1 September 2012
Green Cross International Photo Exhibit
Message by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Launch of Green Cross International photo exhibit:
‘Give Humanity a Chance, Give the Earth a Future’
Saturday, 1 September, 2012, 09:45
Delivered on the Director-General’s behalf by the Director of the Library
of the United Nations Office at Geneva,
Mr. David A. Chikvaidze
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a pleasure to be here with you on behalf of the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The United Nations Office at Geneva has taken a lead in ensuring sustainability in the United Nations’ operations here in Geneva, and the Director-General is pleased to express his support for today’s exhibition. He regrets that he cannot be here in person but has asked me to deliver the following message on his behalf.
The message goes as follows:
“This event is another example of the leading role not only of Green Cross, but of Geneva in addressing the most pressing issues of our day. Geneva is often referred to as the world’s humanitarian capital. What many may not be so aware of is that it is also a key platform for environmental action and for a sustainable future for all. This exhibition is a welcome opportunity to highlight this important dimension of “International Geneva”.
As the title of the exhibition reminds us, humanity and the well-being of Earth are interlinked. We must make progress on addressing environmental challenges because sustainable development is not an abstract theory – it is about people. It is about the well-being of individuals across the world.
A few figures help to illustrate. Land degradation and desertification affect 1.5 billion people across the globe, pushing people further to the extremes of subsistence. Land degradation causes the loss of about 12 million hectares of productive land every year on which 20 billion tonnes of grain could grow. This is equal to 23 hectares of land transformed into man-made desert every minute. To put this into perspective: in the next hour, an area slightly smaller than Geneva will have become desert.
So while working for a sustainable future can sometimes seem abstract, we have already seen plenty of reasons to make this a priority today.
Two months ago at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, world leaders agreed on a document aimed at achieving – and I quote – “The Future We Want”. The challenges are evident, also in these photos, but there is also great opportunity. Indeed, achieving sustainable development is, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said, a “generational opportunity” that must be seized.
In Rio, we found broad support for creating a set of Sustainable Development Goals. These will complement the Millennium Development Goals, and will be universal and measurable. Progress achieved based on the Millennium Development Goals offers clear evidence of the potential: the MDGs have helped to lift millions of people out of poverty, and by 2015, it is now expected that the global poverty rate will indeed fall below 15 per cent, well within the target of halving extreme poverty levels.
However, complacency is not an option. Even with strong commitment by political leaders, there will be great challenges ahead. Member States and the United Nations cannot accomplish this alone. Our partnerships at the international, national and community levels are all crucial for achieving the future we want. We welcome the role that Green Cross International is playing in this regard.
The challenges are great, and they must be met with even greater ambition. Ambition is needed to connect the 1.3 billion people who lack electricity to light their homes or to conduct their businesses. Ambition is needed to help curb the devastating impact of rising sea levels on small island states. And ambition is needed to bridge the equity gap for the more than 450 million people globally who work, but still live on less than one dollar and twenty-five cents a day.
I thank Green Cross International and the authorities here in Switzerland and Geneva for supporting this important awareness-raising effort about the challenges facing humanity and how we can overcome them together for a sustainable future.