Sustainable Development

The purpose of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg later this year is to re-invigorate political commitment to the full implementation of the commitments made at the Earth Summit in 1992. Accelerating implementation of Agenda 21, through concrete actions and measures and active partnerships among government, business and civil society is going to be the criterion by which the success of the WSSD is rightfully measured.

To re-invigorate the global commitment to sustainable development and strengthen implementation of Agenda 21, the Summit must address the issues related to globalization and the limited progress made in reducing poverty. The continued unsustainability of consumption and production patterns in many parts of the world, the weakness of institutional mechanisms to effectively integrate the social, economic and environmental dimensions of development, and the lack of financial resources and effective mechanisms for technology transfer will need to be tackled. The challenge is to devise practical steps and programs focusing on key areas in which faster implementation is required.[ 1 ]

The concept of sustainable development is meant to reflect the close connection between economic, social and environmental challenges. It underlies all of Agenda 21, the Rio Principles and what are called the Rio Conventions— Climate Change, Desertification and Biodiversity. The essential point of sustainable development is that the same strategy or policy or program must simultaneously serve economic, social and environmental objectives.

Let me illustrate this in one important area—land, water and biotic resource management. Many of the problems that affect rural areas, particularly in the developing countries, arise from deforestation, poor water management, land degradation and similar factors. Poverty in the rural areas of the developing world cannot be reduced without enhancing the quality and productivity of natural resources, which provide a livelihood for the farmers, fisher folk and foresters who live in these areas. Thus the policies that conserve and manage natural resources will also be the policies that promote long-term development, food security and the elimination of poverty.

Let me take the issue of poverty eradication and the connection with environment a little further. We now recognize the multidimensional nature of poverty and see its causes in the lack of opportunity, the lack of security against natural disasters, conflicts and economic disturbances and the lack of a voice or influence in decision-making, particularly by women. Given this perspective, an anti-poverty strategy must enhance the productivity of the livelihood base on which the poor depend for their living, whether this base is land, water, biotic resources, personal skills and capacity or employment opportunities.

Such a strategy must be promoted through empowering local communities, something that is necessary for development and for local resource management. A people-centred approach, based on participatory processes that include all stakeholders, needs to be an explicit part of sustainable development policies and strategies. An essential aspect of such a people-centred approach is to overcome the marginalization of women on the one hand, and to ensure their effective voice in all aspects of development and decision-making, on the other. This will require explicit attention to gender perspectives throughout the development process.

Thus the issue is not that of co-ordinating several separate areas of policy dealing with land management, water resources, forests, fisheries, health, education, gender, social and community development, but integrating these into strategies, policies and programmes that simultaneously serve developmental, environmental and social objectives.

The issue of laws, conventions and institutions is also connected. Sustainable development requires not just co–ordination but integration across policy areas that are the responsibility of separate departments or institutions at the local, national and global levels. Policy and program integration will remain a paper exercise unless this institutional question is addressed.

Making Agenda 21 operational will also require us to look at the means of implementation. In fact, much of the disappointment about the implementation of Agenda 21 relates to this. The link between global trade regimes and sustainable development has remained a bone of contention. As for finance, the issues of Official Development Assistance, debt relief, financial instability and the direction of private flows will be looked at again, but the question remains: What are the more specific operational steps that need to be taken to support the program initiatives meant to energize the implementation of Agenda 21. Technology development and transfer are clearly central to sustainable development. Here, too, the challenge is to identify specific proposals to support program initiatives, say for energy or water or forests or biodiversity, etc.

Second, the commitment to implement Agenda 21 could be given a work schedule that spells out the actions required to achieve specific goals. Third, the commitment to strengthen implementation could be crystallized in specific initiatives, with clear targets, timetables, monitoring arrangements, co-ordination and implementation mechanisms, innovative procedures for involving partners, and arrangements for systematic and predictable funding and technology transfer.

In this regard, clear links will have to be established among the Millennium Goals, the WSSD, the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization held in Doha in November 2001 and the International Conference on Financing for Development that took place in Monterrey, in March of this year. At Doha, the first steps were taken to put development at the centre of the trade agenda. The Ministerial Declaration adopted at Doha provides guidance for future developments in trade regimes and can promote sustainable development and economic growth, allocate benefits more equitably and reduce negative social and environmental impacts. In deciding practical steps for strengthening implementation of Agenda 21, the WSSD will also give practical expression to the outcomes of Doha and Monterrey.

I have focused attention on some substantive issues that will have to be addressed in Johannesburg in September 2002. But if we are to address them in a convincing fashion, we will need an outcome that reflects what I will call the three Ps— Political will, Practical results and Partnership.

Partnerships are essential for implementing such initiatives—partnerships between North and South, between resource-rich and resource-poor countries, between large and small countries. But we also need partnerships between governments and other stakeholders such as women’s groups, business, trade unions, co-operatives, local authorities, and others.

Today, change is imperative if our global civilization is to be sustained. We need a powerful and persuasive voice to influence the world’s nations. A major shift is needed in the political mind-set and political commitment of many governments. It is also important to raise public awareness and to improve understanding of the concept of sustainable development and its implications for the future welfare of our planet and the prosperity of its people.

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