5 October 2001
Ambassador Bagher Asadi
Chairman of the Group of 77 (Islamic Republic of Iran)
At the UNITAR Workshop on
the World Summit on Sustainable Development
New York, 5 October 2001
In the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful
I should first of all thank UNITAR for the very gracious invitation and thank you personally for the very kind words addressed to myself and my colleagues in the G-77 team. All of us in New York are familiar with the excellent work UNITAR has been doing for quite a number of years, particularly the seminars and workshops on important multilateral, intergovernmental processes. Further, we have also identified these seminars and workshops with Nassrine (Azimi) and yourself (Cecilia Coleman). With Nassrine on a mission to Geneva, you have been shouldering everything, and I thank you for that. It is also a pleasure for me to be here with the colleagues, many of whom I know personally and have worked with.
Turning to the subject of the Workshop, well, I suppose I hardly need to talk to about the importance of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), not least because you have been discussing various aspects of this process since yesterday morning. Moreover, while reflecting earlier today on what to say on “What can Johannesburg accomplish? And where do we go from here?”, I had the feeling that by the time I take the floor there is not much left to say. Having listened to Ambassador Jean de Ruyt of Belgium [EU Presidency], that feeling is reconfirmed. To be very honest with all of you, I agree with a whole lot of what he said, particularly on the process now under way – which I would not repeat. And I should commend him, and his colleagues, for the excellent homework they have done here, and also the Council of Ministers in Brussels, and the papers they have prepared.
Talking about doing the homework, let me say right here that this very aspect reflects the reality of the state of development out there in the real world. The members of the European Union (EU), fifteen in all, and even with their new associate members, can decide to meet any day anywhere in Europe, in Brussels or anywhere else. They get together in mid-day, and go back home by the end of the day. That is not the situation with us, a family of 133 developing countries, scattered all over the world, in three different and large continents. In Africa, as I gather, there are seven different sub-regions and as all of us know, it takes a lot of preparation for organizing sub-regional meetings, let alone at the level of the whole continent. It is the same situation in Asia and the Latin America. Hence, the difficulty of formulating the G-77 group position and outlook on different processes, including for our immediate purpose, WSSD. This clearly reflects the respective situation across the development divide.
But, on the developing countries’ outlook. As I see in the Workshop’d programme, yesterday you had a session on “Accomplishments and failures since Rio”. Sorry, that I could not attend that session. I think the very raison d’etre of the WSSD process could be found in that title. Fact of the matter is that now that we are approaching the ten-year review of the Rio Conference, we should have a realistic, comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the UNCED outcome; that is, of the implementation of Agenda 21. This is the crux of the whole process. On the basis of such an assessment, then, we should know what the needs are and what can and should be done.
Of course, we are cognizant of the preparatory process that has been under way for quite some time, and the regional and sub-regional meetings which are supposed to provide input into shaping the themes and the agenda for the Johannesburg meeting – to which Ambassador Ruyt also referred. And, further, we are also familiar with the views and concerns of the host country, South Africa.
Like other international, intergovernmental processes and their final outcomes, the problem is not due to lack of objectives, targets or specific policies and actions. At least here, that is not the case. We have enough of them. Agenda 21 is clear, detailed and full of a wide range of objectives, targets and policies and actions. The problem lies in lack of implementation and non-compliance, particularly in three specific areas, which is known to all of us. They are financial resources, technology transfer and capacity-building. I am very happy that Ambassador Ruyt also talked about the importance of three specific areas. This convergence between their views and our views across the development divide is a very welcome development; it should augur well for the rest of this process.
On the basis of what I have just said, from our point of view, one specific outcome of the WSSD should be to devise and adopt clear mechanisms for the implementation of previous agreements and undertakings. It should come up with very concrete measures, with time-bound targets, for the means of implementation. That is critical and central to the success of the whole process.
One of the major reasons for non-compliance with the provisions of Agenda 21 is to be found in the inadequacy of the international sustainable development governance. Ambassador Ruyt referred to the question of coherence at the national level. Quite a valid point, which should certainly be addressed by national governments. But, the point I am raising here concerns the fact international sustainable development governance, especially with regard to the two important pillars of sustainable development; that is, economic growth and social development, are inadequate. It is fair to say, however, that this governance in the area of environmental protection; that is, the third pillar of sustainable development, has relatively advanced more – of course, relatively only.
We are all familiar now with the International Environmental Governance (IEG) process – whose third session recently took place in Algiers. Logically, its objective is to strengthen the environmental governance. As far as the approach and positions of the Group of 77 are concerned, I should add that we have been actively involved in the process since the Nairobi meeting and more so, particularly since the Ministerial Meeting here in New York on April 18th. We have made it clear from the very outset that we understand and consider IEG within the framework of sustainable development. Our participation has been along this line and will continue as it has been. While on this point, let me thank Ambassador Ruyt for his kind words as regards the two G-77 papers on IEG. Well, fact of the matter is that we asked two Southern institutions; South Centre and the Third World Network each to prepare a paper on IEG from the perspective of the South. These two papers were made available to the IEG meeting in Algiers. I hope we can have a briefing session here sometime later this month on the sidelines of the Second Committee to introduce them here as well. At least we can distribute them within the Group.
As for the strengthening of the international sustainable development governance, there exists a clear need for strengthening the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) – as the main forum for high-level policy dialogue on sustainable development within the United Nations system. WSSD should come up with clear decisions in this regard.
