On Monday, 23 June 1997, UN General Assembly President Razali Ismail (Malaysia) introduced the two speakers for the informal opening ceremony: Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and US Vice-President Al Gore. Cardoso noted the unique opportunity to renew the partnership formed in Rio and urged participants to use it wisely. Gore welcomed participants to New York and noted that private capital flows are skyrocketing, bringing with them the promise of development.
At the commencement of the opening Plenary, delegates to UNGASS were notified that 17 members are in arrears of payments and, according to the Charter, those whose arrears equal the amount of their assessed contributions for the preceding two years shall not have a vote in the General Assembly. Amb. Razali Ismail was then elected President of the 19th Special Session of the General Assembly. He welcomed the representatives of civil society, who were participating for the first time in the GA. He also drew attention to the recession of political will to catalyze change. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan identified several issues that require attention, including clean water, forests, fish stocks, atmosphere and desertification. He said his programme for reform will usher in renewal at the UN, but more remains to be done.
Dr. Mostafa Tolba presented the report of the Commission on Sustainable Development (A/S-19/14) and outlined the preparatory process leading up to UNGASS. He emphasized that genuine political will was required to deal with outstanding issues.
UNGASS President Razali then presented the organization of the Special Session. Tolba, Chair of CSD-5, was elected as Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole. The Plenary also agreed to accord observer status to specialized agencies and, without setting a precedent for other special sessions, to invite major groups, including non- governmental organizations, to participate. The provisional agenda (A/S-19/1) was adopted, and the general debate began.