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Opening statement to the Rio Summit (3 June 1992)


In 1972, at Stockholm, representatives of 113 of the world's nations took the first steps on a new journey of hope for the future of our 'Only One Earth'. In 1992,  Rio de Janeiro, representatives of more than 178 nations met to  rekindle that hope and give it new substance and impetus. For, despite significant progress made since 1972 in many areas, the hopes ignited at Stockholm remained largely unfulfilled.


Statement by Maurice F. Strong, Secretary-General United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, at the opening of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3 June 1992

"Mr. President, Secretary-General, Your Majesty, Your Excellency the President of Portugal, Your Excellencies the Prime Ministers of Norway and Tuvalu, Distinguished Leaders of Brazil present here, Distinguished Delegates, and the people we all serve.

First, may I extend my warm congratulations to you, Mr. President, on your election as President of this Conference. You have now become our President and I, and the members of our fine UNCED Secretariat team, look forward to serving" under your leadership. I want also to express to you, to your Government and your people, our deep gratitude for the remarkable job you have done in preparing for this largest intergovernmental conference ever, and for the warmth and generosity with which you have welcomed us here. Our gratitude extends, too, to Governor Brizola and Mayor Alencar who have joined you so wholeheartedly in this.

Today, the capital of our planet moves to this beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro. There could be no better place to hold this historic Earth Summit. This great country of Brazil, which takes pride in being a part of the developing world, is a universe in itself, rich in the resources with which nature has endowed it and in the diversity, the vitality, the creativity and the charm of its people. It is, at the same time, one of the world's leading industrial countries and one of its most urbanized, while containing some of its greatest frontier areas. The EcoBrasil exhibition" in Sao Paulo and EcoTech '92 here in Rio have demonstrated, too, the impressive quality and range of Brazil's scientific and technological capabilities. The economic, social and environmental challenges which Brazil is tackling with characteristic vigour and dynamism mirror the whole panoply of issues this Conference is addressing. And the initiatives Brazil has taken under your leadership, Mr. President, in dealing with some of your own critical environment and development problems have set an enlightened example. to the international community. Today, all Brazilians can take special and well-deserved pride in their country and their President.

I commend you, Mr. President and Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, whom I am so proud to serve, for your inspiring statements which have made clear the awesome nature of the challenges which confront this Conference. Indeed, it will define the state of political will to save our planet and to make it, in the words of the EarthPledge, a secure and hospitable home for present and future generations.

This is not a single issue Conference. Rather, it deals with the overall cause and effect system through which a broad range of human activities interact to shape our future.

Twenty years ago at Stockholm, representatives of 113 of the world's nations took the first steps on a new journey of hope for the future of our 'Only One Earth'. Today, in this beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, you have come together, as representatives of more than 178 nations, in this unprecedented parliament of the planet, to take the decisions needed to rekindle that hope and give it new substance and impetus. For, despite significant progress made since 1972 in many areas, the hopes ignited at Stockholm remain largely unfulfilled.

As the World Commission on Environment and Development made clear and - I am so pleased that the distinguished Chairman of that Commission is here and will be addressing us this morning, Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland  - in its landmark report, 'Our Common Future', the environment, natural resources and life-support systems of our planet have continued to deteriorate, while global risks like those of climate change and ozone depletion have become more immediate and acute. Yet all the environmental deterioration and risks we have experienced to date have occurred at levels of population and human activity that are much less than they will be in the period ahead. And the underlying conditions that have produced this dilemma remain as dominant driving forces that are shaping our future and threatening our survival.



Undermining Earth's life-support system

 

Central to the issues we are going to have to deal with are: patterns of production and consumption in the industrial world that are undermining the Earth's life-support systems; the explosive increase in population, largely in the developing world, that is adding a quarter of a million people daily; deepening disparities between rich and poor that leave 75 per cent of humanity struggling to live; and an economic system that takes no account of ecological costs or damage - one which views unfettered growth as progress. We have been the most successful species ever; we are now a species out of control. Our very success is leading us to a dangerous future.

