Now we must walk the talk: Mbeki

5 September 2002

The critical test of whether the Johannesburg World Summit had succeeded or not would be what happened from here, South African President Thabo Mbeki said on the closing night of what he described as “a big meeting, the biggest ever tried”.

Addressing the final Summit press conference, Mbeki appealed to the international community to take ownership of the decisions taken by world leaders over the last week and to act collectively in implementing the Summit’s action plan to reduce poverty and protect the environment.

Obviously, not everyone was happy with the outcome, Mbeki told journalists, but a plan of implementation, with deadlines, targets and time-frames, had been agreed on. It was essential now to act on those – and at the same time not to treat them as a ceiling.

The 104 heads of state and government that took part in the Summit were joined by more than 21 000 people, including more than 9 000 delegates, 8 000 NGO representatives and 4 000 members of the media.


Well done, South Africa! Delegates clapping after Mbeki declared the Summit closed (Photo: United Nations Johannesburg Summit)

After the adoption of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Political Declaration on Wednesday night, world leaders poured compliments on South Africa for its successful hosting of the Summit. UN Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai said the UN had never seen a Summit as well organised, despite the fact it may have been the largest ever.

Mbeki told the press conference that while the United Nations was ultimately responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Summit plan, it might suggest that other institutions join in the monitoring process. It was critical that the UN moved as quickly as possible to determine what mechanisms should oversee implementation, he said, adding that it would be very useful if the media “kept an eye on this”.

At the same time, Mbeki added, various regions would discuss the outcome of the Summit – the African Union would certainly be considering what steps it should take to implement the plan. “For us on the African continent, these were very much matters of life and death,” he added.

It’s just the beginning: Annan
Addressing the media on the same night, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the Summit had made sustainable development a reality. “This Summit will put us on a path that reduces poverty while protecting the environment, a path that works for all peoples, rich and poor, today and tomorrow.”

The overriding theme of the Summit was to promote action, Annan said, and significant progress was made in addressing some of the most pressing concerns of poverty and the environment, with commitments to increase access to clean water, proper sanitation and energy services, to improve health conditions and agriculture, particularly in drylands, and to protect the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

The Summit plan contains targets and timetables to spur action on issues including halving the proportion of people who lack access to clean water or proper sanitation by 2015, restoring depleted fisheries to the preserving biodiversity by 2015, and phasing out toxic chemicals by 2005.

In addition, for the first time countries adopted commitments toward increasing the use of renewable energy “with a sense of urgency”, although a proposed target for this was not adopted.

The Summit also represented “a major leap forward in the development of partnerships”, Annan said, “with the UN, governments, business and civil society coming together to increase the pool of resources to tackle global problems on a global scale.”

More than 220 partnerships, representing US$235-million in resources, were identified during the Summit to complement the government commitments, with many more announced outside of the formal Summit proceedings.

Echoing Mbeki, however, Annan said that the true test of the Johannesburg Summit’s achievements would be the actions taken from here on. “This is not the end. It’s the beginning”, he said.

SouthAfrica.info reporter