Acceptance Speech by Mr.-Marthinus-van-Schalkwyk on behalf of President Thabo Mbeki and the People of South Africa

Programme Director, Excellencies, Honoured guests, Ladies and gentlemen

There is no greater asset for humanity than the long-term health and well-being of our planet. There can be no goal more crucial to our survival than the protection and nurturing of our natural environment.

It is my great privilege tonight to accept this singular honour on behalf of President Thabo Mbeki and all South Africans.

Your generous recognition of our environmental efforts provides fresh motivation and renewed energy to our work.

For our world to perish, all that is required of us is to do nothing. It is possible to integrate environmental protection and poverty eradication in a sustainable synergy. In beating poverty and in building prosperity we must not sacrifice our future by pillaging the planet.

The timing of this ceremony could not be more significant. With the UN Commission on Sustainable Development meeting at the same time here in New York, we are demonstrating that the needs of people and the needs of our planet are one and the same. Sanitation, fresh water resources, global warming, climate change,biodiversity loss, desertification-these are all intertwined and interconnected challenges, shared by both the developed and the developing world.

To combat desertification, the international community must support and implement the UN conventions in countries experiencing serious drought, land degradation, and desertification - particularly in Africa - and take further action to meet the overall challenge of Africa's food-security needs.

One of our most urgent priorities as the global community of nations must be to convince all countries to join and support the international effort to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses and build our capacity to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

I have no doubt that the next few years will be crucial to move us beyond the approach of stalling, of avoidance, and of excuses to one where we all accept our responsibility to deal with climate change within an inclusive multilateral international framework. Climate change is a global scourge and requires a unified global partnership for action.

Too often we find new lines of division or new labels to cement old divides. Rich and poor, East and West, developed and developing -our one shared constant is this globe. To us falls the responsibility and the duty to secure its future.

We thank you for your recognition of our work, but the work has just begun. We extend to you our resolute commitment and our hand in partnership. We offer our resources, our energies and our enthusiasm to be part of the sustainable environmental solution.

On behalf of President Thabo Mbeki, and the people of South Africa, I thank you.