People Demand Progress, Mbeki Tells World Leaders

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, September 2, 2002 (ENS) - Agreements made over the past week should enable world leaders gathering in South Africa to emerge from the World Summit on Sustainable Development with a concrete plan of action that will give meaning to the summit's theme - People, Planet and Prosperity, South African President Thabo Mbeki said today.


South African President Thabo Mbeki addresses the summit (Photo courtesy Government of South Africa)
Opening the world leaders session of the summit, he said billions of people expect a clear answer on whether leaders are ready to respond to pressing development challenges.

Mbeki thanked ministers and other delegates who have, for the past seven days, been battling to find consensus on a blueprint to reduce global poverty without destroying the environment.

Last-minute talks through the night to finalize the draft plan of action resolved most sticking points, with only health and energy issues reported to be outstanding.

The summit, under the auspices of the United Nations, opened August 26 and will be concluded by September 4. For the next three days heads of state and government from 103 countries will give short addresses to the gathering.

Mbeki said the pressure on world leaders to act was underlined by protest marches on the Sandton Convention Centre over the weekend.

"Two days ago," he said, "people took to the streets of Johannesburg to give voice to the demand that our summit meeting must produce practical and meaningful results on very specific matters. The same message has been communicated from the many meetings held by representatives of civil society as part of this great gathering of the peoples of the world."

"I am certain that the billions of people of the world on whose mandate we occupy our seats, expect a very clear and unambiguous answer to the question whether we are ready and able to respond to the pressing challenges of sustainable development," said Mbeki.


At the summit today (from left) Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, First Lady Zanele Mbeki and Mrs. Nani Annan. (Photo courtesy IISD/ENB-Leila Meade)
"The message is simply this: that we can and must act in unity to ensure that there is a practical and visible global development process that brings about poverty eradication and human advancement within the context of the protection of the ecology of the planet Earth."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on his audience, which included numerous heads of state and heads of government from across the world, to take responsibility for each other, "especially the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, as fellow members of a single human family."

Illustrating the pressing nature of the problems at hand, Annan pointed out that in the very region where the meeting is being held millions of people face the looming peril of starvation.

"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."

Annan said that “governments cannot do it alone,” and emphasized the need for public-private partnerships to make development truly sustainable. Civil society groups have a critical role "as partners, advocates and watchdogs."

Commercial enterprises too 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.

At the summit to date, the United Nations has announced 218 partnerships that pledge over two billion U.S. dollars towards public-private initiatives in the areas of water, energy, health, agriculture, biodiversity, science and education, and finance, trade and technology transfers.

On the government level, the European Union has pledged to reform its system of agricultural subsidies and tariff barriers that is blamed for making it difficult for rural farmers in the developing world to eke out more than a bare existence.

"We recognize the importance of agriculture for developing countries and we agree that tariff reduction is not enough," European Commission President Romano Prodi told the gathering of world leaders. "Major reductions in trade-distorting support and in all forms of export subsidies are also needed," he said.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan greets French President Jacques Chirac at the Johannesburg Summit (Photo courtesy IISD/ENB-Leila Meade)
"Today in Johannesburg, humanity has a date with destiny," declared French President Jacques Chirac, recalling how South Africans led by Nelson Mandela overcame apartheid divisions. "Our house is burning down and we are blind to it," Chirac said.

U.S. President George W. Bush is the only leader of a major power who will not be speaking at the summit. The United States will be represented by Secretary of State Colin Powell who is not expected to arrive until September 4.

President Mbeki will host a high-level dialogue on the future of multilateralism on Tuesday. The session will be attended by heads of state from developed and developing countries, leaders of the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.

"The focus of the event will be on how to effectively implement the sustainable development agenda emerging from the World Summit on Sustainable Development as a culmination of the multilateral commitments adopted in previous global summits," the Government of South Africa said in a statement.

Those expected to attend include United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, World Bank president James Wolfensohn, Mexican President Vicente Fox, and the World Trade Organization's Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi.

As world leaders addressed the plenary session this morning, negotiators continued to work behind the scenes to come to a consensus on the outstanding issue of energy.


Delegates outside the committee room where the ministers met through the day and night (Photo courtesy IISD/ENB-Leila Meade)
“Everything has been agreed except for the paragraph relating to energy and a sentence on health care services in Africa,” said Lowell Flanders, senior United Nations adviser coordinating the drafting groups.

The ministerial group reconvened this morning to work on the proposals for renewable energy targets, subsidies to encourage the replacement of nuclear and fossil fuels with renewable energy technologies, and to decide whether these initiatives should be implemented by a global plan of action or decentralized approaches.

Negotiators broke through to agreement on renewable energy sources, the last major stumbling block in the Action Plan, Danish delegate Thomas Becker said.

The text agreed by the ministers calls on all countries to, "With a sense of urgency, substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources, with the objective of increasing its contribution to total energy supply... "

It sets no percentage target, nor any target date. The European Union has been pushing for a target of making 15 percent of energy come from sources such as windmills, solar panels and waves by 2015.

The United States is opposed to those targets, judging them unrealistic, and so are petroleum producing countries.

Last night, issues of governance, trade, finance and globalization were settled. At the last minute, language acknowledging the mutual supportiveness of trade, environment and development "while ensuring WTO [World Trade Organization] consistency” was removed from the document.

This morning, the United Nations announced that countries had agreed to halve the number of individuals without access to proper sanitation by the year 2015. Recognizing the crucial need to address issues of water and sanitation to accomplish sustainable development goals, this new initiative works in conjunction with the already agreed upon Millennium Development Goal to reduce by half, the number of people who lack access to clean water by the year 2015.

{Amy Shatzkin contributed to this report.}