The concentration of population growth in developing countries and economic growth in the industrialized countries has deepened, creating imbalances which are unsustainable, either in environmental or economic terms. Since 1972 world population has grown by 1.7 billion people, equivalent to almost the entire population at the beginning of this century. 1.5 billion of these live in developing countries which are least able to support them. Each individual person is precious. We must honour, and the Earth must support, all its children. But, overall, this growth cannot continue. Population must be stabilized, and rapidly. If we do not do it, nature will, and much more brutally.

During the same 20 year period, world GDP increased by $20 trillion. Yet 15 per cent of the increase accrued to developing countries. Over 70 per cent went to the already rich countries, adding further to their disproportionate pressures on the environment, resources and life-support systems of our planet. This is the other part of the population problem: the fact that every child born in the developed world consumes 20 to 30 times the resources of the planet than a third world child.

The same processes of economic growth which have produced such unprecedented levels of wealth and power for the rich minority and hopes of a better life for everyone have also given rise to the risks and imbalances that now threaten the future of rich and poor alike. This growth model, and the patterns of production and consumption which have accompanied it, is not sustainable for the rich; nor can it be replicated by the poor. To continue along this pathway could lead to the end of our civilization.



Vicious circle of poverty

 

Yet the poor need economic and social development as the only means of relieving the vicious circle of poverty in which they are caught up. Their right to development cannot be denied; nor should it be impeded by conditions unilaterally imposed on the financial flows or trade of developing countries. The rich must take the lead in bringing their development under control, reducing substantially their impacts on the environment, leaving environmental 'space' for developing countries to grow. The wasteful and destructive lifestyles of the rich cannot be maintained at the cost of the lives and livelihoods of the poor, and of nature.

For the rich, the transition to sustainable development need not require regression to a difficult or primitive life. On the contrary, it can lead to a richer life of expanded opportunities for self-realization and fulfilment. More satisfying and secure because it is sustainable, and more sustainable because its opportunities and benefits are more universally shared.

Sustainable development - development that does not destroy or undermine the ecological, economic or social basis on which continued development depends  - is the only viable pathway to a more secure and hopeful future for rich and poor alike.

Fortunately, that pathway is still an option, but that option is closing. This Conference must establish the foundations for effecting the transition to sustainable development This can only be done through fundamental changes in our economic life and in international economic relations, particularly as between industrialized and developing countries. Environment must be integrated into every aspect of our economic policy and decision-making as well as the culture and value systems which motivate economic behaviour.

Some of the world's most precious resources and ecosystems are in acute danger -tropical forests, arctic tundra, coastal waters, rivers and other freshwater systems. They can only be protected and developed sustainably if they are valued fully and if the people who depend on them for their livelihoods have the incentives and the means to do so.

In our negotiations with each other, nature must have a place at the table, for nature will have the last word and our decisions must respect the boundary conditions it imposes on us as well as the rich array of resources and opportunities it makes available to us. As Sir Shridath Ramphal says in his book, 'Our Country, The Planet', commissioned for the Conference, 'in our drive for material betterment, we have become so indifferent to our roots in nature that we are in danger of tearing them out'. We have to face up to the dire implications of the warnings scientists are sounding. They point to the real prospect that this planet may soon become uninhabitable for people. Ifwe respond only with rhetoric and gestures, this prospect could become a grim reality.

Preparations for the Conference have focused on the concrete actions required to effect the transition to sustainability. Pursuant to the mandate extended to it by the United Nations General Assembly in its Resolution 44/228 and under the masterful leadership of its Chairman, Ambassador Tommy Koh, the Preparatory Committee of this Conference, in more than two years of intensive preparations and negotiations, has fashioned the proposals that are now before you. In doing so, it has had the benefit of an extraordinary range of contributions, from the entire UN system, from preparatory conferences in every region, many sectoral conferences, national reports and the participation in various ways of an unprecedented number of institutions, experts and organizations, governmental and non-governmental. I join the Secretary-General in his tribute to all of those who have contributed to this process. I want especially to note that no international conference of governments has enjoyed a broader range of participation and greater contributions from non-governmental organizations than this one, and I salute them for this.



