THE HONOURABLE MARIO MICHEL
ACTING PRIME MINISTER OF SAINT LUCIA
1ST CARIBBEAN ENVIRONMENTAL FORUM
Greetings and Salutations
Minister of Physical Development, Environment and Housing of St. Lucia, the Honourable Ignatius Jean
Minister of Physical Development and Environment of Barbados, the Honourable Elizabeth Thompson
Minister of Environment and Labour of Nova Scotia, Canada, the Honourable David Morse
Their excellencies the members of the diplomatic corps
Representatives of the regional and general councils of Martinique
Presidents, chairpersons and other distinguished representatives of the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association, the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute, Environment West Indies, Clean Islands International, the Water and Sewerage Company of St. Lucia and the St. Lucia Solid Waste Management Authority
Representatives of other organizations – local, regional and extra regional
Officials of the Ministry of Physical Development, Environment and Housing and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Other invited guests
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen
Allow me, first of all, to apologize for the absence of the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, the Honourable Dr. Kenny Anthony, who is actually in Canada this time on government business. I am sorry that you will consequently have to settle for me as his deputy to deliver the feature address this evening.
Allow me also, on my own behalf and on behalf of Dr. Kenny Anthony, to welcome all of you – particularly those from outside of our shores – to this Forum, to the District of Gros Islet – which I represent in Parliament – and to our country, St. Lucia. I trust that your stay with us over the next few days will be both pleasant and productive.
We meet here in St. Lucia for the first Caribbean Environmental Forum, following closely on the heels of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) which ended in Johannesburg last month. At the start of the Summit, there was a brown pollution cloud hanging over Asia, massive flooding in parts of Europe and China, and severe drought and famine in Southern Africa. Many were confident that at the Summit, Governments had a chance to make a real difference on global issues and to find ways to effectively tackle poverty and environmental degradation. However, after the conclusion of the Summit one NGO stated that Governments agreed to an Implementation Plan that was the equivalent of putting a band-aid over a gaping wound.
I am sure that you are aware of the mixed reactions to the conclusions of the Summit, but I wonder if we were expecting too much. Was it our hope that the Summit would find answers acceptable to all to rid the world of hunger, poverty, disease and environmental degradation? Surely this could not have been a rational expectation.
Mr. Chairman, we have become far too accustomed to disappointments at international fora to expect miracles to emerge. The lesson for all of us is that we have to begin to develop the capacity to address these fundamental issues for ourselves rather than to wait for the emergence of an international consensus that is humanist and holistic, but which continually eludes us. It is far more productive if we focus on the positive outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
Positive Outcomes of the WSSD
The Summit, Mr. Chairman, did secure a global reaffirmation of the principles of sustainable development at the highest political level. This in itself is a major achievement and it is now up to the developing world to ensure that that commitment is not forgotten.
Notwithstanding this, one of the many successes of the Summit was the shift in focus from the strict environmental concerns that formed the basis for Agenda 21, to the social and development agenda, and more particularly to poverty eradication, sanitation and health.
The major outcome document of the World Summit is the Implementation Plan, which contains over thirty targets and timetables to spur action on a wide range of issues. These include:
· to halve the proportion of people who lack access to clean water or proper sanitation by 2015,
· to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010;
· to restore fisheries to their maximum sustainable yields by 2015;
· to establish a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012;
· to improve developing countries' access to environmentally-sound alternatives to ozone depleting chemicals by 2010, and
· to phase out the manufacture of toxic chemicals by 2005.
Missing from this list, of course, is a definitive statement on global warming and the targeted reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases.
However, the Summit did generate concrete partnership initiatives by and between governments, citizens’ groups and businesses. These partnerships are bringing with them additional resources and expertise to attain significant results where they matter - in communities across the globe.
More than 220 partnerships, representing US$235 million in resources were identified during the Summit process to complement government commitments, and many more were announced outside of the formal Summit proceedings.
Resistance from Powerful Countries
One of the unfortunate realities that emerged from the Summit, Mr. Chairman, was that some countries - particularly the rich and powerful - who are in a position to know better and to make a positive difference, continue to act in their narrow national economic interests rather than genuinely working together to forge a sustainable path for the future. Such countries, it seems, have placed a higher premium on short term over-consumption, individual greed and corporate profit than they do on the ideal of long term security and sustainable development for the whole of humanity.
This is both dangerous and myopic. It is dangerous because the reactions of the poor and downtrodden are at best unpredictable and the consequences of a selfish policy agenda can negate all the progress such policies may have been designed to achieve. It is myopic because the economies, and indeed the lives of all the peoples of all countries, are so closely intertwined that the over-consumption that forms the basis for such policies, undermines the very basis for their success.
Water and Sanitation
Mr. Chairman, it was indeed gratifying that one of the issues which received particular attention at the recent World Summit was the issue of water and sanitation.
Implementation of recommendations on water supply and sanitation that have come out of international conferences and meetings over the last 20 years has been extremely slow, because of limited resources. Against this background, the commitments and pledges of financial and technical resources for these sectors at the summit are very positive outcomes for the region, as the availability of drinking water and basic sanitation services can have a direct impact on the quality of life.
