Skip to main content


9 April 1997

Press Release


19970409 General Assembly President, Razali Ismail (Malaysia), Tells High-Level Segment of Commission on Sustainable Development

Following is the statement by the President of the General Assembly, Razali Ismail (Malaysia), at the high-level segment of the Commission on Sustainable Development, at Headquarters today:

Sustainable development is a concept that is urgent, that affects us all albeit to differing degrees, and is essential to the survival of our planet and the peoples who inhabit it now and in the future. To say this is to repeat what we all recognized in Stockholm, in Rio and other global conferences, and to repeat what is said every year at the Commission on Sustainable Development. I would like to emphasize the critical nature and the urgency of the issues that we are discussing here. We need to translate the many statements, facts and figures that are aired here into potent catalysts to enable and implement policies and operational programmes on the ground on a sustained basis. Political declarations of intent will not meet sustainable development objectives without concrete commitments on financial resources and the requisite institutions and instruments for implementation and monitoring. In this context, I appeal for a renewed effort from all sides to not only reaffirm the commitments of Rio, but go beyond them, and pledge to keep such commitments. This does, of course, require the political will to act.

The compact of Rio has eroded -- the traditional North-South debate remains unchanged, despite recognition of global partnership and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Since Rio, the emphasis has been on national programmes of implementation with lesser emphasis on the commitments made on international cooperation and global programmes -- obvious evidence is the decline in official development assistance (ODA) and figures that illustrate the further entrenchment of poverty, especially the situation of the least developed countries.

The allegation that "environment" has captured more attention than "development" is justified. Instead of reverting to North-South trench politics, we must seek a balance in the review and special session so that polarization between the agenda of the North and the agenda of the South is avoided.

The outcome of the special session should:

-- Provide results that benefit both the developed and developing countries. Although domestic realities and priorities differ, I believe the major beneficiaries should be the poor -- not necessarily just poor governments, but also marginalized peoples in the North and South who are frontline victims of unsustainable policies and practices.

-- This requires developed countries to adjust consideration of priority issues in the fifth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development as primarily the sectoral issues -- for example freshwater, forests, energy, tourism and oceans and so on -- and to develop an analysis of equal depth and content on the cross-sectoral issues, including means of implementation. Otherwise, sectoral issues that emphasize management of environmental resources alone will remain mere blueprints without concrete commitments to financial resources and corresponding institutions and instruments to ensure the implementation and realization of sustainability objectives. This too would require a political decision.

-- This requires developing countries to make a serious attempt to reconcile the political need to assert primacy of "sustained economic growth" with the ecological, social and economic reality that development requires assessment of quality of growth, balance between material and sustainable development is not a luxury but a necessity. The South must be proactive and must begin to define the parameters and not simply look to the North for hand- outs or maintain reactionary positions. The South must have the courage to admit that we too are responsible for unsustainable practices. Unsustainable practices and policies because "the North did it too", will not advance the debate in the Commission on Sustainable Development. This too is a political decision.

I hope that this preparatory session of the Commission on Sustainable Development for the special session will place poverty eradication at the centre of the future work programme and policy framework to implement the decisions of Rio, including Agenda 21.

This fifth session of the Commission should take into account the results and commitments of the subsequent global conferences, including the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development, the Beijing Fourth World

- 3 - Press Release ENV/DEV/412 GA/9233 9 April 1997

Conference on Women, the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development and the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II). The harmonization of all these aspects of development on policy, implementation and the institutional level would enhance the possibilities of achieving sustainable development results.

I hope that the special session will be able to make some headway by addressing the issue of unsustainable production and consumption patterns in both the North and the South. In this context, the economic arguments and dimensions of sustainability should be strengthened. I look forward to seeing concrete commitments made to specific objectives complete with achievable targets that are monitored.

The special session should build on the important concepts of enablement and empowerment by taking into consideration the many actors and major groups involved. In this context, while realpolitik considers groups such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as one of the key players in sustainable development, I would like to remind delegates that indigenous peoples remain the more convincing and authentic custodians of environmental resources, both in terms of their indigenous knowledge and practices and sustainable use of resources. Any policies that seek to eradicate poverty and enable sustainable development must, a priori, respect the rights and meet the basic needs of indigenous peoples, whether they be in the North or South.

On resources for implementation and the ODA versus FDI (foreign direct investment) debate, we all know that ODA is declining and FDI does not reach the countries or areas that it should. Given this universal acknowledgement, I hope the special session is able to:

a) leverage FDI through ODA, and consider such commitments as the 20/20 pledge made at Copenhagen to finance social infrastructure and so on;

b) closely examine the role of international financial institutions so that their policies try to meet the targets set in various global conferences and do not overly stress policies that liberalize markets and encourage privatization alone;

c) establish links between military spending and spending to eradicate poverty for development; and

d) set a framework to curtail the speculative nature of capital flows.

The special session must reaffirm the political commitment of OECD governments to ODA. Commitments given must be honoured. If ODA remains

- 4 - Press Release ENV/DEV/412 GA/9233 9 April 1997

politically sensitive for domestic reasons, governments must nevertheless give developing countries a clear political signal, and acknowledge and begin the process to shift some of the burden of environmental and social responsibility to the private sector. This shift is essential given the advent of globalization.

On market forces and globalization, the role of governments in relation to the private sector, the special session would need to:

a) analyse the impact of deregulation, competitiveness and drive for market access on the strength of the public sector and ability of national, regional and global initiatives to meet sustainable development targets;

b) encourage governments to establish a framework to oversee how the policies and practices of corporate actors and their investments affect environmental and social sustainability; governments must assert responsibility over the impact of private sector as they affect the environment, through unsustainable practices or as they affect human health; governments cannot be left off the hook on this;

c) seriously address the developments in the World Trade Organization -- I do not believe the subject should be with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) alone, the United Nations in New York must also be involved; a good start would be to reconcile the conflicting provisions of environmental conventions and the trade treaties of the World Trade Organization; an emerging "global" economy requires a global framework; there is still room and need for global frameworks, the United Nations is that global framework, not the OECD, the Bretton Woods institutions or the World Trade Organization.

On the future work programme of the Commission on Sustainable Development:

a) a five-year work programme for the Commission should be carefully plotted so that it involves not only Environment Ministers, but Finance Ministers, Development Ministers and Trade Ministers; this can be done easily and should be done because the Commission continues to attract Ministers and the participation of non-governmental organizations, and stimulates vibrant debate;

b) the Commission should continue to assess new and emerging issues; in this context, it has been brought to my attention that mining and extractive industries, although not a new or emerging issue, is still a crucial missing element from the work programme of the Commission and Agenda 21; I am sure we all recognize that mining can never be "sustainable", and remains one of the

- 5 - Press Release ENV/DEV/412 GA/9233 9 April 1997

most unsustainable economic practices that threatens communities and the environment;

c) the Commission should seriously consider strengthening its subsidiary bodies to develop a relationship with the Development Committee of the World Bank, with the World Trade Organization, and with the corporate sector;

d) while the Commission should be the premier policy setting body on all aspects of sustainable development, it should not implement programmes, but catalyze regional and global programmes of implementation;

e) a political decision must be taken to determine an enhanced role and possibly a new mandate for UNEP, for instance to strengthen its secretariat service of the environmental conventions; and

f) a commitment to review the implementation of the decisions of Rio in another five years time, that is, Rio + 10 in the year 2002.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.