Cover Image
close this bookOcean Governance: Sustainable Development of the Seas (UNU, 1994, 369 pages)
close this folderOpening addresses
View the documentH.E. Dr Mário Soares, president of the republic of Portugal
View the documentMr Maurice strong, UNEP (Dr Alicia Barcena, UNCED, on behalf of Mr Strong)
View the documentDr Joseph Warioba, Tanzania

Mr Maurice strong, UNEP (Dr Alicia Barcena, UNCED, on behalf of Mr Strong)

Dr Alicia Barcena, UNCED, on behalf of Mr Maurice Strong, UNEP

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development

The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development rests on the twin propositions that environmental management cannot be secured without addressing underlying causes in the nature and pattern of development, and equally, that the pursuit of development requires systematic attention to the environmental basis on which all production depends.

Integration is at the very heart of the UNCED. Individually, the issues considered in the UNCED cover a wide range and provide a forum for discussion of the linkages between issues being considered separately in different forums, and for the integration of environmental issues with related developmental problems, and vice versa. Beyond 1992, the main task of the UNCED process is to move the joint environment and development issues into the centre of economic policy and decision-making.

The journey to Rio, and from Rio, provides an opportunity for drawing together many strands of development in international cooperation. In preparing proposals for the leaders of the world, we necessarily draw upon a wide range of experience, knowledge, and capacity, not only of Governments and international organizations, but of scientists, leaders of business and industry, trade unions, educators, as well as such special constituencies as women, youth, indigenous peoples, and many others. All these organizations and groups have a primary, indeed decisive, role in implementing and following up the results of the UNCED.

In the case of the oceans, the very substantial achievements of the Law of the Sea Convention is most significant. As Elisabeth Mann Borgese stated in Pacem in Maribus XVI: "The Law of the Sea Convention, if properly interpreted and implemented, is, in fact, the most advanced legal instrument we have for international cooperation in the management and development of resources, the protection of the environment, and the reservation of the large part of the globe for peaceful purposes". The UNCED builds on these achievements.

In December 1989, the United Nations General Assembly, responding to the report of the Brundtland Commission, decided to hold a conference on environment and development in June 1992. It was decided, further, that nations would be represented at the conference by their Heads of State or Government. This will make it the first ever "Earth Summit."

Resolution 44/228, which established the mandate of the Conference, made it clear that "environment and development" must be dealt with on an integrated basis for every issue considered, from climate change to human settlements. A series of concrete measures evolved from the conference. These included:

1. An "Earth Charter" or Declaration of basic principles for the conduct of nations and peoples in respect of environment and development to ensure the future viability and integrity of the Earth as a hospitable home for human and other forms of life.

2. An agenda for action, "Agenda 21," establishing the agreed work programme of the international community into the twenty-first century in respect of the issues addressed by the Conference with priorities, targets, cost estimates, modalities, and assignment of responsibilities.

And the means to implement this agenda through:

3. New and additional financial resources.
4. Transfer of technology.
5. Strengthening of institutional capacities and processes, together with
6. Agreements on specific legal measures, e.g. conventions for the protection of the atmosphere, biological diversity, and possibly forests.

A set of new priorities

Within this agenda, governments will be called upon to act on a series of concrete measures which will literally change the basis of our economic life, our relations with each other and our prospects for the future. These will provide the basis for a new set of priorities for the world community:

- revitalization of the economies of the developing countries;

- reversing the outflow of resources from developing countries, and ensuring their access to the new and additional resources and technologies they will require to incorporate the environmental dimension into their own development and participate fully in international environmental cooperation;

- eradication of poverty, the principal source of the environmental problems of developing countries and a major threat to the achievement of global environmental security;

- reversal of the destruction of renewable resources, soil, forests, biological, and genetic resources;

- ensuring availability of energy supplies, particularly to developing countries under conditions that will safeguard the environment and contain risks of climate change;

- ensuring availability and protection of water supplies; ensuring food security;

- ensuring equitable access to, and use of, the global commons by all nations under conditions that will provide for their protection;

- changing the system of incentives and penalties which motivate economic behaviour, to ensure that they provide strong incentives to sustainability and changes in national accounts to reflect the real values of the environment and resources;

- transition to patterns of production and consumption in the industrialized countries which will drastically reduce their disproportionate contribution to the deterioration of the earth's environment and related global environmental risks.

Global cooperation: The different perspectives of developing and industrialized countries

In this important undertaking, the global challenge that sustainable development poses is one of cooperation, and cooperation can only be based on common interests. While there is widespread acknowledgement, at the level of principle, of the need to achieve a sustainable balance between environment and development, it should be no surprise that the perspectives of developing countries on the issues differ substantially from those of industrialized countries.

The industrialized countries must take the lead in effecting this transformation. For the unparalleled economic growth that has produced their wealth and power has also given rise to most of the major global environmental risks we face. This will involve significant changes in lifestyles as more people in the industrialized world opt for lives of sophisticated modesty, and people of developing countries receive greater support in their attempts to achieve livelihoods which do not undermine or destroy the environment and resource base on which their future livelihoods depend. There will be basic changes in consumer preferences and practices, the portents of which are already visible in the move towards green consumerism.

