‘We the Peoples’

 The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century

Governments are giving far too low a priority to environmental issues, says Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, in a special report for the millennium. He calls on them to ‘fundamentally reposition’ themselves ‘in the policy making process’.

He has prepared the report, We the Peoples’: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century, for the United Nations Millennium Summit this autumn, which is expected to bring together the greatest number of the world’s heads of state and heads of government ever assembled in one place.

But he notes: ‘The fact that environmental issues were never seriously considered in the nearly 18 months during which the General Assembly debated which subjects to include in the Summit’s agenda makes it plain how little priority is accorded to these extraordinarily serious challenges for all humankind. Leadership at the very highest level is imperative if we are to bequeath a liveable Earth to our children – and theirs.’

Renewed commitment
The report calls on the Summit ‘to provide an opportunity for a moral recommitment to the purposes and principles laid down in the Charter of the United Nations’ but adds that Founders of the United Nations could not have anticipated ‘the urgent need we face today to realise... the freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on this planet.

‘We are failing to provide that freedom. On the contrary, we have been plundering our children’s future heritage to pay for environmentally unsustainable practices in the present. The natural environment performs for us, free of charge, basic services without which our species could not survive... But we are degrading, and in some cases destroying, the ability of the environment to continue providing these life-sustaining services for us.’

Launching the report on 3 April, Mr Annan said that it contained ‘some pretty alarming facts, particularly in the chapter on the environment’. It points out that average temperatures are projected to increase by 1.2 to 3.5oC over the course of the present century; that two in every three people on Earth are expected to be living in ‘water stressed’ countries by the year 2025; that an area of land about the combined size of the United States and Canada is affected by human-induced soil degradation; and that one in four of the world’s mammals and more than one in ten of its birds are threatened with extinction.

Yet, it adds: ‘One of two jobs worldwide – in agriculture, forestry and fisheries – depends directly on the sustainability of ecosystems.’

In the report, the Secretary-General backs the planned Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – an initiative of UNEP, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), The World Bank and the World Resources Institute, among others – designed to map the health of the planet. He calls on member states to ‘help provide the necessary financial support... and to become actively engaged in it.’

He also calls on the Millennium Summit to adopt the target of reducing by half, over the next 15 years, ‘the proportion of people who lack sustainable access to adequate sources of affordable and safe water’, and to ‘promote the adoption and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol’. And he says that he intends to convene ‘a high-level global policy network’ to address ‘the risks and opportunities associated with the increased use of biotechnology and bioengineering’.

Mainstream policy
He calls for major efforts in public information, and for governments to ‘create and enforce environmental regulations and devise more environmentally-friendly incentives for markets to respond to’.

He adds: ‘Governments typically treat the environment as an isolated category, assigned to a relatively junior ministry. This is a major obstacle to achieving sustainable development. Instead the environment must become better integrated into mainstream economic policy...

‘The peoples of our small planet want their governments to do more to protect their environment... Given the extraordinary risks humanity confronts, the start of the new century could not be a more opportune time to commit ourselves – peoples as well as governments – to a new ethic of conservation and stewardship.’

PHOTOGRAPH: Thomas D. Mangelsen/Still Pictures

Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Time to act | A climate of change | Melding heart and head | Looking through green glasses | Multi-local business | World Environment Day 2000 |
At a glance | Competition | The greening of Goliath | Unfair trade | No sleeping after Seattle | Disproportionate effects | Liberal rations | New millennium, new regulation | Secretary-General’s Report | Pachamama: Our Earth, Our Future