Archbishop Renato Martino, apostolic nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations addressed the Second Committee of the 51st Session of the General Assembly Oct. 23, on item 97: Environment and Sustainable Development. Excerpted.

… As in every discussion on development, the Holy See must testify to the centrality of the human person when considering issues of environment and development. This centrality is enshrined in the first principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development which states: “Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”

During his visit to the United Nations in October 1995, Pope John Paul II reminded us that, ‘The human person must be the true focus of all social, political and economic activity”(Address to the U.N. Staff Members, Oct. 5, 1995).

Human beings are the stewards of creation which—as Pope John Paul II stated—“is ultimately a common heritage, the fruits of which are for the benefit of all. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, ‘God destined the earth and all it contains for the use of every individual and all peoples' (Gaudium et Spes, 69)”(Message for the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 1990)….

Unfortunately, as we prepare to enter the new millennium, … [t]he whole concept, the spirit behind development, especially in the poorest countries, seems to have become stale. As a result, the poorest of countries fall farther and farther behind.

True to its mission, the Holy See wishes to help the world community recognize the need to give due consideration to the ethical dimensions of problems affecting developing countries. In working out equitable access to resources, important issues of justice must be realized.

1) Developing countries, especially those least developed, must be empowered to take part in a globalized economy. Only through integration in the global economy, will developing nations be able to begin to catch-up to and compete with world markets and economies and provide a better life for their people.

2) Women must be empowered to have equal opportunities in the economic and developmental programs of their countries. The opportunity for involvement of each and every person is essential to providing ownership to growth and prosperity.

3) Present needs should be filled without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to fulfill their own needs. While the world economy must move to meet the issues that are the causes of poverty, hunger, disease, the disparity between rich and poor nations, growing unemployment and under employment, illiteracy, and environmental degradation, it must also protect the ability of the next generation to do the same.

Along with this, fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to development must be safeguarded.

4) Access to information and technologies for trade and the creation of an enabling environment for development should be looked upon as an essential element in the process of development. Cooperation, especially among developing countries, in building the framework of growth, is a key element in the use of all available tools for development….

In the discussion of “Environmentally sustainable, healthy and livable human settlements”that took place during the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), delegates agreed upon language that called for (inter alia) measures to prevent and control air, water and soil pollution, access to appropriate preventive and curative health care, improved shelter, improved waste management, especially toxic/hazardous/radioactive waste, water resource management and measures to prevent transboundary pollution. The conference stated that these environmental issues are as important to the health and quality of life of the population as is the clinical response to disease.

The relationship between the environment and sustainable growth was also recognized in the [U.N.'s] Agenda for Development: “The environment, like peace, the economy, society and democracy, permeates all aspects of development, and has an impact on countries at all levels of development”(para. 68).

This understanding, coupled with Rio's call for an authentic, durable and widespread change of habits and attitudes, especially in industrialized countries, will begin to create a pattern for development that is not only environmentally and socially sustainable but that will also be equitably distributed with the human person as its central focus.

Moreover, as His Holiness Pope John Paul II has stated: “It must also be said that the proper ecological balance will not be found without directly addressing the structural forms of poverty that exist throughout the world…. Rather, the poor, to whom the earth is entrusted no less than to others, must be enabled to find a way out of their poverty. This will require a courageous reform of structures, as well as new ways of relating among peoples and states”(Message for the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1, 1990).

No country can do this on its own. The Holy See calls upon the world community to rekindle the authentic spirit of development so that a real partnership for sustainable and lasting development can be formed.