The Special Session of the General Assembly (UNGASS) to review and appraise the implementation of Agenda 21 came and went in June 1997. There have been mixed interpretations as to what was achieved. The final document entitled, “Programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21”, disappointed many in that it contained few concrete commitments or actions.
Attempts to produce a “Political Statement” also failed. In this regard, the session only managed to adopt a simple and uncontroversial “statement of commitment” that will serve as a preamble to the UNGASS report.

One thing came out clearly: the environmental situation five years after Rio has been disappointing and unless trends change, the future prospects are pessimistic for achieving development or environmental objectives. Moreover, many countries of the South are in such a poor state economically that they would not be able to afford financing programmes to improve the environment nor eradicate the overwhelming poverty situation.

Among the most contentious points at the UNGASS were the cross-cutting issues of financial resources, technology transfer, trade and environment, as well as the sectoral issues of forests, energy, climate change, desertification, freshwater and consumption and production patterns.

While it was possible to agree on follow-up action on some of the sectoral issues, the key issues of finance and technology transfer remained unresolved. Developing countries decried the reality of aid decline to a paltry 0.25% as against the developed countries’ pledge at Rio to increase ODA flows to 0.7% of their GNP.

At the UNGASS, developed countries did not make a firm commitment to meet the 0.7% target, apart from stating their intention to “stem the decline and reverse the trend in ODA flows”.

In his statement at the UNGASS on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, President Benjamin Mkapa of the United Republic of Tanzania called on all countries to rededicate themselves to the Rio Declaration. He further stressed the nee for continued international cooperation in the achievement of the goals of sustained economic growth and sustainable development. The major assumption of this global partnership is that there would be a more equitable sharing of resources on the basis of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, thus enabling the poorer nations to develop further and satisfy their basic needs. Furthermore, much more needs to be done in the areas of technology transfer to developing countries on concessional and grant terms; resolving the external debt problem; offering better terms of trade for the South’s commodity exports, including access in developed countries’ markets, etc.

These measures, together with enhanced international support, would provide developing countries with the means and incentives to implement the environmental commitments. Furthermore, goodwill and the involvement of all relevant actors such as governments, non-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, intergovernmental organizations, private and public institutions, etc. - are essential if Agenda 21 is to be successfully implemented.

Regarding U.N. reform, the 52nd session of the General Assembly will not only receive reports from the Working Groups that had been discussing UN reforms during the last two and half years, but will also devote precious time deliberating on the far-reaching proposals tabled by the Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan last July 16. The Group of 77 welcomes the Secretary-General’s proposals and hopes a very constructive debate will take place.

After 52 years of the Organisation, it is to be expected reforms are imperative. However, to the Group of 77 what are critical questions are direction and content of the reforms. At the Chapters meeting last July in Geneva, the Group came out with a set of principles that we hope will be a beacon in handling discussions and eventually the negotiations.

There can never be any doubts as to the logic of directing any savings from the UN reforms to development. We look to the members of the Group of 77 to come up with positive suggestions that will lead to the realisation of that objective.