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UN’s forum on ‘sustainability’ to tackle key issues of human well-being -- Annan

UN’s forum on ‘sustainability’ to tackle key issues of human well-being -- Annan

Arguing that “sustainability” was far from an abstract concern, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that an upcoming UN forum in Johannesburg on that issue would grapple with vital problems of how people can improve their lives now without jeopardizing the well-being of future generations.

“The World Summit on Sustainable Development is not, as some people think, simply another conference on the global environment,” Mr. Annan stressed, delivering a lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science. “The whole idea of sustainable development, reflected in the Rio Earth Summit 10 years ago, is that environment and development are inextricably linked.”

The progress achieved in Johannesburg -- building on a World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, last November and next month’s International Conference on Financing for Development set for Monterrey, Mexico -- would be crucial to achieving the goals set by the UN Millennium Assembly, he said. Held in 2000, that largest-ever gathering of world leaders set key international targets, including halving extreme poverty across the globe by 2015.

“Sustainable development may be the new conventional wisdom, but many people have still not grasped its meaning,” said Mr. Annan. “It is a life-or-death issue for millions upon millions of people, and potentially the whole human race,” he warned.

In an effort to “put some human faces” on the matter, the Secretary-General noted that without sustainable development, an African women might have to search farther for fuel and water, while one of her relatives might be pushed from the countryside to an urban slum in order to find work. A man with a car and a job in a rapidly growing East Asian city who suffered from a respiratory disease could be saving money to migrate to Europe or North America, without realizing that the environment there would be no better. “The more ‘development’ follows this pattern, the less sustainable it is going to be in any part of the world,” said the Secretary-General, adding that further examples might be drawn from “any of us in this room.”

“We lead immensely privileged lives compared to the vast majority of human beings, but we do so by consuming more than our share of the earth’s resources,” he observed. “Our way of life has to change, but how, and how fast?” The Johannesburg meeting must answer that question, he stressed.

“Will these three conferences – Doha, Monterrey, Johannesburg – find a place in the history books? It depends on us,” said the Secretary-General.