H.E. Mr. Leo A. Falcam
President of the
Federated States of Micronesia
at the World Summit on Sustainable Development
Johannesburg, South Africa, 3 September 2002
Check Against Delivery
When my predecessor, the late President Bailey Olter, took the podium in Rio ten years ago, our delegation was brimming with optimism for the future.
In 1992, the end of the cold war was still fresh on everyone's mind, and there was much talk of applying the "peace dividend" from an end to the superpower arms race. All of us were hopeful that the world would finally turn its attention to issues of development and the environment, which had been long neglected in the age of superpower rivalry.
What have we accomplished since the 1992 Rio Summit?
The past ten years have seen remarkable technological advances, such as the internet and global positioning satellites. The power of today's personal computers now exceeds that of the largest super computers just ten years earlier. Yet, what benefit do these advances offer the bulk of the world's people, when, as Secretary General Annan stated at the turn of the millennium, "half of the world's people have yet to make a phone call."
However, the ten years since Rio have seen the once encouraging trend toward greater ecological awareness and responsibility in the west fade. As the scientific evidence of problems such as climate change became clear, we saw not a heightened awareness and attempt to address but the exact opposite - a rolling back of international commitments and domestic environmental legislation, a reduction in funding of alternative energy research, and an ever greater reliance on fossil fuels. It strikes me as incomprehensible that during a time marked by such dramatic technological advances, the average fuel economy of a North American passenger vehicle has actually declined. Clearly, priorities and attitudes are a long way from where they need to be for a sustainable future.
This is not to say that there haven't been bright spots during the past ten years.
The advances in the climate talks, including the prospective implementation of the Kyoto protocol, and new regional initiatives on the oceans, among others, are developments that give us continued hope. The Barbados Conference on Small Islands and the follow-up special session of the UNGA have established the special circumstances and development constraints of small island nations. We are appreciative of the steps taken through the Barbados conference and follow-up sessions in identifying these special challenges, and fully support the calls for a ten-year review conference of the Barbados plan of action in 2004.
Yet the quality of life in many developing countries continues to decline. Sadly, so too has the will of the international community in addressing environment and development. This is evident in the preparatory meetings for this summit; with new objections being stated to previously agreed concepts such as "common but differentiated responsibility." To date, the islands have spoken with a single, effective voice on these issues, through the Alliance of Small Island States. AOSIS has achieved some notable successes, particularly with regard to climate issues. But given the tragically slow pace of progress ten years later, I wonder now if perhaps we haven't been too polite in our calls for action.
We agree completely with those delegations who have stated that we don't need additional agreements or more flowery statements. We have most of the mechanisms we need - but we must now set concrete goals and timetables for implementation. Identifying our failings and shoring up commitments to rectify shortcoming should be the focus of our work in Johannesburg.
That said, there are some issues that have emerged since the Rio Summit in 1992 that merit our attention. Items such as the digital divide," the global war on terrorism, and the catastrophic toll of aids in many regions, particularly Africa, are all important new developments that bear special mention during our deliberations here.
Mr. President, permit me to focus for a moment on the issue that looms ever more threatening in the daily lives of my people - climate change. For more than ten years my predecessors and I have appeared at forums similar to this to appeal to the international community to take concrete steps to address this man-made threat.
We have heard the disturbing reports of polar ice sheets melting and breaking away faster and earlier than thought possible when the Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992. We in the pacific have begun to note not only the rising of the seas, but a dramatic shift in the normal tropical storm patterns. Only a few weeks ago, one of our states, the State of Chuuk, suffered our nation's worst recorded natural disaster. Dozens died and hundreds were injured. Many more have lost their homes. The suffering continues as most food and medical supplies were destroyed and our remoteness has made prompt assistance difficult. The typhoon responsible originated in a region not formerly known for producing storms.
In the early stages of the negotiations for the framework convention we, along with many other small island countries, maintained that emissions stabilization by 2000 and reduction thereafter was not only possible, but economically desirable. In fact, we described how this was true even with a base year of 1995. Yet there has not been a political willingness on the part of many of the large industrialized nations to meet these goals. As a result, the current state of the science tells us that any hope we had of averting disaster for low-lying countries such as my own in the longer term is now gone.
Even if we all came to our collective senses this week in this beautiful city and agreed to immediately begin meeting the earlier targets and timetables, it is too late for most of the Federated States of Micronesia. However, it may not be too late for slightly less vulnerable areas of the world, such as Manhattan or Calcutta. For nations such as my own, we will need the assistance of the international community in adapting to the rising seas and developing relocating strategies. In this regard, my delegation will work within the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to clarify the nature of adaptation and examine ways in which these measures can begin to be implemented.
The time for words is over. The time for action is now. If the human race has not advanced to the point where we can put aside immediate self-gratification for the larger global good and our own futures, then I fear for what the world of the next ten years and thereafter will become.
Mr. President, over the past decade, the world economy has experienced unprecedented prosperity. Yet the ranks of the world's poor grow at an ever-accelerating rate.
What hope can we hold for the future where we have just seen in the past ten years that increased global prosperity and wealth for some does not translate to a betterment of the standard of living of more than a billion of the world's inhabitants? In fact, during this time of unprecedented economic expansion, ODA levels actually declined, and donors turned inward.
Mr. President, the hospitality of the host government has been remarkable, and my delegation is grateful for the comforts accorded to us during our stay.
Yet, Mr. President, if we take a moment to go outside the comfortable surroundings we are used to and examine the not-so-privileged areas of most cities and towns on this and other continents, we will see the faces of children who must subsist on one inadequate meal a day and even less, who have no prospects for improvement in their condition in the future - a future that promises relentlessly increasing environmental degradation and resource depletion. This brings home the reality and importance of our work here like nothing else can.
As George Bernard Shaw wrote during a time of great world-wide prosperity in the 1920s, "such poverty as we have today in all our great cities degrades the poor, and infects with its degradation the whole neighborhood in which they live. And whatever can degrade a neighborhood can degrade a country and a continent and finally the whole civilized world, which is only a large neighborhood."
It is with these children, and similar children of tomorrow, that we work for here today. I appeal to all members of the international community not to lose sight of this fact, and to make the most of this opportunity to work together to win the war on poverty and minimize environmental degradation. If we succeed in this goal, Johannesburg 2002 will set the course for ten years of which my country, and all humanity can be proud.
Thank you, Mr. President.