Press Releases

                SG/SM/9276
                                                                                                                REC/158
                                                                                                                27 April 2004

    Secretary-General Stresses Importance of Healthy Environment for Development, in Message to “Asia and the Pacific 2020” Meeting

    NEW YORK, 26 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the meeting of the “Visionary Panel for Asia and the Pacific 2020”, delivered by Kim Hak-Su, Executive Secretary, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, in Shanghai, 26 April:

    It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to the distinguished former heads of Government and other eminent leaders who have gathered to discuss the future of Asia and the Pacific.  As we look ahead to the year 2020, there is reason for optimism.  The region is growing fast, and is becoming a global economic leader.  Those gains have raised standards of living for many millions of people, and brought them new freedoms and opportunities.  Such advances also put the region in a better position to address the poverty that still afflicts too many of its people, and to cope with the AIDS pandemic.

    But progress can be disconcertingly fragile, as we saw during the financial crisis several years ago.  So optimism is only as good as the foundations on which it rests.  I urge you to pay particular attention to one of those pillars: the environment. A healthy environment forms the basis for development, while an unhealthy environment can trap people in poverty, cause diseases that are otherwise easy to prevent, and even plant the seeds of conflict.

    The urban environment is perhaps the most important aspect of this challenge. By 2020, more than half the region’s population will live in cities, often in slums.  Already, eight of the world’s 10 most polluted cities are in Asia. An estimated 670 million people in the region lack access to safe drinking water, and a staggering 1.9 billion lack adequate sanitation. Thousands die each day as a result.

    Climate change also has the potential to bring great devastation, in a region that is already the world’s most disaster-prone. By 2020, climate change could well generate floods, droughts and cyclones with greater frequency and force. The region’s small island developing States are especially vulnerable, not just to lost tourism but to their very viability and existence.

    Still, there are many reasons why there is still time to put our societies and economies on more sustainable footing.

    First, we are better informed.  Although some in the region still deny that the environment is a serious issue, their voices are becoming weaker as science teaches us more and civil society groups spread the word.

    Second, we have a specific plan for action:  the Millennium Development Goals and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.  Never before have we had such a widely agreed strategy and set of targets.

    Third, we have a wealth of green technologies to begin to do the job -- and a wealth of businesses that are just waiting for the right signals and incentives from markets and Governments that they take the transition seriously.

    Much is expected of your region as we move ahead.  With a population greater than the rest of the world combined, and which is expected to grow by at least  700 million in the next 20 years, your countries will help make or break our success in meeting these goals.

    The year 2020 is not a long way off.  It is time to usher in a new era of global responsibility.  To make this happen, we need to listen to what we already know, act on what we have already agreed, use all the tools and technologies at our disposal, and address emerging threats before it is too late.  I look forward to working with you to make Asia and the Pacific a better home for all its people, and a region that contributes to the peace and prosperity of the entire planet.

    * *** *