Don Amalio de Marichalar
Presidente del Foro de Soria 21 para el Desarrollo Sostenible
Don Manuel Monteiro de Castro
Nuncio de Su Santidad en España
Don Efrén Martínez
Presidente de la Diputación de Soria
Doña Encarnación Redondo
Alcaldesa de Soria
Don Carlos Javier Fernández Carriedo
Consejero de Medio Ambiente de la Junta de Castilla y León
Don Ricardo Díez Hochleitner
Presidente de honor del Club de Roma
Ms. Hania Zlotnik.
Director of the Population Division of the United Nations
Other Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for those kind words of introduction and the very warm welcome extended to me and my delegation ever since our arrival yesterday morning.
It is indeed a pleasure and an honour to join you in Soria, in order to address key issues of sustainable development.
In addition to highlighting key issues of global significance, the annual Forum is helping to identify pragmatic solutions that foster public-private partnerships, taking into account the perspectives of governments, the private sector, academia, civil society and other stakeholders. Indeed, this event is emerging as a kind of “Green Davos” and we, in the OAS, congratulate you, Don Amalio, on your personal leadership. Don Amalio’s commitment to advancing issues of sustainability and development through the Foro de Soria is well known and highly admired in the Organization of American States.
We also commend all the sponsors and organizers of the Foro de Soria on this very noble and worthwhile undertaking in the interest of a better world for all.
The focus on Population and Sustainable Development, is particularly timely and welcome. The relationship between demographic change, migration within and between countries, and the challenges of sustainable development are of urgent importance. Since well before the Earth Summit of 1992, it had been recognized that addressing rapid population growth in developing countries represented the key challenge to economic development, social equity, democratic governance and, of course, environmental sustainability. But although a lot has been done, we have not made enough progress.
In the Western Hemisphere, for example, poverty is a key driver of environmental degradation. One in four Latin Americans lives on less than $2 a day. Moreover, Latin America has the world’s most unequal distribution of wealth outside sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank, its 10 percent richest earn 48 percent of total income, while the poorest earn just 1.6 percent. And even with recent higher rates of economic growth, there is no significant decrease in overall poverty levels.
As our Secretary General recently pointed out, the Western Hemisphere faces an environmental crisis that is eroding its economic and development foundation. 75 million people in the Americas lack access to clean drinking water and 140 million lack access to adequate sanitation services. Two decades after identifying sustainable development as a priority, no country can really claim to say that it is on a sustainable path.
And when climate change is added to the equation, the compounding pressures on public policies are very worrying indeed. With the release of the Stern Report late last year, there is now growing recognition and alarm that climate change is not a stand-alone, isolated environmental issue that can be compartmentalized and addressed through conventional regulations.
For example, the massive wind storm that blew across parts of the Czech Republic, Germany and the United Kingdom a short while ago often reached hurricane-level strength. It killed dozens of people, caused billions of euros in damage, and led to the disruption of key electricity and transportation services across northern Europe.
We have also seen shocking images from NASA of the rapid melting of the Antarctic ice shield, exposing for the first time ice that had been sealed for literally tens of thousands of years. Scientists now predict that the ice covering Greenland and most of the Arctic will vanish in one generation.
The small island countries of the Caribbean have long been pounded by tropical storms and hurricanes. However, there is now increasing evidence that more countries find themselves in harm’s way. For example, in 2005, for the first time in recorded history, a hurricane reached as far south as northern Brazil. Then last year, Hurricane Vince entered the history books in its tracking towards Europe, reaching landfall in Huelva, right here in Spain, on October 11.
One of the significant long-term impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms is, of course, sea-level rise. This, in turn, has enormous implications for populations. More than half of the world’s population lives less than 400 kilometres from a seacoast – the most vulnerable area to hurricanes, tropical storms and sea level rise. Today, over 20 million people fall into a new UN category of refugees – “climate refugees” as part of a broader group called “environmental refugees”. The UN predicts that by the end of this decade, that number will swell to 50 million. We need to strengthen our understanding of the linkages between climate refugees and overall migration pressures.
What seemed like science fiction just ten years ago now presents the global community with unprecedented challenges. The first challenge is to face the magnitude of the problem. Some of the events I have just noted – unfortunately there are many, many more – have meant that citizens and leaders have taken note of the urgency of the issue. The second challenge of course is to move forward with credible solutions. The commitment of this region to wind energy shows us part of the solution. The initiatives by many, but unfortunately not all, in the private sector to promote renewable energy, to ensure that carbon markets bring about significant overall reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and to support innovative climate adaptation programmes, are signs of hope.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have been accorded the privilege of addressing you again later today, when I shall speak on The Challenges of Sustainable Development in the Americas. At that time, I shall have more to say on specific issues confronting the member states of the OAS and our role in developing an integrated, holistic and strategic response across the hemisphere.
I have long believed that when countries, communities and companies work together, more can be achieved. I also believe that, as we in the Americas build a new paradigm for sustainable development to address the challenges facing our populations, we have an obligation to build global and especially transatlantic cooperation with Europe.
Before closing my remarks at this opening session, let me leave you with a fundamental question: Why are we human beings, as a civilization, capable of making great strides in technological innovations, and at the same time capable of ignoring, rejecting and refusing to act on global threats such as poverty and environmental degradation ?
I look forward to the exchanges today and tomorrow and to the recommendations that are sure to follow. I congratulate Don Amalio once again on his vision and leadership. And I congratulate you all on your commitment to this process and to our planet.