Critical issues

 

The results of this preparatory work are now before you. The majority of the proposals come with the recommendation, by consensus, of the Preparatory Committee. But some critically important issues remain for you to resolve here.

Let me mention some of the most important issues as I see them.

The 27 principles of the 'Rio Declaration', building on the Stockholm Declaration, clearly represent a major step forward in establishing the basic-principles that must govern the conduct of nations and peoples towards each other and the Earth to ensure a secure and sustainable future. I recommend that you approve them in their present form and that they serve as a basis for future negotiation of an 'Earth Charter', which could be approved on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

Agenda 21 is the product of an extensive process of preparation at the professionallevel and negotiation at the political level. It establishes, for the first time, a framework for the systemic, co-operative action required to effect the transition to sustainable development. And its 115 programme areas define the concrete actions required to carry out this transition. In respect of the issues that are still unresolved, I would urge you to ensure that the agreements reached at this historic Summit move us beyond the positions agreed by Governments in previous fora.

The issue of new and additional financial resources to enable developing countries to implement Agenda 21 is crucial and pervasive. This, more than any other issue, will clearly test the degree of political will and commitment of all countries to the fundamental purposes and goals of this Earth Summit. The Tokyo Declaration on Financing Global Environment and Development provides promising evidence that movement on this key issue is possible, despite the current difficult economic climate.

The need to begin the process is so urgent, so compelling, that Governments, particularly those of the high-income countries, will have come, I trust, prepared to make the initial commitments that will be necessary to do this. It is clear that the North must begin to invest much more in progress for the developing world. Developing countries must leave here with confidence that they will have the support and incentives they need to commit themselves to the substantial reorientations of policies and redeployment of their own resources called for by Agenda 21. For they are responsible for their own development and must provide most of the resources some 80 per cent -required to implement Agenda 21.



Additional funds

 

I hope, too, that you would agree that these new and additional funds may be channelled, at least initially, through a number of existing institutions and programmes, including an appropriately revised Global Environment Facility. This calls for a new sense of real partnership. Traditional notions of foreign aid and of the donor-recipient syndrome are no longer an appropriate basis for North-South relations. The world community must move towards a more objective and consistent system of effecting resource transfers similar to that used to redress imbalances and ensure equity within national societies. Financing the transition to sustainable development should not be seen merely in terms of extra costs, but rather as an indispensable investment in global environmental security.

Such investments also make good economic sense. It is no accident that those countries and corporations which use energy and materials most efficiently are also those which are most successful economically. The reverse is also true -for poor economic performance is almost invariably accompanied by poor environmental performance. The importance of eco-efficiency was the principal theme of the ground-breaking report 'Changing Course' prepared by the Business Council for Sustainable Development as its contribution to the Conference.

Nowhere is efficiency more important than in the use of energy. The transition to a more energy-efficient economy that weans us off our overdependence on fossil fuels is imperative to the achievement of sustainable developrnents. The removal of trade barriers and discriminatory subsidies would enable developing countries to earn several times more than the amounts they 'now receive by way of Official Development Assistance. Large-scale reduction of their current debt burdens could provide most of the new and additional resources they require to make the transition to sustainable development through implementation of Agenda 21.

We also need new ways of financing environment and development objectives. For example, emission permits that are tradeable internationally offer a means of making the most cost-effective use of funds devoted to pollution control while at the same time providing a non-budgetary means of effecting resource transfers. Taxes on polluting products or activities, like the C02 taxes now being levied or proposed by a number of countries, could also be devoted to financing of international environment and development measures. While none of these promising measures may be ripe for definitive action at this Conference, I would urge the Conference to put them on the priority agenda for the early post-Rio period.



Poverty

 

The devastating drought in southern Africa and the continuing plight of the victims of conflict and poverty in so many African countries are a grim reminder of the need for the world community to give special priority to the needs of Africa and to the least-developed countries everywhere. The tragedy is that poverty and hunger persist in a world never better able to eliminate them. This is surely a denial of the moral and ethical basis of our civilization as well as a threat to its survival.

