Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my pleasure, first of all, to congratulate you, Mr. President, on your election to preside over the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly to Review and Appraise the Implementation of Agenda 21. It is, indeed, our good fortune to have a man of your experience and eminent diplomatic skills to lead our debate on the vital issue before us.
Ten years ago, I stood at this podium and spoke about the impending dangers to my country, the Maldives, from sea level rise. Much has happened since then, but the threat to my country has remained as alarming and as urgent as ever. The irony, too, is no less painful: my country is amongst the least contributors to environmental degradation; but it would certainly be amongst the most helpless in dealing with the potential catastrophic effects of climate change and global warming.
Five years ago, at the Earth Summit, all nations pledged an Agenda for the 21st century, the cornerstone of which was sustainable development. Our acceptance at Rio of the notions of a shared, a just and a prospering people's world, one which would remain habitable, fertile and clean marked the high point of an ecological transition. It was a shift that would have taken us, if supplemented by action, from treating the Earth as a limitless reservoir of resources and as a bottomless disposal sink to respecting our planet, in all its richness, as the sanctuary of life. Five years down the track, we find that we have made little progress. It is true that in some countries, local authorities, businesses, the professions and NGOs have taken the first steps, but governments have woefully lagged behind.
For small island states the biggest environmental threat would stem from climate change. Increased, or even the present level of emission of greenhouse gases will lead to a degree of global warming that would cause a worldwide rise of ocean levels. The process may be too gradual to make sensational headlines, but the threat, nevertheless, would be no less real. According to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC), as a result of global warming, sea levels would rise between 30 and 100 centimetres by 2100. 80% of low-lying islands, such as those of the Maldives and many in the Pacific Ocean, would be totally submerged.
But the threat is not limited to tiny island states with small populations. By the same magnitude of sea level rise, extensive areas of Bangladesh, China, Egypt, and many other countries will be seriously affected. Cereal production would fall sharply and prices will soar. By the middle of the next century, climate change alone would increase the number of those affected by hunger by nearly 200 million.
Developed countries would not be left unharmed either. The inundation of coastal and other low-lying areas are likely. Increasingly arid conditions and changing weather patterns could destroy agriculture. Ozone depletion, acid rain and pollution would pose numerous health and other hazards. The impact of the rapidly increasing world population on the Earth's ecological capital would be enormous. The loss of biodiversity has already become acute, since according to some estimates, as much as a species is becoming extinct every second from the biosphere. Indeed, environmental degradation will have profound consequences for both rich and poor states, for it will affect the Earth's entire ecosystem.
For my country and to many other small island developing States, the Barbados Conference was an important follow-up of Agenda 21. But it was also characteristic of the many false hopes that we have encountered since Rio. Nothing has been achieved in additional resource mobilisation, and very little in technology transfer and capacity-building for the promotion of sustainable development.
You will recall, Mr. President, that at the Earth Summit, donor states agreed to increase official development assistance to 0.7% of GNP. But the hard fact is that actual assistance has since then slumped by about 25 percent. Indeed, nothing mars the policy advances that were made at Rio more than this lamentable truth.
If we are to save the Earth for coming generations of humankind, the strengthening of global cooperation for sustainable development is imperative. The Global Environment Facility must be replenished to sufficient levels without further delay. Moreover, transfer of environmentally-friendly technology from advanced to developing countries is fundamental.
It is equally important to expedite the implementation of the UN Conventions on Biodiversity, on Climate Change and on Desertification. Unless the obligations and commitments in these agreements are honoured, a worldwide environmental disaster could overtake us, sooner rather than later. Therefore, as we approach the third Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, we must ensure that legally-binding targets for cutting down greenhouse gas emissions beyond the year 2000 are set by all governments, especially by those of the industrialised countries.
In preparation for this Special Session, the Ministers of Environment of the Member States of SAARC met and issued the Delhi Declaration for presentation to this meeting. The Declaration represents the views of one-fifth of humanity. It emphasises their disappointment with the slow implementation of the commitments undertaken at Rio. The Declaration is a call that comes from a region where the problems of ecological degradation are acutely felt, from the Himalayan hills to the low-lying atolls of the Indian Ocean.
Five years after Rio, the actions of leading nations do not reflect their recognition that all humankind has a common future. Our efforts to collaborate on Rio commitments have been often hindered by sterile debates about relative gains. But, Mr. President, Agenda 21 will not divide the world between victor and vanquished. Rather, depending on how we respond to it, we will either be all winners, or all losers.
In order to address the many challenges posed by environmental threats, a commitment at the highest political level is absolutely essential. We have to accept, not in words, but through our policies and actions, that we cannot succeed in saving the planet until a real global partnership is achieved. The Maldives and many other small states have put the protection and preservation of the environment at the top of their national agendas. However, efforts at the national level alone are not enough, for environmental problems do not begin or end at the border.
When the red light blinks I shall follow your orders Mr. President and stop speaking. My only worry is that when the red light of enviromental catastrophe lights up, there may not be an opportunity for any of us to say anything.
At the Earth Summit, I stated that I represented a people endangered by the threat of sea level rise. I left Rio confident that we had an agreed Agenda that would save not only us but the whole world. But, today I leave here with the fear that unless we all act now with a renewed commitment, my country and many like it would neither have a voice nor a seat at a future Rio+.