You are here

Time is running out

Yesterday, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, addressed delegates working to finalise the Rio+20 Outcome Document. Did he manage to convey the need for haste? The Outreach team was present and felt the urgency.

“Time is running out. You still have much work to do – perhaps too much work. But you must persevere. The stakes are very, very high – for people and the planet… for peace and prosperity.” With these solemn and serious words, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, opened his speech addressing the delegates at the final round of ‘informal informals’, on Tuesday 29th May. Conference room 3 was filled to the last seat when the Secretary General spoke, and the delegates seemed to take in the seriousness of the hour when he said: “This session is effectively your last opportunity to make the progress we need on the outcome we need. It is your responsibility to get it right here and now, this week”.

The Secretary General echoed the opening statement by UNCSD Co-Chair, Ambassador John Ash, earlier in the day, when he stated simply that all delegates had to be seriously committed to agreeing on an Outcome Document that would be worth its title “The future we want.” “We only have this planet to live on”, Ambassador Ash said, as he reminded the delegates of the serious task ahead of them during these few days, “this document will quite possibly set the course of thinking, development and action over the next 20-30 years.”

Naturally expectations ran high in the advent of Ban Ki-moons statement. “I think he has come to reprimand the delegates” a hopeful civil society member stated. “Not the role of the Secretary General” retorted a delegate, “you have to remember, he is the Secretary General of all Member States. As such he serves the Member States”. Dag Hammarskjold, the second UN Secretary General, intervened successfully in difficult times, admonishing delegates to find a course of action out of unchartered waters. And many present today remembered well Kofi Annan’s courageous interventions in stalled negotiations. It is true that the Secretary General is the secretary for the Member States, but it is equally true that the Secretary General also represents the UN Charter, which begins with “We, the peoples”. Many felt that Ban Ki-moon spoke with that mandate today.

He had chosen his opening words carefully and continued with a direct challenge to the delegates: “Failure is not an option. The conference is too important. As I have said before, Rio+20 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. It is your collective responsibility to seize it. Nobody expects countries to sacrifice national self-interest. But keep in mind: our individual self-interests are interdependent, interconnected.”

Echoing the values and intentions expressed in the UN Charter – the raison d’etre of our working and negotiating at the UN – he said, invoking the spirit of common responsibility:

“It is important – it is essential – that everyone be prepared to rise above national or group interests. More and more in today’s world, the global interest is the national interest. There is no difference between global and local. We must be united for the global common good – united for humanity. It is time to make compromises. To be flexible. To give as well as to take.”

He listed five areas of importance: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a novelty; a stronger and politically more vibrant IFSD – a necessity; decent jobs, social protection and healthy environment – a must; tangible outcomes on sectoral issues – a recognised need; honouring past commitments – an obvious issue; and as a final point he added: “Last but not least, we need commitments from all stakeholders at Rio+20 – Member States, civil society and the private sector alike. And just as we need a way to track commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals, we will need a process to follow up on these commitments, and hold actors accountable.”

The Secretary General paused, he was coming to the end of his 15 minutes. He had stirred people’s consciousness. “So nothing new perhaps”, a seasoned delegate mused, “but if my colleagues try to belittle this statement, he or she feels guilty for not having done enough.”

Just remember the Secretary General’s final statement: “Think of the big picture – of the importance of making Rio+20 a resounding success – for now and for the future we want.”

And that is exactly what we need to do these next few days.