In Rio, in June 1992, leaders from every continent for the first time took the trouble to engage in mutual consideration of the consequences of our behaviour and the resulting threats to our environment. They needed courage, because what was required was to challenge everything, to denounce the fact that we had embarked on a vessel in a fair way to becoming a ghost ship.
In Rio, in June 1992, leaders from every continent for the first time took the trouble to engage in mutual consideration of the consequences of our behaviour and the resulting threats to our environment. They needed courage, because what was required was to challenge everything, to denounce the fact that we had embarked on a vessel in a fair way to becoming a ghost ship. At the first Earth Summit, one hundred and seventy-three Heads of State and Government adopted what they called Agenda 21. This was the genesis of a promise of hope, the promise of a new world.
The issues included the eradication of poverty and strengthening the role of the workers and the farmers. Another was the formulation of a new vision of trade and industry, the transfer of ecologically sound techniques and technology, cooperation and the creation of new capacities. There was the issue of responsible management of the earth’s resources. In short, these were laudable commitments, giving hope.
How many times, since 1987, have we heard that phrase reiterated that Ms Gro Harlem Bruntland, the former Prime Minister of Norway, whom I salute, first articulated on the subject of sustainable development: “Our methods of production and consumption must respect the environment!” How many times have we heard it declared that sustainable development calls for us all to change our behaviour with respect to social inequality, industrial and health risks, climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and a variety of threats looming over the planet?
It is twenty years since Rio, ten years since Johannesburg! What has changed? What promises have been kept, what commitments have been fulfilled? Few, I am sorry to say, few indeed when we consider what is at stake. At least we have realised that our planet is truly in danger and that we have to protect and preserve it.
This realisation, more necessary than ever, can help to promote the emergence of a new humanism. It is linked to respect for an environment which can, in the long term, enable all the inhabitants of the earth to feed themselves, house themselves, clothe themselves, learn, work and live healthily. It is linked to respect for the other, to the quality of life of future generations.
This new humanism is linked to a culture of people who no longer regard nature as a hostile environment, but who respect it, instead of wanting to blindly subjugate it, without ever obeying it; a culture of people who put their discoveries at the service of increased wellbeing for all, to the benefit of our planet. To do so, we need to know the Earth and be grateful to it. We need to realise that it is the Earth, and the Earth alone, which provides our food, even though we have learned how to encourage it by streamlining agricultural production, and to process what it provides. It is important that our children and young people grasp this connection from their earliest days. It is the responsibility of families and schools to ensure that they learn these new things.
Unfortunately, we are forced to acknowledge that we have not yet taken that path, bogged down as we are in our own contradictions, paradoxes, procrastination and deliberate refusals. We cannot manage to shake off that binary vision where the economy and the environment are antagonistic towards each other, whereas we all know that if we do not succeed in leashing these two terms together, it is not a civilisation that will vanish, but all trace of civilisation.
We have believed in progress. Progress has been successful, in some parts of the world, in improving well-being, but the engine of progress has raced out of control and no one listens any more to those who endlessly repeat that we have forgotten to put the brake on. The engine roars so loud that the voices of wisdom are muffled. It is time to control ourselves, time to rein ourselves in. We no longer have any choice: we must reduce speed in order to negotiate together the new bend in humanity’s road. We must find new engines of reason and trust. That is the road we must open wide now, specifically in four months at the Rio+20 conference.
There is good news coming from Africa! Africa is one of those blazing the trail along the new path and it is doing so with conviction and determination. With respect to sustainable development, Africa has made astonishing advances in twenty years, particularly on the issues of governance, economic and environmental viability and the creation of institutions. In our subregion, Central Africa, awareness of the issues has led us to be resolutely committed to the protection of the forests of the Congo Basin which constitutes one of the world’s lungs. In this order of concerns, in June 2011 my country, the Republic of Congo, hosted the first summit of the three largest forest basins in the world: the Amazon Basin, the Borneo-Mekong Basin and the Congo Basin. On 6 November last year, we launched the ambitious National Programme for Reforestation and Afforestation which, in ten years will cover an area of 1,000,000 ha with forest plantations throughout our national territory. But the progress made by Africa with respect to sustainable development is subject to threats which could destroy all our efforts, the biggest of these being the damaging effects of climate change, the increasing scarcity of water, the exhaustion of biodiversity and ecosystems, desertification, the ability to resist natural disasters, rapid and unplanned urbanisation and poverty, not to say outright destitution.
Africa is determined to continue the process of development to which it is committed. This justifies all our impatience and the many expectations that we have for the next Rio Conference. The African Union regards Rio+20 as an additional opportunity to enable humanity to place sustainable development at the heart of its priorities in a genuine, concrete and definitive way. Africa is going to this world Forum filled with conviction and hope. It will present a united front, speaking with a single voice, which I have been asked to express on the basis of a common single position.
The African consensus for Rio+20 is mainly based on the need to promote a new more open and more sustainable development model for our continent which will be supported by the green economy as a means to achieve sustainable development. In this regard, it is reassuring to note that our countries have begun to take stock of the possibilities and the means for a harmonious transition to the green economy through a consultative process. Africa’s Joint Declaration on Rio+20 also highlights the delays and failures of the international community in fulfilling commitments to achieve sustainable development in Africa. These include five commitments, like the fingers of one hand:
1) the commitment of the developed countries to allocate 0.7% of their GDP to the developing countries in the context of public development aid;
2) the adoption of a fair and sustainable solution to the issue of the debt incurred by the developing countries with a view to its total cancellation and increased flows of concessionary funding.
3) the need to implement the Bali and Johannesburg Plans on technological support, capacity building and technology transfer;
4) the implementation of the Copenhagen and Cancun Agreements on supplementary accelerated financing, especially the creation of a Green Fund to which developing countries would have direct access;
5) the pressing need for the voice of Africa to be taken into account in all the international institutions and in international governance.
The crucial importance of support from the international community for Africa in no way exempts African countries from accepting their own responsibility in seeking ways and means to ensure development. Furthermore, Africa’s Common Position for Rio+20 has shown the importance of the institutional framework on international governance of the environment. Increasingly, we need a specialised United Nations Organisation for the environment with a clear operating mandate. It is for this reason that Africa is proposing that the United Nations Environment Programme becomes a specialised Agency of the United Nations, with its headquarters in Nairobi in Kenya. We are counting on the support of the Francophone community.
The fact that the international Francophone Forum in preparation for Rio+20 was dedicated to the youth, is a powerful call addressed, once again, to humanity to promote a development model that will no longer compromise the chances of survival of future generations. Our youth are the guarantors of the future of humanity. They were born into a world of shrinking horizons, where communication and the Internet snap their fingers at geographical distance and borders, where in twenty years people have come to realise that the world is fragile and that they can only save this common heritage of humanity by pooling their knowledge. They live in a new world for which new rules, new practices, new exchanges will need to be invented.
I appeal to their vigilance and their clear-headedness. Above all, I appeal to their courage, and urge them to engage in new behaviour, a new culture, in order to preserve our environment in the grip of the devastating effects of the transformations imposed by the modern era. For as Jean Jaurès put it, “Courage is aiming for the ideal and understanding reality; it is taking action and devoting oneself to the great causes without knowing what reward the universe will give our efforts, nor indeed if there is a reward.” They will need that courage to protect our planet’s ecosystems, to preserve its biological environment, to safeguard human civilisation, in short to ensure the continuation of life.
Denis Sassou N’Guesso
The text above summarizes the address made by Denis Sassou N’Guesso, President of the Republic the of Congo, to the International Francophone Forum in preparation for the Rio+20 Conference held in Lyon on 8 February 2012.
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