Agenda 21 measures for eradication of poverty and the economic enfranchisement of the poor provide the basis for a new world-wide war on poverty. Indeed, I urge you to adopt the eradication of poverty as a priority objective for the world community as we move into the 21st century.

Another important region which deserves special attention at this time is that comprised of the nations of the former Soviet Union and Eastern and Central Europe. These countries, which have suffered some of the most severe environmental devastation to be experienced anywhere, are now faced with the daunting task of revitalizing and rebuilding their economies. It is important to them, and to the entire world community, that they have the international support they will need to do this on an environmentally-sound and sustainable basis.

I want to pay tribute to those who have negotiated the Conventions on Climate Change and Biodiversity, which will be opened for your signature here. It has not been an easy process and some have important reservations about both instruments. They represent first steps in the processes of addressing two of the most serious threats to the habitability of our planet. Signing them will not, in itself, be sufficient Their real importance will depend on the extent to which they give rise to concrete actions and are followed quickly by protocols containing the special measures required to make them fully effective and the finances needed to implement them.

For both these issues deal with the future oflife on Earth. Over the next 20 years, more than one quarter of the Earth's remaining species may become extinct And in the case of global warming, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that if carbon dioxide emissions are not cut by 60 per cent immediately, the changes in the next 60 years may be so rapid that nature will be unable to adapt and man incapable of controlling them.



Convention

 

I also recommend that you mandate negotiation of a convention on desertification and deterioration of arid lands, which is threatening the lives and the livelihoods of so many people in the developing world, notably Africa. It is important, too, for this Conference, in negotiating the forestry principles placed before it by the Preparatory Committee, to provide for continuing progress towards an effective regime for conservation and sustainable development of the world's forests.

War and preparation for war are major sources of environmental damage which must be subjected to greater accountability and control. This should include much stronger legal instruments with clear provisions for enforcement which provide effective deterrence against future environmental aggressors.

The road to Rio has been enlightened and enlivened by a remarkable and diverse range of activities and dialogue  - most have been highly supportive, some critical, some sceptical, but all testifying to the historic importance of this occasion and the hopes and expectations of people everywhere for what you will do here in the next two weeks. Many of the people and organizations participating in this global process will be with us here. Many more are gathering at the accompanying 'people's summit' at the Global Forum. I look forward to a positive and creative interaction between the Conference and these other 'people's' fora.

Several other important events have occurred here just prior to the Conference. The World Conference of Indigenous Peoples met to share their experience and concerns. They are repositories of much of the traditional knowledge and wisdom from which modernization has separated most of us. They are custodians, too, of some of the world's most important and vulnerable ecosystems -tropical forests, deserts and arctic regions. We must hear and heed their voices, learn from their experience and respect their right to live in their own lands in accordance with their traditions, values and cultures.

Full and informed participation of people through democratic processes at every level, accompanied by openness and transparency, are essential to the achievement of the objectives of this Conference. Provision for such participation must be an essential feature of the response by Governments and institutions, national and international, to the results of the Conference.



Important constituencies

 

No constituencies are more important in all countries than women, youth and children. And the children who greeted us so beautifully at the door as we entered today - representatives of all the children whose world we are shaping here must surely be a particularly poignant reminder of the special responsibilities we carry towards them. To make their essential and distinctive contributions, the remaining barriers to the full and equal participation of women in all aspects of our economic, social and political life must be removed. Similarly, the views, concerns and the interests of our youth and children must be respected and they must be provided with expanding opportunities to participate in the decisions which will: shape the future which is so largely theirs.

By the early part of the 21st century, more than half the world's people will live in urban areas. Cities of the developing world are being overwhelmed by explosive growth at rates beyond anything ever experienced before. By the year 2025, the, . urban population of developing countries is expected to reach some 4 billion. In our host country, the proportion of people living in urban areas is already more than 70 per cent. The meetings of leading representatives of local governments, in which i Mayor Alencar took such a leading role, which took place in Curitiba and Rio in the past week, have highlighted these issues and established the basis for the adoption of an Agenda 21 by many of the world's leading cities.

