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23 June 1997

Press Release


19970623 In Address to Assembly's Special Session, Kofi Annan Says 'Failure to Act Now Could Damage our Planet Irreversibly'

Following is the text of the address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the special session of the General Assembly to review implementation of Agenda 21, in New York this morning:

A very warm welcome to you all.

I am delighted to see so many Heads of State and of Government, and so many senior officials, in this great hall today.

Your presence here is a welcome demonstration of political will. You have come because you are determined that the process begun five years ago at Rio de Janeiro should not falter. You are convinced that more must be done to safeguard life on our planet, today and for the generations to come.

Our task at this special session, therefore, is to turn that political will into deeds and actions. We must aim this week to set a sure course for the world community into the new millennium, on this most urgent and vital global issue.

Our task is to build on what has been achieved. Our foundation, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and the Rio process, is a firm foundation.

The UNCED was a landmark in the new global diplomacy. It brought together governments, non-governmental organizations and concerned individuals as never before. Its objectives, scope and focus were loftier than any previous conference, its basis of support broader and its implementing partners more varied.

The UNCED marked a conceptual breakthrough, too. It gave practical effect to the relationship between environment and development in the new concept of "sustainable development". The concept embraces the human and social dimension of sustainable development. It generated new hope that poverty and deprivation can be attacked with greater clarity and coherence.

As we review progress since UNCED, we see some signs of progress.

Many countries have reported to the Commission on Sustainable Development that they have established national coordinating mechanisms for sustainable development and the implementation of Agenda 21.

All three of the Conventions -- on climate change, biodiversity and combating desertification -- entered into force a very short time after they were opened for signature.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer. Phasing out chlorofluorocarbons -- CFCs -- is almost complete in the industrial countries. This is an impressive achievement.

There has been notable progress in switching to renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, windpower and photovoltaic systems.

The number of people with access to safe water increased by 472 million between 1990 and 1994.

But the balance sheet also has a negative side.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 1997 shows that more than a quarter of the developing world's people still live in absolute poverty.

There is concern that there has been virtually no progress in following up UNCED commitments for the transfer of concessional finance and environmentally sound technology to developing countries to assist them in implementing Agenda 21.

Carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. World-wide fossil fuel consumption increased from 7,500 million tons of oil equivalent in 1992 to 8,000 tons in 1996.

The rate of depletion of natural forests is, at last, slowing, but total forest loss continues at an unacceptable rate.

- 3 - Press Release SG/SM/6269 ENV/DEV/425 GA/9260 23 June 1997

While more people have access to safe water, one third of the world's population lives in countries facing moderate to severe stress on water resources. Experts have calculated that, unless there are new efforts to manage global water resources, there will be a world water crisis by the year 2025.

In the world's oceans, the majority of species subject to fishing are now fully exploited, or over-exploited. We are now at, or nearing, the critical point at which overall fishing stocks -- not simply single species -- begin to decline.

It is vital that the Convention to Combat Desertification be implemented as soon as possible. Halting and reversing the march of deserts, especially in Africa, remains an urgent necessity.

The world is hoping for serious progress at December's third session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held at Kyoto.

At stake this week is the capacity of the international system of States to act decisively in the global interest.

The United Nations Secretariat, funds and programmes, and the specialized agencies, have worked together to put new ideas, programmes and ways of work into global efforts for sustainable development. My programme of reform in the United Nations will usher in a broader process of renewal in the United Nations. But we must go even further.

Governments and the United Nations must join with the private sector, civil society and non-governmental organizations in a new partnership. Such a partnership, based on a recognition of mutual interest and a readiness to share responsibilities, would link all global environment stakeholders in an alliance for action. Agenda 21 was unprecedented. We must act in unprecedented ways to implement it.

Failure to act now could damage our planet irreversibly, unleashing a spiral of increased hunger, deprivation, disease and squalour. Ultimately, we could face the destabilizing effects of conflict over vital natural resources.

But if we raise our sights to the well-being of our planet, and of all those on it, today and in generations to come, we will not fail.

We must not fail.

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For information media. Not an official record.