Remarks by His Excellency Mr Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma President of the Republic of South Africa opening plenary Rio+20 United Nations Conference of Sustainable Development
21 June 2012
Excellencies Heads of State and Government,
Your Excellency the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban ki Moon,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me thank Her Excellency the President of Brazil on warmly welcoming us to this beautiful country and the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Twenty years ago, in 1992, the world gathered in this city of Rio De Janeiro at the Earth Summit.
We collectively agreed that unless we did something, our future as a species was doomed.
The world adopted the Agenda 21 and the Rio Principles as a blueprint for human development living in harmony with nature.
The Earth Summit had alerted us to the unprecedented levels of poverty, underdevelopment and inequality in developing countries.
It brought our attention to the plight of a people in despair and inspired us to work together to turn the situation around.
We gather here today facing a similar call as that which we were confronted with in 1992.
Despite the noble spirit of the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, the path to a sustainable world has been confronted with major global challenges.
In the main, the world has not done justice to the spirit of the Rio Declaration.
The commitments of making sustainable development a reality have not been fully honoured.
Ten years ago, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, we declared that it was within our collective reach to confront these challenges.
The WSSD adopted the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation with time-bound targets and a range of partnership initiatives.
The people had spoken at Rio 92 and the WSSD. Children, youth, subsistence farmers, rural women said they wanted a future of access to water, health, sanitation, education and to reverse the loss of biodiversity.
We also acknowledged that global peace and security could only be achieved when African children no longer died of undernourishment and disease.
Johannesburg called upon us to change our unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. It called upon us to build resilient cities, to collectively protect our marine resources and to reduce our carbon emissions.
Therefore having heard and listened, we must act decisively.
At this Summit, we must renew the political commitment and increase our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the outcomes of those of the Johannesburg Summit in 2002.
We regard Rio + 20 to be a critical meeting that should agree on how to fast-track the implementation of the sustainable development agenda.
The Conference should build on the concrete and practical experience of approximately twenty years of the implementation of the sustainable development agenda as outlined in Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation.
Rio+20 has the potential to outline a process beyond the maturity of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
Although the debate on the sustainable development goals (SDGs) is gaining momentum, the discussion on the SDGs should not detract or impact in any way on the MDGs.
The SDGs should build on, be integrated in, and strengthen the MDGs which will inspire the community of nations for action towards sustainable development.
They should be used as global benchmarking by Parties on collective efforts towards the attainment of a sustainable development agenda.
Sustainable development remains an over-arching objective with the “green economy” as one of the critical tools towards achieving it.
Our view is that Green economy policies in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should be developed in accordance with the principles in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
With regards to strengthening and upgrading the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), we should take into consideration some fundamental characteristics.
These include an enhanced mandate and political visibility, universality in membership and decision making, stability, additional predictable financing and an enhanced coordination and synergies across the Multilateral Environmental Agreement.
I am sure that the African Union will study this matter carefully and present concrete proposals to take this matter forward and expeditiously.
In 2010, the Secretary-General launched the High-level Panel on Global Sustainability which I had the honour of co-chairing with the former President of Finland, Her Excellency Ms Halonen.
We are proud of the work done and the report of this panel contributes immensely to the way forward towards sustainability.
We must leave Rio having made tangible progress. The agreement Rio + 20 produces should be an embodiment of our collective resolve for a renewed global development paradigm for a sustainable future for all.
All this will bring us closer to “The future we want”.
I thank you.