UN Secretary-General Names five key areas for advancement of Sustainable Development worldwide

14 May 2002, New York-In his first major policy address on expectations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held this August, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan identified water and sanitation, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity as five key areas where concrete results can and must be obtained.

By concentrating on these five areas, the Secretary-General said, in a speech delivered by his wife Nane Annan at the American Museum of Natural History, the Summit could produce an ambitious but achievable programme of practical steps to improve the lives of all human beings while protecting the global environment.

"These are five areas," he said, "in which progress would offer all human beings a chance of achieving prosperity that will not only last their own lifetime, but can be enjoyed by their children and grandchildren too."

The World Summit on Sustainable Development, which will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26 August to 4 September, will bring world leaders, citizen activists and business representatives together to work on an agenda for ensuring that planet Earth can sustain a decent life for all its inhabitants, present and future.

A fourth and final round of preparatory negotiations for the Summit will take place in Bali, Indonesia, from 27 May to 7 June, and participants in the process agree that the outcome of the Johannesburg Summit must produce action and results. At the last preparatory committee meeting in New York, however, there were so many proposals recommended by delegations that an implementation document of 21 pages swelled to almost 150 pages by the end of the meeting. A new 39-page Chairman's text has been prepared for the start of the Bali meeting.

The Secretary-General, in his speech, said he sensed a need for greater clarity on what Johannesburg was all about, and what it could achieve. From the broad smorgasbord of issues that will be considered in Johannesburg, the Secretary-General said the five areas he targeted were "areas in which progress is possible with the resources and technologies at our disposal."

The Secretary-General proposed the following actions:
  • Water— Provide access to at least one billion people who lack clean drinking water and two billion people who lack proper sanitation.
  • Energy— Provide access to more than two billion people who lack modern energy services; promote renewable energy; reduce over-consumption; and ratify the Kyoto Protocol to address climate change.
  • Health— Address the effects of toxic and hazardous materials; reduce air pollution, which kills three million people each year, and lower the incidence of malaria and African guinea worm, which are linked with polluted water and poor sanitation.
  • Agricultural productivity— Work to reverse land degradation, which affects about two-thirds of the world's agricultural lands.
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem management— Reverse the processes that have destroyed about half of the world's tropical rainforest and mangroves, and are threatening 70 per cent of the world's coral reefs and decimating the world's fisheries.
The Johannesburg Summit is expected to conclude with a political declaration, an implementation programme agreed upon by Governments, and the launch of new voluntary partnership initiatives by various groups to take action and achieve results. The Secretary-General said that "the most creative agents of change" may well be partnerships among governments, private businesses, non-profit organizations, scholars and concerned citizens.

Although sustainable development was considered a "conceptual breakthrough" at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, progress since then has been slower than anticipated, and often, has been overshadowed in the policy-making process by more immediate problems, such as conflicts, globalization, and most recently, terrorism, the Secretary-General said. But he added that the Johannesburg Summit offers humanity "a chance to restore the momentum that had been felt so palpably after the Earth Summit."

New efforts are needed, he added, because the present model of development, which has brought privilege and prosperity to about 20 per cent of humanity, has also exacted a heavy price by degrading the planet and depleting its resources. Yet, according to the Secretary-General, "at discussions on global finance and the economy, the environment is still treated as an unwelcome guest."

High-consumption lifestyles continue to tax the earth's natural life-support systems, research and development are under-funded and neglectful of the problems of the poor, and developed countries "have not gone far enough," he said, to fulfil either of the promises they made in Rio - to protect their own environments and to help the developing world defeat poverty.

The issue, the Secretary-General said, is not environment versus development, or ecology versus economy. "Contrary to popular belief," he said, "we can integrate the two."

"In Johannesburg, we have a chance to catch up," he said, concluding. "Together, we will need to find our way towards a greater sense of mutual responsibility. Together, we will need to build a new ethic of global stewardship. Together, we can and must write a new and hopeful chapter in natural-and human-history."

Click here for the full text of the speech.

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