Not far from this conference room, in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, 13 million people are threatened with famine.
If any reminder were needed of what happens when we fail to plan for and protect the long-term future of our planet, it can be heard in the cries for help from those 13 million souls.
And if there is one word that should be on everyone’s lips at this summit, one concept that embodies everything we hope to achieve here in Johannesburg, it is responsibility.
Responsibility for each other -- but especially the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed -- as fellow members of a single human family.
Responsibility for our planet, whose bounty is the very basis for human well-being and progress.
And most of all, responsibility for the future -- for our children, and their children.
Over the past decade, at conferences and summit meetings such as this one, the world has drawn up a far-reaching blueprint for a stable, prosperous twenty-first century. This summit, like its landmark predecessors in Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro, focuses on a key component of that blueprint: the relationship between human beings and the natural environment.
We look to the environment for the food and fuel, and the medicines and materials, that our societies depend on.
We look to it as a realm of beauty, and of spiritual sustenance.
But let us not be deceived, when looking at a clear blue sky, into thinking that all is well. All is not well. Science tells us that if we do not take the right action now, climate change will bring havoc, even within our lifetime.
Let us not be fooled, when gazing at a vista of open land, into thinking that the desert is not advancing, or that toxic chemicals are not poisoning the soil.
And when looking at a sparkling lake or ocean, let us not forget the water pollution and depleted fisheries beneath the surface.
Let there be no more disguising the perilous state of the earth, or pretending that conservation is too expensive, when we know that the cost of failure to act is far greater.
Let us stop being economically defensive, and start being politically courageous.
And let us face an uncomfortable truth: the model of development we are accustomed to has been fruitful for the few, but flawed for the many. A path to prosperity that ravages the environment and leaves a majority of humankind behind in squalor will soon prove to be a dead-end road for everyone.
Unsustainable practices are woven deeply into the fabric of modern life. Some say we should rip up that fabric. I say we can and must weave in new strands of knowledge and cooperation.
We have already taken tentative steps in this direction. Here in Johannesburg, we must do more. The focus from now on must be on implementing the many agreements that have been reached. That includes the Millennium Development Goals. Sustainability is one of those goals. But it is also a prerequisite for reaching all of the others.
Action starts with governments. The richest countries must lead the way. They have the wealth. They have the technology. And they contribute disproportionately to global environmental problems.
But governments cannot do it alone.
Civil society groups have a critical role, as partners, advocates and watchdogs.
So do commercial enterprises. Without the private sector, sustainable development will remain only a distant dream. We are not asking corporations to do something different from their normal business; we are asking them to do their normal business differently.
Sustainable development need not wait for tomorrow’s technological breakthroughs. The policies, the science and the green technologies at our disposal today can begin to do the job. With concerted action in five areas -- water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity -– progress could be far quicker than is commonly believed.
It is said that to everything, there is a season. The world today needs to usher in a season of transformation, a season of stewardship. Let it be a season in which we make a long overdue investment in the survival and security of future generations.
In closing, I would like to thank President Mbeki, his Government and the people of South Africa for opening their hearts and homes to the world. I hope that this summit, in turn, marks the opening of a new chapter for us all -- a chapter of responsibility, partnership and implementation.