles and concerns of local government were not recognized. Since 1992, more than 2,000 local governments in 64 countries have begun work with their communities to implement every aspect of Agenda 21. We are proud to have led one of the significant follow-up efforts to the Rio summit. Through the participatory planning process of local Agenda 21, hundreds of local governments have reorganized their operations to better advance sustainable development.

Since 1992, numerous countries have chosen to prepare themselves for the new century by enhancing the status and capacity of local government. More than 70 countries are now engaged in a formal process of decentralization. For continued success, the following elements are important: United Nations recognition for local government as a full Agenda 21 partner; responsible national decentralization, cooperation and partnership with local government to implement Agenda 21 at the country level; sustained local government action in partnership with women, youth and other aspects of their local communities. With further assistance and cooperation of the United Nations and the international community our successes will by 2002, be more visible in the daily lives of the people.

ANDREA CARMEN, Executive Director, International Indian Treaty Council: Indigenous peoples have always been in the forefront of the struggle to protect the interconnected web of life now termed "biodiversity". Agenda 21 and the convention on biological diversity recognize the importance of governments working in partnership with indigenous peoples on managing natural resources and cultural knowledge. This promised partnership has not yet become a reality. Unabated non-sustainable resource extraction and resource contamination have accelerated over the five years since Rio. Toxic and radioactive wastes continue to be dumped on land and in water. The profound devastation caused by mining and drilling is too widespread to catalogue.

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The Assembly should adopt the present text of the United Nations draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, as adopted by the working group on indigenous populations and the Subcommission for the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities, as an essential component for the full implementation of Agenda 21. Indigenous peoples have called for an international moratorium on the patenting of life forms. There is grave danger in putting the world's food supplies in the hands of companies intent on producing profitable bio-engineered strains.

Agenda 21 lacks effective mechanisms to oversee the impacts of globalization, including the actions of multinational corporations and international financial institutions. It has to be remembered that human beings are not only developers of the natural world, they are an integral part of the Earth's biological diversity. The natural world is not a commodity.

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For information media. Not an official record.