At Johannesburg Summit, Annan urges concrete action to help safeguard environment

At Johannesburg Summit, Annan urges concrete action to help safeguard environment

Annan at World Summit for Sustainable Development
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today rallied national leaders attending the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, with an urgent plea for action to preserve the global environment.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today rallied national leaders attending the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, with an urgent plea for action to preserve the global environment.

Illustrating the pressing nature of the problems at hand, the Secretary-General pointed out that the very region where the meeting is being held faces the looming peril of widespread hunger. "Not far from this conference room, in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, 13 million people are threatened with famine," he pointed out. "If any reminder were needed of what happens when we fail to plan for and protect the long-term future of our planet, it can be heard in the cries for help from those 13 million souls."

The Secretary-General called on his audience, which included numerous heads of State and government from across the world, to take responsibility for all people, “especially the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, as fellow members of a single human family.”

While pointing to the natural beauty, spiritual sustenance and material bounty provided by the environment, Mr. Annan cautioned against complacency. "Let us not be deceived, when looking at a clear blue sky, into thinking that all is well -- all is not well," he said, calling attention to such problems as climate change, desertification and pollution.

Urging political courage, the Secretary-General said participants must face "an uncomfortable truth: the model of development we are accustomed to has been fruitful for the few, but flawed for the many."

Noting that governments could not meet environmental challenges alone, he said civil society groups have a critical role "as partners, advocates and watchdogs." In addition, commercial enterprises must play their part in achieving sustainable development. "We are not asking corporations to do something different from their normal business; we are asking them to do their normal business differently," he said.

Sounding a theme he has been repeating since well before the Summit opened last week, Mr. Annan called for concrete action in five areas -- water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity.

"The world today needs to usher in a season of transformation, a season of stewardship," he said. "Let it be a season in which we make a long overdue investment in the survival and security of future generations."