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United Nations Daily Highlights, 97-06-24
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From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, 24 June 1997
This document is prepared by the Central News Section of the Department of Public Information and is updated every week-day at approximately 6:00 PM.
Despite some progress over the past five years, environmental conditions at the global level are still deteriorating rapidly, the General Assembly heard on Tuesday as it met for a second day of its special session to review the implementation of Agenda 21 adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Many speakers highlighted the decline in official development assistance (ODA) and underscored that eradication of poverty and preservation of the environment must be the concern of all nations. There was general consent that environmental degradation of any member of the international community was a threat to all. There were also repeated calls for a re-awakening of the Rio spirit.
Ukranian President Leonid Kuchma called for the drafting of a universal international legal instrument aimed at guaranteeing global ecological security. Addressing the special session of the Assembly, President Kuchma said that such an instrument was needed to establish the norms of permissible ecological behavior in the interests of the survival and prosperity of civilization in the 21st century.
Outlining various measures his Government had undertaken to harmonize national and international legislation in the sphere of ecology, President Kuchma said the implementation of such measures had been complicated by a number of factors, including the problem of Chernobyl. He said the Chernobyl disaster continued to be a substantial obstacle to attaining sustainable development in Ukraine.
One of the major challenges facing Botswana was how to ensure a balance between economic growth, environmental protection and the rate of population growth. President Ketumile Masire of Botswana told the Assembly that high population growth was putting tremendous pressure on the environment. However, his government had responded to the challenge by setting aside 17 per cent of its territory as national parks, game and forest reserves.
President Masire said his country had adopted and was implementing a policy on Community-based Natural Resource Management. "This policy ensures that communities benefit directly from the wise utilization of natural resources. This approach renders communities accountable for the protection of their environment, thus creating a platform for sustainable development, " said President Masire.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada told the Assembly that there was a growing global consensus that the environmental harm caused by some was a threat to all. Drawing attention to the problems of forests, Prime Minster Chretien noted that the forests of the world continued to decline at an alarming rate.
The Prime Minister said sustainable forest management was a high Canadian priority and Canada was convinced that the Special session presented a unique opportunity to achieve an international forest convention, through the creation of an intergovernmental negotiation committee. He said his government believed that a strong, legally binding agreement was the best way to ensure the international will needed to reverse the tide of deforestation.
The international community and the industrialized nations have not applied the principle of shared responsibility, especially as far as small economies are concerned, the President of the Republic of Suriname, Jules Albert Wijdenbosch, said in his address to the special session on Tuesday. Stressing that small-scale societies had experienced indifference and a lack of attention, the Suriname President proposed that the Barbados Action Programme for small island developing States be followed up by a series of regional and sub-regional meetings dealing with the triangle of economic development, preservation of the environment.
While highlighting Suriname's endeavours to implement Agenda 21, President Wijdenbosch acknowledged that his country's efforts to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of life had not been entirely successful. This situation, in part, stemmed from the inability of small-scale economies like Suriname's to improve their export capacity and to secure adequate foreign currency earnings. The Suriname President said that his country, as well as the majority of Caribbean States, had a hard time conquering and maintaining international market positions.
Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Justice of Lithuania, Vytautas Pakalniskis stressed that efforts to ensure sustainable development must be put forth first on local and national levels, taking into consideration regional and global goals. In an address to the Assembly, the Acting Prime Minister said it was also clear that sustainable development could only be achieved through consolidated actions in various sectors including industry, energy and agriculture supported by relevant legislation.
Acting Prime Minister Pakalniskis said global processes of human development affecting the environment was a challenge to every nation and state as never before. "Only the joint efforts of States can enable us to solve problems of climate change, depletion of the ozone layer, desertification and hazardous waste; and to engage in pollution prevention and mitigation as well as the preservation of biological diversity", he stated.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives told the Assembly that official development assistance to developing countries had slumped by 25 percent since the Rio Earth Summit. This despite the agreement by donor states five years ago that assistance would increase by 0,7 percent. Urging States to strengthen global cooperation, the President of the Maldives said that the Global Environment Facility must be replenished to sufficient levels without further delay.
He said it was equally important to expedite the implementation of the UN Conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification. "Unless the obligations and commitments in agreements are honoured a worldwide environmental disaster could overtake us, sooner rather than later," said the President.
