The Opening of the Expert Group Meeting on Financial Issues of UNCED's Agenda 21, Kuala Lumpur 2 January

The purpose of this meeting is to address the urgent issue of mobilizing financial resources to implement the programme of action, known as Agenda 21, adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Although the summit has succeeded in placing the issue of environment and sustainable development on the forefront of the international agenda, its progress in translating its recommendations into reality remains painfully slow.

It has been estimated that a total of US$125 billion per year is needed to implement Agenda 21. However, the general response to the recommendations and commitments of the Earth Summit has fallen far short of expectations. This is indeed one of the great contradictions of our times. The international community which has been crusading for environmental protection has at the same time been trying to find excuses to avoid making those financial commitments. The developing countries, which have been subjected to various conditionalities, including environmental protection, for development aid, must be reassured that the international community's commitments made at Rio were more than mere rhetorics.

To a large extent, environmental problems transcend national boundaries and interests, thus necessitating a co-ordinated global effort. This is particularly apparent in areas outside national jurisdiction, such as transboundary pollution on land, in the oceans, the atmosphere and the outer space. Thus it is fair that the financial costs of cleaning up and protecting the environment be shared collectively by the international community.

We acknowledge that the environmental situation in many developing countries, especially the poorest among them, are unacceptable. No less than 1 billion people do not have access to clean water, while some 1.7 billion have no access to sanitation. The effects on health are shocking: they are major contributors to the 900 million cases of diarrheal diseases every year, causing the deaths of more than 3 million children; at least two-thirds of these deaths could be prevented if adequate sanitation and clean water were available. High levels of lead, primarily from vehicle emissions, have been identified as the greatest environmental danger in a large number of large cities in the developing world. Estimates for one of the cities suggest that the average child there has lost four or more IQ points by the age of seven because of elevated exposures to lead, with enduring implications for adult productivity. For hundreds of millions of the world's poorest citizens, smoke and fumes from indoor use of bionass fuel, such as wood, straw and dung, pose mush greater health risks than any outdoor pollution. Women and children suffer most from this form of pollution, and its effects on health are often equivalent to those of smoking several packs of cigarettes a day.

We believe the surest way for developing countries to begin tackling their environmental problems is through promoting economic growth and sustainable development. The need to protect the environment should be viewed as an integral part of the development process. This includes the eradication of poverty, meeting basic needs, and enhancing the quality of life. In this regard, the developed countries and multilateral aid organizations must lend greater assistance to the less developed countries towards sustained economic growth, rather than impose conditions which are beyond their means to comply with or conditions that are politically and socially burdensome.

Our experience in Malaysia is that success in economic development will inevitably lead to greater awareness of environmental issues, as well as greater capability of the people themselves to adopt environmentally-sound habits. Our people have in recent years also been very respective to various fiscal and regulatory measures designed to protect and preserve the environment, measures which used to be considered burdensome and therefore unpopular. We have also come to a stage where no major economic projects can be approved without compliance to strict environmental protection legislation. Some recent environment-related mishaps have further increased our awareness of the need to devise additional measures and develop our local standards to cope specifically with our geographical and climatic conditions. We readily acknowledge that there is still a lot that needs to be done to improve our environment, such as reducing suspended particles in our urban centres and cleaning our polluted rivers. Nevertheless we disagree with some over-zealous environmentalists whose prescriptions for us, if we were to implement them, would make development impossible.

The 1991 Langkawi Declaration summarizes our basic premises on the issue of protecting the environment, and the promotion of eco-friendly development. The challenges to safeguard the environment are manifold, given the complexity and the seemingly contradictory demands. The enormous costs of repairing global environmental damage must be shared by the international community, for they are simply beyond the means of the poor South to shoulder the full burden alone. In addition, our efforts will be futile unless the developed industrial societies of the North are also willing to make sacrifices of their own, especially in terms of their consumption and production patterns which are unsustainable.

The fate of the Rio Summit decisions hinges primarily on the issue of the means of implementation. In Malaysia, we are prepared to mobilize sufficient resources to implement various projects and programmes to safeguard the local environment and boost development. But we must underscore the important role of the developed countries of the North. Notwithstanding their domestic economic woes, which are nothing compared to the poverty and destitution so prevalent in the South, they should not backtrack on their commitments. Their backtracking will accelerate environmental degradation. We are comfident that the required resources can be found if there is political will and leadership.

On that note, I now have great pleasure in declaring this meeting open.

Thank you.