UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (8 December 1997)



The risks of climate change pose the most critical and pervasive environmental threats ever to the security of the human community and to life on Earth as we know it. As your difficult negotiations have made clear, reaching an agreement is no easy task.

THE UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL'S MESSAGE TO THE THIRD SESSION OF THE CONFERENCE OF PARTIES TO THE UN FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Delivered by Mr. Maurice Strong, Under-Secretary-General, Executive Coordinator for United Nations Reform, at Kyoto, Japan


Excellencies, Distinguished delegates, United Nations colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This meeting in the historic city of Kyoto, generously hosted by the Government of Japan, is a milestone in the search by the human community for a sound, sustainable balance between its economic and social priorities and the environment and life-support systems of our planet on which all human activity and well-being ultimately depend.

I am proud of the central role the United Nations has played in this process. The Organization convened the first Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm in 1972, as well as the landmark Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. UNEP, UNCTAD and the other programmes, funds and specialized agencies have all been leaders in their fields. The United Nations has also been deeply involved in negotiating and servicing the environment and sustainable development conventions -- including the Framework Convention on Climate Change -- which provide the legal basis for dealing with the challenges and dilemmas that are shaping our future.

The risks of climate change pose the most critical and pervasive environmental threats ever to the security of the human community and to life on Earth as we know it. As your difficult negotiations have made clear, reaching an agreement is no easy task.

But the very fact that legally binding targets and timetables for limiting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are now in prospect shows how far the community of nations has come in accepting responsibility for its shared stewardship for the future of our planet.

Some have called into the question the validity of the science involved. I am convinced it would be wise and prudent to be guided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which represents the majority view of the world's leading scientists.

Of course, there is a continuing need to refine the science. But governments, business leaders and people in every walk of life routinely take important decisions because they have to, and they do so based on evidence less complete and compelling than that which the IPCC has produced. On an issue that could have such a decisive effect on the future of humanity, we must act on the principle that precaution now is wiser than panic later. The world's richest countries acknowledge their principal responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I urge them to commit to cuts that are significant, binding and verifiable.

The position of developing countries requires special consideration. They have contributed little to the build-up of greenhouse gases. They cannot be denied their right to grow; nor should their development be constrained by the imposition of undue costs and constraints.

At the same time, developing countries are rapidly becoming the major source of additional emissions. Many have undertaken voluntary measures designed to limit the environmental impact of their growth. They have also indicated their willingness to cooperate in global efforts to reduce the risk of climate change. To do so they need access to technology and, especially, capital.

New combinations of public and private funding will be needed. The Global Environmental Facility provides a unique instrument for this, and the World Bank's proposed Carbon Investment Fund would be another valuable addition.

Non-governmental organizations and civil society groups will continue to be key players. Local governments are also making outstanding contributions, with many cities implementing programmes to reduce their emissions in ways that attract popular support.

The issues with which you are grappling will not be resolved quickly or easily. As you move into this final stage of your negotiations, I know you will be inspired by the knowledge that what you do here will have a fundamental, perhaps decisive, effect on our prospects for building a secure future for the human community. The stakes are high. Please accept my best wishes for the success of your important deliberations.