We are reminded by the Declaration of the Sacred Earth Gathering, which met here last weekend, that the changes in behaviour and direction called for here must be rooted in our deepest spiritual, moral and ethical values. We reinstate in our lives the ethic of love and respect for the Earth which traditional peoples have retained as central to their value systems. This must be accompanied by a revitalization of the values common to all of our principal religious and philosophical traditions. Caring, sharing, co-operation with and love of each other must no longer be seen as pious ideals, divorced from reality, but rather as the indispensable basis for the new realities on which our survival and well-being must be premised.

Science and technology have produced our knowledge-based civilization. Its misuse and unintended effects have given rise to the risks and imbalances which now threaten us. At the same time, it offers the insights we need to guide our decisions and the tools we need to take the actions that will shape our common future. The guidance which science provides will seldom be so precise as to remove all uncertainty. In matters affecting our survival, we cannot afford to wait for the certainty which only a post-mortem could provide. We must act on the precautionary principle guided by the best evidence available.



Full partners

 

To become full partners in the process of saving our planet, developing countries need first and foremost substantial new support for strengthening their own scientific, technological, professional, educational and related institutional capacities. This is one of the important and urgent features of Agenda 21. And I am delighted, Mr. President, that in your own opening remarks you invited the international community to follow up this Conference by establishing an appropriate and central part of that institutional network here in Rio. I commend it and I pledge you my support in achieving it.

Perhaps the most important common ground we must arrive at in Rio is the understanding that we are all in this together. No place on the planet can remain' an island of affluence in a sea of misery. We're either going to save the whole world or no-one will be saved. We must from here on in all go down the same path. One country cannot stabilize its climate in isolation. No country can unilaterally preserve its biodiversity. One part of the world cannot live an orgy of unrestrained consumption while the rest destroys its. environment just to survive. Neither is immune from the effects of the other.

There is an ominous tendency today to erect new iron curtains to insulate the more affluent and privileged from the poor, the underprivileged and the dispossessed. Iron curtains and closed national boundaries provide no solutions to the problems of an interdependent world community in which what happens in one part affects all.

Like it or not, from here on in, we're in this together: rich, poor, North, South, East and West. It is an exhilarating challenge to erase the barriers that have separated us in the past, to join in the global partnership that will enable us to survive in a more secure and hospitable world. The industrialized world cannot escape its primary responsibility to lead the way in establishing this partnership and making it work. Up to now, the damage inflicted on our planet has been done largely inadvertently. We now know what we are doing. We have lost our innocence. It would be more than irresponsible to continue down this path.

This Conference will, in the final analysis, only meet the needs for which it was called and the hopes and aspirations it has ignited throughout the world if the decisions taken here give rise to real and fundamental changes in the underlying conditions that have produced the civilizational crisis we now confront. If the agreements reached here do not serve the common interests of the entire human family, if they are devoid of the means and commitments required to implement them, if the world lapses back to 'business as usual', we will have missed a historic opportunity, one which may not recur in our times, if ever. We would thus bequeath to those who follow us a legacy of lost hopes and deepening despair. This we must not do.

The Earth Summit is not an end in itself, btlt a new beginning. The measures you agree on here will be but first steps on a new pathway to our common future. Thus, the results of this Conference will ultimately depend on the credibility and effectiveness of its follow-up. It is, therefore, of the highest importance that all Governments commit themselves to translate the decisions they take collectively here to national policies and practices required to give effect to them, particularly implementation of Agenda 21. The preparatory process has provided the basis for this and the momentum which has brought us to Rio must be maintained. And institutional changes, as the Secretary-General has said, to be made within the United Nations must provide an effective and credible basis for its continued leadership of this process.

Our essential unity as peoples of the Earth must transcend the differences and difficulties which still divide us. You are.called upon to rise to your historic responsibility as custodians of the planet in taking the decisions here that will unite rich and poor, North, South, East and West, in a new global partnership to ensure our common future. The road beyond Rio will be a long and difficult one; but it will; . also be a journey of renewed hope, of excitement, challenge and opportunity, leading as we move into the 21st century to the dawning of a new world in which the hopes and aspirations ofall the world's children for a more secure and hospitable future can be fulfilled. This unprecedented responsibility is in your hands. "