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UN’s Ban Urges Action on Rio+20 Sustainability Goals

UN’s Ban Says ‘Broken’ Economic Model Needs Sustainability Push
Joint Special Envoy for Syria and former United Nations (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Dr. Nabil El-Araby, Secretary-General, League of Arab States, speak during a news conference after the UN Security Council held consultations regarding the UN Supervision Mission in Syria. Photograph: Andrew Burton via Getty Images

The world’s economic model is “broken,” and countries must look beyond their own interests to implement more sustainable policies, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

“For too long we have we have behaved as though we could indefinitely burn and consume our way to prosperity,” Ban told delegates at the UN’s Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development today. “Now is the time to rise beyond narrow national interest. It is time to act with a broader, long-term vision. We are running out of time.”

Delegates from more than 180 countries are in Rio de Janeiro this week to promote policies that cut fossil-fuel use, boost renewable energy supplies and step up efficiency programs. World leaders are due to endorse a 49-page agreement outlining goals on June 22.

Companies from Coca-Cola Inc. to Levi Strauss & Co. and governments from Japan to Barbados promised at the talks to use water more efficiently, scale back carbon emissions and step up their use of renewable energy. Leaders said the agreement in Rio was only a first step, that more needed to be done.

“Time is our most scarce resource,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said at the opening of the high-level portion of the talks. “We are here today because the world requires changes. The well-being of present generations cannot be built to the detriment of future generations.”

Pressuring Leaders

With the conclusions of the meeting settled in advance by negotiators, Ban’s comments were aimed at pushing national leaders toward stepping up action at home. The UN today counted at least 490 voluntary commitments made by member nations, companies and groups to clean up the Earth, air and oceans. Environmental groups said the agreement wasn’t ambitious enough, and Ban acknowledged he’s disappointed more wasn’t being done.

“The negotiations have been very difficult and very slow because of all these conflicting interests,” Ban said at a press conference today. “What’s important is that all the recommendations of this outcome document should be implemented without delay. Nature doesn’t wait.”

French President Francois Hollande said the document to be approved this week includes “insufficiencies,” especially the lack of a tax on financial transactions and no new protections for oceans. He declined to discuss the European economic situation during a press conference in Rio.

“The text is a road map for our sustainable development goals,” Hollande said. “If we want to reach the goals we set for development we need to mobilize all the resources possible. Many countries, more liberal countries, don’t want this tax, but this is one of the matters that European countries will discuss at the end of June at the European Council. Some European countries may create this tax in the context of what we call reinforced cooperation.”

Expanding Gap

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said he’d make available 200 million yuan ($31 million) to fight climate change and that his nation would help developing countries cope with soil erosion and operating automatic weather stations. He also expressed discomfort with the sustainability agenda, stressing that poverty reduction was China’s highest priority.

“The global process of sustainable development is not balanced,” Wen said. “The gap between the north and the south is rising. Grave new challenges are posed by the international financial crisis, climate change and food security.”

Systematic Looting

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at developed nations that designed the world financial system, which he said has conducted a “systematic draining and looting of the wealth” of poorer nations for generations.

“The international order must be redesigned to serve the spiritual needs of humankind,” Ahmadinejad told UN delegates today.

Ban said the effort to make business “sustainable” is “an idea whose time has come” and that Rio will mark a milestone for the movement if world leaders allow it.

“World leaders must send a signal that they are committed to a sustainable future,” Ban said. “Our challenge here in Rio is to bring that vision to life, not just in words but with action.”

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