The critical concern of water, relates not only to the absolute level of availability, but embraces other issues as well. The dependence of our countries on limited ground and surface water resources, competing demands for water among varying sectors, and the questions of deforestation and pollution, all continue to contribute to declines in water availability in the region.
Efforts in Saint Lucia
I am pleased to announce, Mr. Chairman, that efforts are ongoing in St. Lucia to develop National Coastal Zone Management, Water Resources Management and Land Use Policies to assist in developing a more integrated and holistic approach to natural resource management and to address issues such as water supply and sanitation.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development resulted in the establishment of a global framework, a foundation for future committed and joint action. While views on what will stimulate economic development in our small economies vary widely, certain realities are clear. As vulnerable as we are and will continue to be, that must not be used as an excuse for inaction. Much can now be done at the national and regional levels to reorient our societies to be better prepared to take advantage of the new, emerging opportunities and partnerships and to cope with the environmental, economic and social challenges we will face in the future.
In St. Lucia, the recent launching of our National Economic Council, supported by other initiatives such as the introduction of an Integrated Development Planning Process, will assist in effectively integrating the social, environmental and economic pillars of sustainable development.
Towards a Sustainable Development Philosophy
But what do we need, Mr. Chairman, to more effectively embrace a sustainable development philosophy? Our national and regional programmes and projects must be well conceived and effectively implemented, our regional and sub-regional efforts must be coordinated to avoid duplication and overlap and, above all, there must be coherence and consistency in sector policies and activities. We must ensure that the necessary capacity is developed at the national level and establish the policy framework, institutional capacity and legal structures to take advantage of new opportunities. Moreover, we must implement programmes in such a way that they are more sustainable and that the benefits accrue to all.
St. Lucia, like many developing countries, is at a crossroads - caught between protecting what we have and attracting much-needed foreign investment. Whatever the priorities, we must have the will, political and otherwise, to protect the environment. We must avoid being held hostage by unscrupulous investors if sustainable development is to be realized.
However, in shaping the emergence of a relevant Sustainable Development Philosophy, we must be careful that we do not pursue imported foreign agendas which bear little relevance to our needs. I say this because time and time again we see our political agendas shaped and our economic destines determined by the uncritical mimicking of foreign ideologies and political issues transposed and applied wholesale to our local conditions. We have already began to adopt the arguments of the foreign Animal Rights Lobby, even when the most basic issues of Human survival and Human Economic Rights remain unanswered.
This is an issue which we have been at pains to point out to the international environmentalist lobby. It is an issue which Prime Minister Anthony emphasised when he addressed the 6th Conference of Parties to the to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Hague in November 2000. And I would like to remind this gathering, for your guidance, of some of the issues which he raised on that occasion.
Dr. Anthony argued that whilst we as Small Island states: “are prepared to do our parts to assist in the global battle against climate change, we also ask our global partners to be sensitive to our developmental needs. Whilst we recognise that we are all travelling on the same ship, we are also aware that some of us travel First Class, whilst the majority occupy the cargo holds. We are worried, Mr. Chairman, that our economic development might be threatened, because we are denied industrial strategies which were once used without restriction by our more fortunate fellow travellers. We are worried, Mr. Chairman, that we are being asked to “environmentally subsidise” our more powerful friends”.
As you engage in your deliberations over the next four days, I expect you to be guided by the existing scientific evidence which is available to you, but I also expect you to possess the ideological sophistication to separate rational thought from emotive reactions and to distinguish scientific fact from ideological intent. Too often in this modern neo-liberal era, our scientists and thinkers have demonstrated that they have lost the capacity to think for themselves. It would be a remarkable achievement, Mr. Chairman, if this Conference could begin to reverse this trend.
Mr. Chairman, in closing, allow me to congratulate the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute and its national and regional partners on the hosting of this Environmental Forum and to warmly welcome the various organizations and professionals to this symposium. The idea of utilizing this event to assist in creating and developing partnerships among all sectors is one to be applauded and encouraged.
I would also like to offer a special welcome to our regional and international agencies and representatives. I urge you to move swiftly to take advantage of the new opportunities for financial and technical assistance now being made available, and I wish to caution that such approaches must be made in a strategic, coordinated and structured manner to ensure that maximum benefits are realized by all.
We have talked about sustainable development, the environment, poverty reduction and human freedom for years. We have several conventions, agreements, protocols, instruments and organizations that address many of these same issues. In several of our development programmes, projects and activities, we've demonstrated innovative thinking. We have learned much, and forged strategic local, regional and international alliances and partnerships. Now we need serious and committed implementation. We need real progress and concrete improvements in the lives of people - at the individual, community, national and global levels. Let us move forward to a new agenda of action. Let us be willing to celebrate and share our experiences when we succeed and to be bold enough to go back to the drawing board when we fail. No more world summits are needed to assess where we are. We need to use the information we now have. We need to stop “committing to do” and just “do”. As the Earth Charter states: “We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity much choose its future”. This choice is ours to make, but the consequences are for our children and theirs to bear. It is an awesome responsibility, but history requires us to make it. Let us fulfil our historical responsibilities so that we may not be condemned by the generations which follow.
I thank you.
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