Press Releases

    7 February 2006

    World's Mindset - Short-Term, Wedded to Fossil Fuels - Must Change to Achieve Sustainable Development, Says Secretary-General, Accepting Environment Prize

    NEW YORK, 6 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following are UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's remarks on receiving the Global Leadership Award of the Zayed International Prize for the Environment, in Dubai, 6 February:

    It is an honour to be in the United Arab Emirates to receive this Prize, named after Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whose commitment to the environment was well known here and around the world.

    I would like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed Al-Maktoum for his vision in creating this Award, and his generosity in serving as its patron.

    I must also offer my sincere condolences to His Highness and to the people of Dubai for the loss of the former ruler, Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashed Al-Maktoum, whose death last month came as a shock to us all.  During this period of grief, our condolences go especially to Sheikh Mohammed and the rest of the Maktoum family.

    To stand here in the UAE, and especially in Dubai, is to stand on the soil of one of the world's great economic miracles.

    It is a country whose leaders and people have learned the importance of using scarce resources efficiently.

    It is a land that knows the importance of human and intellectual capital.  Here in the heart of the world's oil region, Dubai itself derives less than 6 per cent of its income from oil.

    And it is a civilization grounded in strong cultural and spiritual values, which recognizes that sustainable development will not succeed without caring for and conserving the world's natural capital.

    That understanding lies at the heart of the United Nations' global mission of peace and development.

    Yet all too often, the environment has been viewed as a domain of limitless bounty -- a realm over which humans could exercise heedless dominion.  And protecting the environment has been considered an afterthought, or even a luxury.

    Again and again, from antiquity to the modern era, humankind has been shown the folly of such assumptions.

    Today, we understand that respect for the environment is one of the main pillars of our fight against poverty, and essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

    But still, despite some real improvements in some parts of the world, our efforts to safeguard the global environment and make a transition to sustainable development lag behind what is truly needed.

    The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that was completed last year under the auspices of the United Nations and others -- and which is itself a winner of one of this year's Zayed prizes -- shows the terrible toll human activities are inflicting on the resources and networks that support life on earth.  Prosperity built on destruction is not prosperity at all, but rather only a temporary reprieve from tragedy.  There will be little peace, and much greater poverty, if this assault continues.

    Action on climate change is particularly urgent.  Scientists largely agree that without major policy changes in the next few years, we face a future filled with danger.

    Now that the Kyoto Protocol has entered into force, the world has a dynamic tool for stabilizing and reducing emissions and supporting climate-friendly projects in developing countries.

    Moreover, the world is about to embark on two parallel tracks aimed at intensifying global action.  The first will involve discussions among the parties to the Protocol, and will look at binding targets for the industrialized countries beyond 2012.  The second will be a dialogue involving all parties to the wider Climate Change Convention, and will look at a broader range of cooperative action, involving technology, adaptation and voluntary action by developing countries.

    I urge all countries to take those discussions seriously.  Regional and other initiatives are important, but the Framework Convention remains the multilateral framework for action.

    And as these processes unfold, let us be clear what is at stake:  the carbon-based economy is like an uncontrolled experiment with the global climate, with serious risks for ecosystems, business and human health.  We must cut emissions.  But we must also help the poorest of the poor and the vulnerable adapt to the climate change that is already under way.

    A change in mindset is equally important.

    The world remains locked into short-term thinking, from election cycles in politics to profit-taking in the business world.  Sustainable development cries out for a long-term perspective.

    The world remains captive to the old idea that we face a choice between economic growth and conservation.  In fact, growth cannot be sustained without conservation.  One of two jobs worldwide -- in agriculture, forestry and fisheries -- depends on the sustainability of ecosystems.  Health problems cannot be fixed by the health sector alone.  Our fight against poverty, inequality and disease is directly linked to the health of the earth itself.

    And the world remains perilously wedded to oil and other fossil fuels.  The challenge here is twofold.

