After five days of intensive debate, the General Assembly's special session to review progress since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, concluded its work by reaffirming that Agenda 21 remained the fundamental programme of action for achieving sustainable development.
Acting by consensus, the General Assembly adopted, early Saturday, the Programme for Further Implementation of Agenda 21, which reaffirmed all the principles contained in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the Forest Principles. In the Statement of Commitment opening the Programme, the Heads of State and Government and other Heads of Delegations gathered at the special session, re-committed themselves "to work together -- in the spirit of global partnership - to reinforce our joint efforts to meet equitably the needs of present and future generations."
While acknowledging that a number of positive results had been achieved, the Assembly expressed deep concern that the overall trends for sustainable development were worse today than they had been in 1992. "We emphasize that the implementation of Agenda 21 in a comprehensive manner remains vitally important and is more urgent now than ever", said the Statement of Commitment. The participants committed themselves to ensure that the next comprehensive review of Agenda 21 in the year 2002 demonstrated greater measurable progress in achieving sustainable development.
Commenting on the outcome of the special session, President of the General Assembly Ambassador Razali Ismail of Malaysia, told a news conference on Friday that the overall result was "pretty sobering". The fact that the session had been unable to adopt a political statement, he said, left a sense of disappointment.
Nevertheless, stressed Ambassador Razali, the adopted Programme for Further Implementation of Agenda 21 contained some satisfactory results. "I would like to underline that this special session should go down as a very honest attempt to try to make an appraisal of the results and how far we have gone on Rio. There was very little attempt to try to sweep things under the carpet, and to gloss over something that is not there", said the Assembly President.
During five days of general debate, the special session heard 198 speakers, including 22 heads of State and 20 heads of government.
Poverty in most developing countries is the single most important factor undermining sustainable development and compromising prospects for future economic growth, William Harrington, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of Zambia, said in his address during the final day of the general debate at the special session. He stressed that the socio- economic dimension of development was the underlying cause of the degradation of natural resources. The Zambian Minister also pointed out that the problem of declining official development assistance and almost non-existent technology transfer to developing countries, had negative repercussions for environmental management and poverty reduction. The promise to increase official development assistance (ODA) made at Rio had to a large extent been unfulfilled despite having put in place appropriate measures to create an enabling environment for investment", pointed out Mr. Harrington.
Dr. Turki Bin Mohammed Al-Kabir, Director-General of the Department of International Organization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, expressed concern about "the selective manner" in the implementation of the programme of action on environment and sustainable development. Addressing the special session, the head of the Saudi delegation said certain aspects of the programme were being emphasized over others. He urged the international community to deal with the problem of desertification, particularly in Africa, stressing the need for financial support. "We hope that the industrial countries will assume their responsibilities and make available to the developing countries financing which is required to deal with the problems of desertification, drought, and poverty", said Dr. Bin Mohammed Al- Kabir.
Bosnia and Herzegovina gives tremendous priority to the well-being of its environment, Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey stressed in his statement to the special session. He pointed out, however, that Bosnia was a small country handicapped by the consequences of war. At the same time, he said, Bosnia believed that it had multilateral and bilateral friends who valued the economic and natural potential of the country and the strategic benefits of peace. "The lessons of Bosnia and Herzegovina are valid also to other states recovering from war and hungry for peace. Properly addressed, the newly attained peace can translate into new economic and environmental opportunities and international cooperation towards the goals of clean air, clean water and re-forestation", said Ambassador Sacirbey.
Expressing the hope that the special session of the Assembly would lead to international co-operation, consensus building and programmes that would, among other things, result in the reduction of poverty, the Permanent Representative of Grenada urged developing and developed countries to invest in programmes and projects aimed at achieving sustainable development. Ambassador Robert Millette said that developing countries, in particular the Small Island Developing States, should be provided the know-how and the resources to enable the implementation of the decisions arising out of the Rio Conference and other significant global conferences. "The vulnerability of Small Island States and the threat to our fragile ecosystems was recently manifested by the passage of hurricanes Iris, Luis and Marilyn. Our economic viability and sustainable economic growth is at stake", he stated.
Underlining the concerns of non-governmental organizations regarding the lack of national accountability on the objectives of Agenda 21, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in New York on Friday that he was confident that the establishment of national councils or inter-ministerial task forces in some 150 countries would help Member States abide by their commitments.
The Secretary-General stressed that the role of the non-governmental organizations was crucial in the objectives of Agenda 21, adding that there was a need to go further to enhance the contributions of NGOs, particularly those from developing countries. "We know that we need to go further to enhance this contribution by increasing the funding and participation of the developing countries NGOs. We need to bring them in even more. But sometimes some of the NGOs from smaller developing countries have not been able to participate and we need to find ways and means of assisting them and pulling them in", said the Secretary- General.