World Running Short of Time to Improve Relationship with Mother Earth, Deputy Secretary-General Cautions at Event on Harmony with Nature

20 April 2011

World Running Short of Time to Improve Relationship with Mother Earth, Deputy Secretary-General Cautions at Event on Harmony with Nature

20 April 2011
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

World Running Short of Time to Improve Relationship with Mother Earth,


Deputy Secretary-General Cautions at Event on Harmony with Nature


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks at the General Assembly International Mother Earth Day event on “Harmony with Nature”, in New York, 20 April:

As we mark International Mother Earth Day, I thank the delegation of Bolivia for initiating this dialogue on harmony with nature.

Our world is undergoing tremendous change.  In the past two decades, we have seen considerable growth, particularly in emerging economies.  Hundreds of millions of people — in Asia, Latin America and, increasingly, in Africa — have risen from poverty.

We need to bring these benefits to hundreds of millions more: decent jobs, clean, affordable energy, and all the social and economic benefits that such advances can bring.  But we will not achieve this goal unless we respect the human and natural capital that is the foundation for our prosperity and well-being.  As Nobel laureate Eric Chivian has written: “Human beings are an inseparable part of nature, we cannot damage it without severely damaging ourselves.”

The evidence is clear from all quarters: by our very own activities and assumptions, we risk profound and potentially irreversible changes in the planet’s ability to sustain our progress.  We see it in water pollution, loss of biodiversity, desertification, deforestation, a depleted ozone layer and climate change.

Sadly, the decline in our natural capital is rarely reflected when we calculate the sum of a country’s total annual production of goods and services.  We neither factor in the benefits of ecosystems, nor the costs of their destruction.  A country can cut its forests and deplete its fisheries, and yet it shows only as a positive gain in gross domestic product (GDP), ignoring the corresponding decline in assets.  We count arms sales on the plus side of the ledger, and spend many billions of dollars a year to subsidize coal, gas and oil — with little impact on the lives of the poor.

We need to revise our accounting and embrace a low-carbon, resource-efficient, pro-poor economic model.  Decoupling growth from pollution and natural-resource depletion will not put a brake on development, as those wedded to the status quo still argue.  On the contrary, it will make growth sustainable.

This year marks the International Year of Forests.  It is also the beginning of the International Decade for Biodiversity.  In 2002, world leaders agreed to substantially reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.  We failed to meet that target.

It is not too late to change course and improve our relationship with Mother Earth.  But time is running short.  There is much we can learn from the wisdom and philosophy of indigenous peoples.  There is also much that we need to give back — for as our forests and other wild habitats are degraded, so are the lives and cultures of the people who most closely depend on them.

Next year’s Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is an opportunity to assess our relationship with nature over the last 20 years, to reaffirm commitments made in Rio and Johannesburg, to inject new impetus and to chart a sustainable way forward.

There has been progress in some areas, and awareness has indeed grown among Governments, business and civil society.  Nonetheless, much remains to be done to balance the three pillars of sustainable development.

A holistic view of environmental, social and economic well-being is indeed the only route to truly sustainable development.  Your work today can provide useful inputs to the preparatory work for Rio+20.

I wish you a stimulating and fruitful discussion.

Thank you for your attention.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.