Statement by H.E. Mr. Costas Petrides,
Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment

Head of the Delegation of the Republic of Cyprus
to the "Nineteenth Special Session of
the United Nations General Assembly
for the review and appraisal of Agenda 21"

25 June, 1997 New York

Mr. President,

In 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, we were at a critical crossroads. We still are.

Our environment continues to be treated as dispensable, a consumer good ripe for exploitation. Unsustainable lifestyles have not altered, incessant drives for plenty have not ceased, excessive demands on natural resources have not slackened. Promised fundamental changes have not materialized. Access of those countries in need, to financial and technological resources and know-how is still not secured, even adequately. Poverty and associated problems prevail. The political process is still largely alienated from people and their legitimate aspirations.

Naturally, we cannot ignore the positive side of the equation. The need for change has spread everywhere. The end of the Cold War and the new GATT agreement, the entering into force of the Conventions on Biological Diversity, Climate Change and Desertification, present us with new opportunities. New partnerships have emerged. The concern for the environment has come out of the twilight zone, directly into the hands of political leaders. Grassroots initiatives are proliferating. People are not content to go on being marginalized.

The accomplishments and potentials of what has so far been achieved cannot be overlooked, but neither can it be repudiated that we have not, yet, replaced, unequal growth with sustainable development. Up to now, the periphery, only, has been smoothed. We need to deliver more, much more.

Mr. President,

All definitions of sustainable development encompass collective intergenerational and intragenerational responsibility: national, regional, international responsibility.

At the national level, all our countries should practically endorse, with strong and lasting political commitment, the principles of sustainable development. This can only be secured through a system that is characterized by the appropriate setting of priorities, credibility, implementability, high pluralism, accountability, longer-term views, and reduced dependence on the transfer of institutions. Above all, the collective will of the free market should not be allowed to continue to breed problems.

In Cyprus, we are guided by Rio's Agenda 21 and our active participation in the evolution of the Barbados Program of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, the Tunis MED-Agenda 21 of the Mediterranean countries and the Council of Europe's Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy. Among others, we have ratified the Biological Diversity Convention and we have decided to ratify the Climate Change Convention. An Environmental Action Plan has been adopted, the main thrust of my country's latest Strategic Development Plan is the further incorporation of sustainability into social and economic policies, whereas a new comprehensive bill for the Protection of the Environment has been drafted.

At a regional level, the great civilizations that have flourished around the shores of the Mediterranean, have interacted from the dawn of history, closely living in a complex web. We have, gradually, established forums for dialogue and instruments for action. Cyprus is honoured to be associated in partnership UNEP's Mediterranean Action Plan, the European Union's Euro-Mediterranean Cooperation and the "Environment-for-Europe" process. Such initiatives offer shining examples of what can be accomplished when countries decide to undertake their responsibilities as the stewards they are to their environment. In this context and as adopted by the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development, our regional priorities mainly relate to coastal area management, awareness and participation, water management and integration of environmental concerns upstream, in the region of development policies. We have also reaffirmed our commitment to reinforcing the role of institutions responsible for the environment and for sustainable development.

At the international level, we all need to work together to secure a political transition of complementarity of objectives, which is essential in the search for the much needed transitional ethic of mutualism, which still eludes us. In this respect, the fact that environment and fundamental human rights are indivisible should never be lost from sight. The right to an environment of high quality, has, after all, been recognized as a human right by the UN General Assembly's Declaration on the Right to Development. Sustainable Development has also linked the right to permanent sovereignty to one's natural wealth and resources, with the right to a secure environment, free from external security threats, as, among others, declared in the Communique of the Heads of State of the Alliance of Small Island States, at the 1994 Barbados Summit. Cyprus, is well aware how aggression and occupation can bring about immense suffering to human beings, destruction of the economic resources and irreparable damage to the environment, which have direct effects on the enjoyment of practically all human rights. And we are gravely concerned about plans for the construction of a coastal nuclear power plant in an area of high seismic risk, opposite our northern coasts.

We also need to place much greater emphasis on the social, cultural and human dimensions of sustainable development, with priority on poverty eradication and addressing urbanization and its associated problems. This we cannot achieve without effectively tackling international inequalities and securing appropriate technical and financial support, at bilateral and multilateral levels, both from outside as well as from internal sources. We should also harness the international economic system and put it to the service of the real needs of people and reconcile trade competitiveness and environmental protection, within the framework of the World Trade Organization.

As regards international institutional structures, our basic consideration should be to reach consensus on a system effective enough to strategically mediate between competing and conflicting demands, ensure inter-sectoral coordination, assist in the clearer definition of responsibilities and the roles of every actor, establish linkages so that policies are properly integrated and common purposes are agreed upon, and provide for an effective mechanism for sharing information.

Mr. President,

We may have created high expectations at Rio but, in retrospect, this was not a mistake. Rio has, indeed, changed the coordinates of our final destination and this Special Session is giving a new boost to the processes we have set in motion at Rio. Through a frank international dialogue of assent, we have identified the problems, the weaknesses, the drawbacks. Now, conflicts and hard choices are being tackled and, although not easy, we must reconcile differing concerns. Conventional wisdom would, perhaps, dictate that we cannot alter overnight the course of history and economy and that, unfortunately, change can only come slowly. However, we need to abandon this business-as-usual attitude, as it can offer no consolation to the billions of our people who demand action, now, who call upon us to accept, at last, those fundamental truths that, as it so appears, are not, yet, self-evident to everyone:

by not listening to the silent voices of a deteriorating environment, we are destroying humanity, by not listening to the cries of children dying from hunger, we are loosing our humanity.

Thank you Mr. President.