Amidst the chirping of cellular phones, the UN Conference on Environment and Development officially opened yesterday morning. The consensus among the morning's speakers appeared to be that regardless of what comes out of the Conference, the process must continue to meet the challenges that face the planet. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali opened the Earth Summit with two minutes of silence for the earth. He said that we cannot limit ourselves to words. Just because things have been said does not mean that challenges have been met.
The Plenary then elected Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello as President of the Conference. In his welcome speech, Collor stressed the need for greater evidence of brotherhood from the richer, more developed countries. "The struggle to reduce inequalities between countries still remains."
The next speaker was UNCED Secretary-General Maurice Strong who delivered a speech that he wrote himself. "We are the most successful species ever, but now we're a species out of control," he said. The world's population has grown by 1.7 billion since the Stockholm Conference in 1972 and 1.5 billion of those live in developing countries that are unable to support them. This growth cannot continue, he stressed. "If we don't control it, nature will." He expressed hope that the Rio Declaration form the basis of an Earth Charter to be developed in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the UN in 1995. Among other things, Strong called on UNCED to mandate a convention on desertification and work towards a forest regime.
King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the President of the 1972 Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, then addressed the Plenary. "Governments cannot do it alone," he said. He stressed that the role of NGOs is vital for the long-term success of the Conference. He stressed the fact that follow-up is as important as the conference itself.
Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland spoke next in her capacity as Chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development. "There are less than 400 weeks left in the 20th century," she announced. "We must eradicate poverty and achieve greater equality.... We should rise to the challenge that confronts us." She added that the momentum is irreversible and narrowly focussed national priorities will only stand in the way. The final speaker of the morning was Portuguese President Mario Soares who stressed the need to control the population explosion and the great inequality between nations.
The Plenary then adopted the rules of procedure as contained in document A/CONF.151/2 and the provisional agenda as contained in A/CONF.151/1. The next item on the agenda was the election of officers. Professor Celso Lafer, Minister of External Relations of Brazil, was elected as the ex officio Vice President of the Conference. The Plenary then elected Vice Presidents from four of the five regional groups. The Vice Presidents from the Asian Group will be elected by secret ballot in the Plenary at 3:00 pm today. In other elections, Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi was elected as Rapporteur-General and Amb. Tommy Koh of Singapore was elected Chairman of the Main Committee.
The Plenary then adopted the organization of work, including the establishment of the Main Committee, as contained in A/CONF.151/3. It also approved recommendations on the signing of conventions and the organization of the Summit portion of the Conference. Finally, the following states were appointed to the Credentials Committee: Belgium, Belize, Chile, China, Lesotho, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Togo and the United States. The Plenary adjourned at 1:00 pm.
The second meeting of the Plenary was called to order yesterday afternoon by the ex officio Vice President, Celso Lafer, although one Brazilian diplomat commented that Collor would probably chair the Plenary most of the time because he was "adoring" the job. The first speaker was H.E. Mr. Anwar Saifullah Khan, Minister for Environment and Urban Affairs of Pakistan (speaking on behalf of the G-77). He criticized the inadequacy of the Climate Change and Biodiversity Conventions, vowing that other agreements at UNCED "not repeat such shortcomings."
The second speaker was H.E. Mr. Carlos Borrego, Minister for Environment and Natural Resources of Portugal, who spoke on behalf of the EC. He restated the Community position on the Conventions (early ratification and protocols); endorsed the Rio Declaration as it now stands; and emphasized the importance of institutional arrangements for the follow-up and implementation of Agenda 21 (including a revitalized ECOSOC in combination with a Sustainable Development Commission).
The third speaker, William Reilly, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, stated that the US gives forests highest priority at this Conference. He urged quick implementation of the Climate Change Convention and the development of an UNCED action plan to control land-based sources of marine pollution. He pointed toward Eastern Europe as an example of how the lack of pollution controls in the interest of economic stimulation will ultimately devastate an economy.
The surprising speech of the afternoon was presented by Uri Marinov, Director General of the Ministry of the Environment of Israel. Although it was expected that Israel would follow up on its vehement objections to the politicizing of the UNCED documents, Marinov offered what many considered a conciliatory speech aimed at repairing the diplomatic rifts created at the end of PrepCom IV. He presented ten principles or commandments "to regulate man's relationship with the environment." These include: 1) respect for the environment; 2) change behavior; 3) integrate environmental concerns into decision making; 4) improve the environment; 5) conserve resources; 6) use renewable resources; 7) don't pollute; 8) study the environment; 9) be pro-active in the interest of environmental welfare; 10) take our trusteeship of the world to heart.
This speech was followed by Mr. Klaus Toepfer, German Federal Minister for the Environment and Nuclear Safety, who called for the strengthening of environmentally sound behavior, the inclusion of NGOs in the post-UNCED process and a follow-up meeting for the signatories to the Climate Change Convention to be held in Germany in 1994.
Mr. Mustafa Tolba, Executive Director of UNEP, pointed out the "sign posts" on the road ahead. He was followed by statements from Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, Director-General of the WHO, H.E. Mr. Luis Alvarado, Minister of Lands of Chile, Mr. Abel Matutes, Commissioner for North/South Relations at the Commission of the EC and Lord John Chatfield, International Union of Local Authorities.
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