    First:  we must husband this resource, and use it efficiently, while limiting the impact on the environment by delivering cleaner coal and using cleaner ways to generate fossil fuels.  All humankind must get the maximum benefit from every barrel, gallon or litre consumed -- much as we try to do with water, where "more crop per drop" is our mantra.  Prince Zayed himself understood that the true value of oil is in what it can do to improve the lives of people.  Two billion of our fellow human beings today lack affordable energy services.

    Second, we must look ahead, beyond the finite life of fossil fuels, and promote clean, alternative, renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and biofuel.  The soaring demand for oil is concentrating the minds of the world as never before.  Today's high oil prices make the economic and environmental arguments even more mutually supportive.

    This country and this region are well placed to spearhead the effort.  Oil-rich countries can invest in new technologies and in the transfer of existing ones to poorer countries.  Doing so would be prudent self interest, as well as a mark of solidarity with those less well off.  It would be a breath of fresh air for the planet.  The Middle East was the main energy supplier of the last century.  I hope that through your investments and leadership, you will become a primary source of alternative energy in this one.

    Everyone has a role to play in changing the mindset.

    Governments have immense capacity to set the rules and create the tax and other incentives that will promote sustainable development.  Developed countries in particular -- with their wealth and power -- need to take the lead.

    Businesses have unparalleled ability to innovate and to steer behaviour -- and capital flows -- in the right directions.  They should do even more to support green technologies and make them one of tomorrow's growth industries.  I urge institutional investors and pension fund managers to continue their efforts to reward companies that have a long-term vision to deal with environmental risks and opportunities.  The UN Global Compact corporate citizenship initiative has been working very closely to embed environmental principles in corporate activities and global markets.  I am glad that so many of them are showcasing their work at an exhibition elsewhere in this hall.

    And let us not forget people power:  consumers; voters determined to exercise their democratic rights; legions of citizens' groups and their skill at popular mobilization and carrying out small-scale projects at the local level.  It is appropriate that one of this year's Zayed prizes is being awarded to the head of one such organization.

    Tomorrow, the representatives of nearly 160 countries -- including some 125 environment ministers -- will gather for the UN Environment Programme's Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum.  Both figures reflect unprecedented participation.

    I can think of no better time than now for you, some of the world's leading political actors, to act on the understanding that ecosystem services underpin all our hopes for defeating poverty, stimulating economic development and building a more stable world.  Political energy is another of the world's renewable resources.  Our challenge -- and your challenge -- is to tap into it far more than we have.  We need to stop being so economically defensive, and start being more politically courageous.

    I can think of no better use of the funds bestowed by this generous prize than devoting them to the cause of sustainable development.  Accordingly, I plan to use the Award as seed money for a foundation I will establish to work in Africa for agriculture and girls' education.  Agriculture, because Africa's people need a green revolution.  It is the only continent that has not gone through a green revolution.  And girls' education, because there is no more effective tool for development.

    Finally, I can think of no better place than here, in the heart of the Middle East, to add a few words about the anger felt by many Muslims about the recent publication of caricatures which they see as insulting to their religion.

    I understand, and share, their anguish. But it cannot justify violence, least of all attacks on innocent people.

    Once again, I appeal to Muslims to accept the apology that has been offered, and to act as I am sure Almighty God, who is compassionate and merciful, would wish them to do -- that is, to act with calm and dignity, to forgive the wrong they have suffered, and to seek peace rather than conflict.  And I urge all who have authority or influence in different communities, both religious and secular, and men and women of goodwill in all faiths and communities, to engage in dialogue and build a true alliance of civilizations, founded on mutual respect.

    Thank you again for the honour of this Prize.  I am proud to accept it on behalf of the men and women of the United Nations, who are strongly dedicated to their mission of peace, tolerance and human dignity, and who work valiantly to improve both the natural and the human environments.  Thank you very much.

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