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Kofi Annan addresses the need for establishing the stepping stones towards a sustainable future

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On May 14th, 2002, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave a speech in New York on how the world needs a sustainable future. In this speech, “Towards a Sustainable Future,” he addresses key issues relating to the demise of our planet and how we as a global society can work to put these issues to rest. With emphasis on five specific areas, he sets forth a plan of action to be taken as soon as possible. Throughout the entire speech, Annan aims to empower the “Ladies and Gentlemen” at the American Museum of Natural History to take responsibility for what is to come if they do not make a sustainable change.

Annan begins his speech with an anecdote roughly about the beginning of the world’s interest in taking care of the environment, demonstrating that he cares about the environmental agenda. He introduces an event which would be familiar to the audience, the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which intended to develop “growth, equity and conservation” internationally. However, since the Summit developed countries have fallen short on their promises. “High consumption life-styles” are one of the issues based on the lack of progress. Focusing on this, Annan establishes what needs to be changed. He also targets the audience, as they are American and America happens to be one of the highest consuming countries in the world. This speech, being a forethought to his next speech at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, describes that there is a chance to modify these lifestyles in hopes of saving the earth. By introducing these points, he establishes a basis for his speech on a social level and support for upcoming statements.

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Between paragraphs four and five there is a soft shift where Annan begins to address the differences between developed and developing countries. He discusses that the “20 percent of humanity” which relishes in prosperity has gotten there at a “heavy toll on the planet and its resources. Annan contends that there are those who are living in “squalor” who dream of the life that that this “20 percent” live. With this action he provokes emotion from the audience; almost a feeling of guiltiness. With this in mind he provides a solution involving “[a] move from commitments . . to action.”

Annan’s solution includes the most important areas that need to be targeted, not only to secure a sustainable future but also for human health and poverty reasons. A recurring motif in the speech is poverty; i.e. “condemning them to remain in the poverty tray,” and “two thirds of [ the 3 million dead] them poor people.” He uses this motif mainly because of where he comes from – Ghana. Ghana is surrounded by countries which struggle to support their citizens and provide basic means of living. He then goes on and uses those five areas, “Water. Energy. Health. Agriculture. And Biodiversity,” as an anaphora, stating “Five areas . . .” again and again at the beginning of four sentences, each their own paragraph. By doing this, he places great emphasis on the power of those five areas; those basic means which simply must be addressed for sake of generations to come.

Then comes a more abrupt shift, where he seems to start a new address, “Ladies and Gentlemen,” starting it out, gathering their attention back again. In his new address to those at the AMNH, Annan reminds the audience of civilizations – “such as the Sumerians and the Mayans, [who] met devastation . . by failing to live in harmony with the natural environment,” – past where those who did not take care of their surroundings were condemned to meet devastation. This warning further acknowledges the audience’s participation in the demise of our planet. Annan then introduces an alternate ending, where he states that we have the means to achieve a sustainable future and to protect the environment, foreshadowing his final call to action. In the last paragraph, he uses an anaphora to highlight what needs to be done so that society as a whole can survive. “Together, we will need . . ,” and “Together, we can and must write a new and more hopeful chapter in natural and human history.” The last sentences are what the speech has been entirely about- that humans need to work together, sooner rather than later, to survive.

From beginning to end, Annan is candid with his goals, stating them clearly and using logistics to back up his claims. This style removes unnecessary words which may confuse the audience. His ultimate goal for this audience is to provoke not just change among but also a sense of responsibility for what will come if no change is made. Globally as a society we are heading in the right direction, but much more action is needed and this is what Annan intends to create in this speech.

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