President of the National Assembly of People's Power of Cuba, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, told the Assembly that in order to preserve nature, it was essential to completely transform relations among nations and among men. He said five years after the Rio Summit, the problems that States promised to solve were now even more severe.
Stating that hope disappeared along with millions of hectares of destroyed forests and thousands of annihilated animal and plant species, Mr. de Quesada said carbon dioxide emissions had increased in some industrial countries and it was foreseen that very few would be able to stabilize their emissions of greenhouse effect fumes down to the levels of 1990 by the year 2000.
New Zealand's Minister of Environment Simon Upton said there was a need to distinguish between problems that occurred globally, and problems that demanded global solutions. He told the Assembly that if environmental damage was not contained within national borders, and if national institutions would be undermined by non-compliance of others, then global solutions made sense.
Stating that the release of greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting substances, marine pollution and the unsustainable exploitation of migratory fish stocks posed obvious challenges to the sustainability of the global commons, the Environment Minister called for legal instruments with truly global reach. "But success will be dependent upon tightly- focused achievable goals", he said.
The effects of global warming were likely to be felt more directly by small island states, Jamaica's Minister of Environment Easton Douglas told the Assembly. He identified areas of vulnerability such as coastal areas becoming submerged; protective coral reefs being threatened, and the region being subject to more frequent and stronger hurricanes.
The sustainable development of small island developing states was of global importance, the Environment Minister said, adding that it was more than climate change and natural disasters. "It is about the existence and survival of a particular group of States, and requires the forging of effective partnerships between peoples and governments and between developed and developing countries," he said.
Poverty is perhaps the single most important barrier to sustainable development, Mozambique's Minister for Coordination of Environmental Affairs Bernardo Pedro Ferraz told the special session on Tuesday. He said that the burden of external debt on poor economies of developing countries hindered their development, resulting in a vicious cycle of poverty which threatened the very continuity of life on the planet. "Poverty and environmental degradation are reciprocal. Poverty is absolutely incompatible with sound environmental protection on management", said Mr. Ferraz.
Mr. Ferraz said that Mozambique was being very successful in putting sustainability on paper in the form of policies and legislation, and in establishing appropriate institutions. He pointed out, however, that the country needed human and financial resources, means and tools for local capacity building and community empowerment in order to consolidate achievements in breaking "the vicious circle of absolute poverty". Mr. Ferraz joined other speakers in appealing to the international community for a more effective assistance to the process of sustainable economic growth and development.
As world leaders spoke in plenary meetings of the special session, intensive debates went on in a General Assembly committee which has the task of completing the negotiations of the draft final outcome of Earth Summit + 5. That outcome would now be called the draft programme of action for further implementation of Agenda 21, according to Mustafa Tolba, the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole.
The Committee of the Whole, which held its first meeting on Monday, continued to hear from observers, heads of secretariats of the various organizations dealing with conventions related to sustainable development, representatives of United Nations programmes and organizations, international financial institutions and regional organizations.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday brought to the attention of the Presidents of the Security Council and the General Assembly a letter from the two Prime Ministers of the Government of Cambodia asking for the "assistance of the United Nations and the international community in bringing to justice those persons responsible for the genocide and crimes against humanity during the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979".
In his note to the Presidents of the two UN bodies, the Secretary- General pointed out that the facts which had given rise to the request remained unclear. He said the Office of his Representative in Cambodia was presently seeking to clarify the situation, while the Secretariat was examining the legal and institutional issues involved.
Small groups of Rwandan refugees have begun to come out of hiding around Shabunda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of a relief operation launched last week by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that these groups were part of an estimated 20,000 Rwandans reported in the Shabunda area.
UNHCR expects to begin airlifting the refugees in the Shabunda region to Rwanda by the end of next week. Since April, the UN relief agency has airlifted more than 60,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Rwanda.
A United Nations commission dealing with claims for individual losses as a result of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait has approved a new instalment of claims, bringing the total compensation awarded to date to approximately $6 billion.
The Governing Council of the UN Compensation Commission, which ended its two-day session in Geneva on Tuesday, approved a total of over 76,000 claims for individual losses of up to $100,000, from 43 countries and three international organizations.
With the approval of this instalment, the total number of resolved claims of this kind (category "C") reached 277,730 to the tune of approximately $2.1 billion. Other categories include individual claims for departure from Iraq (category "A"), and claims for serious personal injury or death (category "B"). The Commission's Governing Council also approved the proposal of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to set up two new panels to review corporate claims (category "E").
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