Press Releases

    6 March 2002


    NEW YORK, 5 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, delivered on his behalf by Hassen M. Fodha, Director of the United Nations Information Centre, Paris, to the European Forum for Sustainable Development and Responsible Company Management, meeting from 5-6 March:

    Later this year in Johannesburg, the international community will gather for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. This is not, as some people think, simply another conference on the global environment. The whole idea of sustainable development, reflected in the Rio Earth Summit 10 years ago, is that development and environment are inextricably linked.

    Much was achieved at Rio, and Agenda 21, adopted there, remains as visionary today as it was then. And yet there is a feeling of lost momentum. As our attention has been focused on conflict, on globalization, or most recently on terrorism, we have often failed to see how these are connected to the issue of sustainability. That word has become a pious invocation, rather than the urgent call to concrete action that it should be. And while sustainable development may be the new conventional wisdom, many people have still not grasped its meaning. One important task at Johannesburg is to show that it is far from being as abstract as it sounds, but rather is a life-or-death issue for millions upon millions of people, and potentially the whole human race.

    It is certainly of prime importance to the business community. Many companies depend for their very existence on the sustainability of natural resources and ecosystems, and all companies have an interest in building stable, functioning societies. Green technologies are an expanding business sector and an arena in which innovation can flourish and entrepreneurship can be rewarded. Companies that embrace sustainable development can also find their reputations enhanced in the eyes of consumers and the communities in which they operate. For these and many other reasons, sustainability is a key ingredient in the Global Compact, the corporate citizenship initiative I launched three years ago.

    Far from being a burden, sustainable development is an exceptional opportunity -- economically, to build markets and create jobs; socially, to bring people in from the margins; and politically, to reduce tensions over resources that could lead to violence and to give every man and woman a voice, and a choice, in deciding their own future. Can people now living on this planet improve their lives, not at the expense of future generations, but in a way from which their children and grandchildren will benefit? I believe we can. We have at our disposal the human and material resources to achieve sustainable development. What is needed is leadership and political will. In that hopeful spirit, I wish you a fruitful conference and look forward to the contributions you will make to Johannesburg and beyond.

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