World Leaders Address Environmental Issues at Millennium Summit

By Cat Lazaroff

NEW YORK, New York, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - The United Nations Millennium Summit - the largest gathering of world leaders ever held - opened today at UN Headquarters in New York. Leaders - and protesters - from around the globe are seizing the occasion to call for a renewed purpose for the UN, and to advance their own agendas as well.


A group shot, taken today, of world leaders attending the Millennium Summit (Photo by Terry Deglau. All photos courtesy UN)
The Summit, which is expected to bring together 152 heads of state and government, was declared open this morning by its co-chairs, President Tarja Halonen of Finland and President Sam Nujoma of Namibia.

The Summit agenda will address the challenges facing the Earth in the new millennium, including environmental issues, and address the role the UN will play in helping to meet those challenges.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan addresses the press on Tuesday
Speaking at the outset of the forum, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed that the Summit is not only a unique opportunity, but also a unique responsibility, since it is up to political leaders to ensure a more secure, healthy and prosperous life of their citizens.

Annan urged heads of state or government to adopt a new ethic of conservation and stewardship. In particular, he said countries should take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by adopting and ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and ensuring that its goals are met.

Annan also stressed that in today's interdependent world, people seek a common effort to solve their problems and expect governments to work together at the global level, "as the United Nations."

"We need to decide our priorities. And we must adapt our United Nations, so that in future those priorities are reflected in clear and prompt decisions, leading to real change in people's lives," Annan said.


U.S. President Bill Clinton made his farewell address to the UN today
"Our growing interdependence includes the opportunity to explore and reap the benefits of the far frontiers of science and the increasingly interconnected economy," said U.S. President Bill Clinton, at what is likely to be his last address to the UN. "As the Secretary General just reminded us, it also includes shared responsibilities to free humanity from poverty, disease, environmental destruction and war. That responsibility, in turn, requires us to make sure the United Nations is up for the job."

Secretary-General Annan noted that when he had first suggested the summit in 1997, his intention was to harness the symbolic power of the Millennium to address urgent needs of people everywhere. Annan stressed that global events over the past three years reinforced his belief that it is critical for UN Member States to come together at the highest levels to "give direction for a new century."

"I have no illusions that a single summit in itself can change the world. But I believe this meeting provides a unique opportunity for leaders to renew our mission and our purpose," Annan said.


In a Millennium Report released earlier this year, Annan identified global challenges faced by the world's peoples and proposes a number of priorities for member states to consider at the Millennium Summit.

Annan listed four broad categories in which the Millennium Summit could begin to address urgent problems - a Development Agenda to provide Freedom From Want; a Security Agenda to provide Freedom From Fear; an Environmental Agenda to provide a Sustainable Future; and the goal of Renewing the United Nations.


Millennium Summit spokesperson Thérèse Gastaut
Summit spokesperson Thérèse Gastaut called the event a "working session," noting that the world leaders will participate in four interactive round tables scheduled to begin this afternoon, to address the four categories outlined by Annan. The four round tables will be chaired by the leaders of Algeria, Poland, Singapore and Venezuela.

The conference attendees will also be considering incorporating the UN system of "green accounting" into their own national accounts, in order to integrate environmental issues into mainstream economic policy. The green accounting system requires the UN to consider the environmental effects of all programs it funds.

Another proposal is a Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a major international collaborative effort to map the health of the planet.

Finally, Annan suggested that conference attendees begin to prepare for the adoption of "concrete and meaningful actions" in 2002 at the ten year follow up to the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.


Leaders from some 82 countries are scheduled to sign, ratify or accede to a wide range of multilateral treaties at the Millennium Summit this week.

More than 250 treaty actions are scheduled to take place at a treaty ceremony during the three day Summit.


Annan with the presidents of Finland and Namibia at the opening of the Millennium Summit
As world leaders debate the future of the United Nations, they will also be taking concrete steps to enhance the universal legal commitments and standards protecting people and the environment, offering justice against prohibited acts, and securing the rights of all people.

There are 517 multilateral treaties deposited with the Secretary-General, aiming to set basic standards on a range of issues. They cover such issues as genocide; racism; economic, social and cultural rights; civil and political rights; discrimination against women; torture; children's rights; the rights of migrant workers; refugees; drugs; hostages; terrorism; war crimes; the law of the sea; weapons of mass destruction; landmines; the ozone layer; climate change; biological diversity; and desertification.

"In the United Nations we are constantly concerned with a multitude of questions that require our immediate attention," said UN legal counsel Hans Corell. "However, when we look back and the dust of these daily efforts has settled, what emerges is the law that we have created."


In and around the official Millennium Summit, various world leaders will also be meeting to promote their own agendas. President Clinton plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to try to resume Mideast peace talks that ended in failure earlier this summer.

Speaking at the Summit opening, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the new century to "go down in history as a period of real disarmament." Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin are expected to use the Summit to continue building international opposition to U.S. plans for a national missile defense system, a system that would violate the current language of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will host a reception for the leaders of small Pacific island nations and land-locked countries, hoping to build support for Japan’s controversial lethal "scientific" whaling program. Support from these countries would allow Japan to continue defying criticism of its whaling operations, which kill hundreds of whales each year.


Activists for a wide range of causes are gaining access to the world stage by launching protests and campaigns outside the UN headquarters this week. At least 91 separate demonstrations are planned during the three day conference.

Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have been demonstrating continuously since Chinese leader Jiang arrived in New York City. Falun Gong members have faced persecution, arrest and jail time in China.


Annan marks International Day of Peace by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell at UN headquarters on Tuesday
The World Humanity Action Trust, an independent think tank seeking to generate practical solutions to global problems, released a new report today, titled, "Governance for a Sustainable Future."

"Our report demonstrates that existing systems of governance are making too little progress," said Trust chair Jack Jeffery. The report on water, fisheries and agricultural genetic diversity is the culmination of two years of work by three special commissions set up by the Trust in 1998 to study governance requirements.

Jeffrey said the Trust hopes the unprecedented gathering of leaders at the Millennium Summit will open the door to new discussions of sustainable resource management.

"World conferences and international organizations try to deal with these important issues but generally in isolation," said Jeffrey. "We ask organizations, including governments around the world, to look again at the fundamentals of how they make decisions and go about managing our common resources."