11 November 2003


NEW YORK, 10 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a video message taped by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the Charles Darwin Foundation, Galapagos National Park, Ecuador, yesterday:

These Galapagos Islands are a place of extraordinary richness.  To see, first-hand, the beauty and mystery that led to one of the greatest scientific advances in history, is to understand why, 25 years ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized these islands as a world heritage site.

Here, amidst the giant tortoises and sea lions, the marine iguanas and Darwin's finches, one cannot help but contemplate one's own place in the natural world -- and in particular one's responsibility to conserve it for future generations.

The Galapagos are unique. It is a showcase of interdependence -- one of the world's most renowned ecosystems, a diverse trove for scientists, an unforgettable tourist destination, and an important element in the economic and social development of Ecuador.  I would like to commend all Ecuadorians for the legal and institutional framework that they have put in place, in a participatory way, to protect this treasure.

Every country inhabits a natural environment of resources and ecosystems that have life-giving and life-saving significance. People everywhere look to the environment for food and fuel, for medicines and materials, for livelihoods and leisure.  We look to the environment as a source of spiritual sustenance.

But all is not well with the global environment. Biodiversity is under severe threat.  Science tells us that if we do not take the right action now, climate change will bring havoc, even within our lifetime.  Toxic chemicals continue to poison the air and water.  Deserts advance across our lands.  Our seas are increasingly overfished -- and subject to calamities such as oil spills, like the one that happened two years ago right here in the Galapagos.

Ecologically harmful practices and unsustainable patterns of consumption are woven deeply into the fabric of modern life.  And for too long, we have failed to face up to the perilous state of the earth, telling ourselves that conservation is too expensive.  Yet we know, when we do face up to it, that the cost of inaction is far greater -- and that the costs, financial and otherwise, will affect us all.

The United Nations is trying to help the world move from an unsustainable present to a sustainable future, from an era of exploitation to an ethic of stewardship.  That transition need not wait for tomorrow's breakthroughs.  We already have the science and the green technologies to begin the job.  We know what policies are needed to strike the right balance between economic growth, social development and environmental protection.  Already, here in the Galapagos, ecotourism and other activities are helping to point the way.

The Galapagos archipelago still has many lessons to teach the world.  The one I hope we learn right away is that it is high time we gave the survival and security of future generations the priority they deserve.

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