For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/DSG/36
Release Date:   27 April 2000
 Addressing Commission on Sustainable Development,
Deputy Secretary-General Weighs Past Gains, Persistent Problems

NEW YORK, 26 Following are the remarks of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at the opening of the high-level segment of the eighth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development:

I have the honour and great pleasure to welcome you all to the high-level segment of the eighth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development.  This segment has become an increasingly dynamic event on the Commission's agenda, not least because environment ministers are now being joined in the dialogue by colleagues responsible for a range of key portfolios, from trade and agriculture to finance and development cooperation.  The Commission is also doing its part to ensure the participation of civil society, the private sector and many other stakeholders.  Your deliberations have thus come to accurately reflect the character of sustainable development itself:  multidimensional, integrative and aggressively interdependent.  That is no small achievement, and it bodes well for future success.

The timing of this session of the Commission provides a golden opportunity, falling as it does on the eve of a series of millennium events -- beginning with the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum next month and culminating in the Millennium Summit in September -- and also as our thoughts begin to turn to the "Earth Summit Plus 10" review conference two years from now.

Many issues will be jostling for attention throughout this process.  Few have such global repercussions, nor such an urgent claim on the overall prospects for human progress, as the quest for sustainable development.  And yet, in the nearly 18 months during which the General Assembly debated which subjects to include in the agenda of the Millennium Summit, environmental concerns were never seriously considered.  Your challenge is clear:  to bring the international spotlight back to this issue, which we neglect at our peril.

You all will have noticed that the Secretary-General, in his Millennium Report, devoted a lot of space to environment and development.  Indeed, the report makes the case that environmental freedom -- that is, the freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on this planet -- is on a par with other freedoms for which the United Nations has long struggled:  freedom from want and freedom from fear.

There is no denying the unprecedented development gains of the past half century:  in raising life expectancy; in halving infant mortality rates; in improving access to education, safe drinking water and basic sanitation.  But there remains a backlog of deprivation, extreme poverty, stark inequalities and widespread unemployment and underemployment.

That is why the Secretary-General has called on the international community, at the highest level, to adopt the target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015.  But as many of you know  all too well, poor countries often lack the capacity and resources to implement environmentally sound policies.  This in turn undermines the sustainability of their people's meagre existence, and compounds the effects of their poverty.  We must break this cycle.

There is also no denying the environmental achievements of the past three decades:  the creation of environmental ministries throughout the world; the vast increase in the number of civil society organizations promoting environmental concerns; and the agreements among governments on legally binding treaties addressing climate change, biodiversity, desertification and the depletion of the ozone layer, to name only a few.

Here, too, however -- as is the case with economic and social development -- we must acknowledge the presence of an urgent, unfinished agenda:  humans continue to plunder the global environment, unsustainable practices remain deeply embedded in the fabric of our daily lives, and despite some honourable exceptions, our responses to the challenges of sustainability have been too few, too little and too late.  That is why the Millennium Report calls for a new ethic of conservation and stewardship, and in particular for such steps as ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and incorporation of the United Nations system of "green accounting" into national accounts.  

The work you will be carrying out during this session is an essential part of this big picture.  The transition to sustainable development is a multi-faceted exercise.  This Commission can help ensure that we move ahead in tandem, in the holistic and integrated way that is the very definition of sustainable development.

You will, for example, address the problems of land degradation and insecure land tenure, which have brought the world face to face with a real threat to future food security.  Advances in agricultural biotechnology may help, but the environmental impacts have yet to be fully evaluated.  The Secretary-General has asked in his Millennium Report that a high-level public policy network be convened to address the controversies concerning the risks and opportunities associated with the increased use of biotechnology and bio-engineering.

You will also be assessing the impact of globalization.  We need deeper insight into the relationship between foreign direct investment and sustainable development, so as to identify those types of foreign investment that best contribute to sustainable development.  And we need to make trade liberalization and environmental protection mutually supportive:  environmental measures should not become obstacles to trade or serve as camouflage for protectionism, while at the same time trade rules should not become obstacles to sensible environmental practices.

A road map to sustainable development exists:  it can be found in Agenda 21, adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development nearly a decade ago.  Since then, this Commission has sought to build effective coalitions and capacities -- nationally and internationally, politically and technologically -- to help the world's people reach their destination:  an equitable world in which the needs of all people can be met on an environmentally sound basis.
But, without sustained leadership, sustainable development will remain out of reach.  It falls to you, not only to make progress here in New York, but to do so back home amid the heat and choppy waters of national action, where it counts most.  I wish you well in your deliberations.

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