PLENARY: The UN Conference on Environment and Development formally opens this morning at 10:00 am when UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali will give the keynote address. The Plenary will then formally elect Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello as President of the Conference and hear speeches by Collor, UNCED Secretary-General Maurice Strong, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, and Portuguese President Mario Soares. The remainder of the morning's session will be spent on a number of procedural matters including: adoption of the rules of procedure; adoption of the agenda; election of officers other than the President; organization of work, including establishment of the Main Committee of the Conference; and credentials of representatives to the Conference, including appointment of the members of the Credentials Committee.
The Plenary will reconvene at 3:00 pm to commence the General Debate, which will continue through 11 June. The first hour of the Debate should be especially interesting, since the first four speakers will most likely set the tone for the rest of the Debate by touching on the full spectrum of issues to be addressed here at UNCED. Pakistan (on behalf of the G-77) will speak first, followed by Portugal (on behalf of the EC), the US and Israel. The other speakers listed for the afternoon are Germany, UNEP, World Health Organization, Chile and the EEC. Although the first three speaker's statements may be key in determining the positions of these major players, it is Israel that could trigger the first diplomatic firestorm at UNCED.
During PrepCom IV, the representative of Palestine, Yemen (on behalf of the Arab Group) and the G-77 inserted text into a number of chapters of Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration that refers to "people under occupation." This prompted Israel to intervene in the closing hours of PrepCom IV to decry the "threat of political pollution" and to question whether Rio would be another Middle East battleground. Israel then requested that the entire Rio Declaration be put in brackets. Koh responded that there would be no brackets or amendments to the text and closed discussion on the document, noting Israel's reservation and its subsequent vow to protest.
If, in its intervention today, Israel calls for the removal of all references to "people under occupation" it may create a political battle that would complicate work at the Conference. The first hour or two of Plenary this afternoon should not be missed.
THE MAIN COMMITTEE: The Main Committee will convene for the first time this afternoon to elect its four Vice-Chairs. Each of the four regional groups, other than Asia (which is represented by Tommy Koh), were expected to nominate one Vice-Chair. The newly-elected Chair Tommy Koh will probably also announce the establishment of a number of contact groups to deal with the most contentious chapters of Agenda 21. It is expected that Koh may announce the selection of the contact group coordinators. By contrast, the Main Committee will be charged with the responsibility of reviewing each chapter of Agenda 21 and resolving all of the minor outstanding issues that do not necessarily warrant a contact group.
To date, it is expected that contact groups will be formed for such outstanding issues as financial resources, technology transfer, institutions, atmosphere, biodiversity and biotechnology, and the Statement of Forest Principles. Additional contact groups may be formed where the need arises.
SPECIAL EVENTS: During the course of the Conference, a number of special events will be held to give multi-shareholder focus to several important cross-sectoral issues. The first of these will be held today. At 3:00 pm in Conference Room 4, a panel of experts will meet to discuss the "Urban Challenge". This panel will examine issues to the sustainable development of human settlements, exploring how a better balance can be reached between rural and urban areas; distribution of people and activities in a manner adapted to the resource base; and how essential services can be provided to all. The second panel of the day, which will take place in Conference Room 4 at 4:40 pm is entitled "Healthy People/Healthy Planet". This panel will focus on human health as an integral part of development and environmental policies.
[Return to start of article]