Developing countries share the risks we confront and indeed, are even more vulnerable to them, but they are only at the early stages of the economic development to which they aspire. Their right to grow cannot be denied, but their growth will clearly add immensely to global environmental pressures and risks unless they, too, can make the transition to more sustainable modes of development. Developing countries can neither afford nor be expected to do this unless they have access to the additional financial resources and technologies they require to integrate the environmental dimension into their development.

Of special importance is a massive attack on the vicious circle of poverty in which so many millions of people are caught up, driving them to meet their immediate survival needs by destroying the environmental and resource base on which their future survival and well-being depend and adding to global environmental risks. In economic and environmental, as well as in humanitarian terms, it will be far less costly and more effective to act now than to postpone action.

Sustainable development cannot be imposed by external pressures; it must be rooted in the culture, the values, the interests, and the priorities of the people concerned. While the transition to sustainability will require a supportive international economic environment, it must not provide a basis for external imposition of new conditions or constraints on development. Developing countries cannot be denied their right to grow, or to choose their own pathways to growth. Nor should that right be constrained by new conditions on financial flows or trade imposed in the name of environment.

But their transition to sustainability cannot be expected without the support of the international community. This is particularly needed to reverse the outflow of resources that has stifled the economic growth of the developing countries, and to ensure that these countries have access on a long-term basis to the resource flows they will need to revitalize their economic life and make the transition to environmentally sustainable development. Of critical importance in this is the need to deal more fundamentally with the debt issue. Debt for nature swaps may be useful in addressing particular needs, but are marginal in their overall effect. The principle behind them may, however, serve as a basis for the kind of basic reduction in debt servicing charges that is essential to the revitalization of development.

Sustainable development involves a process of deep and profound change in the political, social, economic, institutional, and technological order including the re-definition of relations between developing and more developed countries. Governments must take the lead and establish the basic policy framework, incentives, and infrastructures required for sustainability. But the primary actors are people, acting through the many non-governmental organizations and citizen groups through which societies function. The broader common interest that all governments and people share for the future of our planet provides a powerful incentive to bridge these difficulties. The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development - The Earth Summit - can only succeed if it has a sound base for the awareness and engagement of people.

Common and shared responsibilities

Everybody recognizes that the marine sector is a crucial element of any broad development strategy and that a new international order has been emerging from the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Amongst the issues being addressed in preparation for the "Earth Summit", oceans is central to a variety of concerns. It will be, therefore, no surprise that oceans are also amongst the most sensitive and difficult of issues.

Technology and capacity building

Actions for sustainable development - as outlined in Agenda 21 will require a certain level of technology development and adaptation, as well as their transfer on a fair and affordable basis to developing countries. They will also need to be supported by major programmes of information, education, and training within all countries, and coordinated at the international level. Technologies will be needed for energy efficiency programmes, and for alternative, non - or low-greenhouse-gas supply options. One important element of this is the capacity of developing countries themselves to develop the technologies which are most appropriate to their needs.

Most developing countries are unable to obtain access to information on the range of technologies available from within their own country or externally, and the experience of others in using them. Nor do they themselves have the resources necessary to establish networks to access such information.

Closely linked to the issue of technology is that of capacity building. It is essential to ensure that a sound infrastructure is put in place to implement, maintain and adapt the technologies that are available. Improving upon the strengths of the developing countries and reducing their vulnerabilities requires a quantum increase in support for the development of their human resources and related institutional capacities, particularly in the fields of science, technology, management, and professional skills. The key to self-reliance is to foster a pool of indigenous talent that can adapt and innovate, in a world where knowledge is the primary basis of competitiveness. Human skills, institutions, information, and analytical capabilities should be built up not only to assess and absorb desirable technology from outside, but also to develop it locally.

The South Commission recognized that the primary responsibility for the future of developing countries rests, of course, with them, and their success will depend largely on their own efforts in strengthening their professional and institutional capacities, and realigning their budgetary priorities in order to improve their ability to innovate, absorb, adapt, and develop technologies in a world in which knowledge is the primary basis of competitiveness. But they deserve and require an international system that lends strong support to these efforts. This includes substantially increased financial assistance, and much better access to markets, private investment, and technology to enable them to build stronger and more diversified economies, to effect the transition to sustainable development and to reduce their vulnerability to changes in the international economy.

This will call for something much more than a mere extension of existing concepts of foreign aid which can no longer be seen as a satisfactory basis for relationships between rich and poor countries. It calls for a wholly new global partnership based on common and shared responsibilities, one in which developing countries will have the incentive and the means to cooperate fully in protecting the global environment while meeting their needs and aspirations for economic growth.


No single event can be expected in itself to resolve the many complex issues that confront the world community. But UNCED provided a unique opportunity for a major shift in inertia required to put us on the pathway to a more secure and sustainable future. At the core of this shift there will be changes in our economic life, a more careful and more caring use of the earth's resources and greater cooperation and equity in sharing the benefits as well as the risks of our technological civilization. The Conference provided a new basis for relations between North, South, East, and West: a new global partnership based on common interest, mutual need, and shared responsibility, including a concerted attack on poverty as a central priority for the twenty-first century. This is now as imperative in terms of our global environmental security as it is in moral and humanitarian terms. Together these will provide the basis for a more secure and hopeful future for our planet as a hospitable home for our species and the other forms of life with which we share it.

The primary responsibility for our common future on this "Only One Earth" lies in a very real sense "in our hands."