While still dealing with the Rio heritage – and reminiscing in a sense on my older hat as the IFF Co-Chair and Coordinator for the UNFF process – let me just say that this is an area of post-Rio accomplishment. All of us in the intergovernmental body should indeed be very pleased with this outcome. First there was the IPF process, then the IFF, and finally, the new UN body on forests, a body with universal membership and yet a subsidiary organ of ECOSOC, which is charged with the implementation of the existing proposals for action in the field of forests. The new “baby” has already adopted its multi-year programme of work (MYPOW) and plan of action and is on its way for their formal approval at the Ministerial meeting in Costa Rica next March and from there, we will have implementation. The progress made thus far in this area of the Rio heritage is important and should be taken note of in Johannesburg.
Another area which we need to address in the WSSD preparatory process concerns globalization. We should arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of the impact and implications of this still on-going process for sustainable development, particularly as far as further worsening of environmental degradation and marginalization of developing countries are concerned. These aspects do not seem to have received much of attention so far. Within this framework, I suppose new and emerging issues could as well be addressed.
The element of “global partnership” is very important in the WSSD process. Everybody remembers that in Rio there was a lot of South-North dichotomy and confrontation, in many areas, which led to convergence in the post-Rio period and gradually moved towards consensus-building. A clear example of which is to be seen in the area of forests, as I briefly referred to.
I believe what was achieved in Bonn in late July with respect to the Kyoto Protocol was a perfect example of partnership on a global scale that made the political agreement possible. What was accomplished was the clear, unmistakable outcome of genuine cooperation between the Group of 77 and the European Union, and of course, the taking on board of the concerns of a number of other major actors. And I am happy that Ambassador Ruyt also referred to the Bonn success as such. It is a great example for the WSSD process. We should continue this trend, preserve the dynamism created in Bonn and carry it to Marrakesh in less than four weeks time. We should, all of us, those who made the Bonn agreement possible, to translate that political agreement into solid legal language and make it possible for the entry into force of the Protocol when we go into the Johannesburg meeting.
Well, I suppose these points should suffice for the time being. Later in the month we should have another opportunity to further discuss these issues within the framework of the Second Committee consideration of sustainable development. Let us hope that the outcome of various regional and sub-regional meetings would be made available soon so that we could have a better picture of the regional outlook for the WSSD preparatory process.
Thank you very much for your indulgence.
Remarks during Q and A period:
- I fully agree with the suggestion made by the French colleague on what is nowadays generally referred to as “inclusive globalization”. That is closely related with what I said about the necessity of arriving at a more sophisticated understanding of globalization within the context of sustainable development.
- As with the point raised by the American colleague, let me first thank him for the kind sentiments addressed to myself and my colleagues in the G-77 team. This is a positive development in itself and should certainly help our collective work within the WSSD process. The reason that I did not address the national aspect of the responsibility of developing countries in the area of sustainable development was not because of omission or that we do not consider such a responsibility. Quite to the contrary, we in the developing world are fully cognizant of the national responsibility, and as is known by all, developing countries have been doing a lot in the area of sustainable development. Moreover, I did not address it also because the other side, the developed countries, tend to emphasize it and it is them who will certainly bring it to the negotiating table. This is why in our statements and pronouncements we keep a focus on certain other aspects of the situation.
- In this respect let me also add that as a UN diplomat dedicated to consensus building, I genuinely believe in the imperative of flexibility and also in its inevitability. That’s how we work here at the UN. For any consensual outcome – which is the way do business – we need to be flexible; all of us, both developed and developing. You should give something to take something. That’s the name of the game around this house. And one more point which I consider very important as far as the Group of 77 and its work is concerned. Since I assumed the hat I am currently wearing, I have been trying to get this message across that G-77 is not a group with an extended hand to receive. That is not what the group stands for. Yes, we have a lot of demands and firm positions on a whole lot of issues. But, we also have a lot to offer and bring to the table. And hence, the necessity of exchange of views, of dialogue and in the final analysis, of the give and take.
- Let me also reiterate here what I have said previously with respect to the American posture and policy towards the Kyoto Protocol. The political agreement in Bonn was achieved despite the fact that the US was not engaged. Yes, it was a great achievement and has paved the way for the Protocol’s ultimate entry into force. But, everybody agrees that without the US, as the major polluter – with 25% of the emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs), the protocol is a weakened instrument. And it would certainly be strengthened when the US comes back to the fold of climate change process. All of us have been waiting, and hoping, that the outcome of the much-talked-about cabinet-level “policy review” would come out as soon as possible and that the US Government would join the climate change process. And I hope that the recent tragic events here in the States have not negatively impacted the process of that policy review.
- And as the very last point, I turn to the extremely valid point the Brazilian colleague raised with respect the necessity of change in the patterns of consumption and production. Last night I attended a working dinner on the occasion of the 11th Annual Observance of the International Year of Older Persons. There, while the question of the rapid increase in the number of older persons in the world, particularly in the developing countries, was being addressed by an expert from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), it was mentioned that the US with only 4% of the world population consumes almost 40% of the world’s resources. Well, I suppose, everybody agrees that this is simply not sustainable. There might be other countries with smaller population size and still a higher proportion of consumption. This situation needs to change, across the board. Change in the patterns of consumption and production on a global scale is a necessity of our time and it should be addressed in earnest in the WSSD process.