Justice-The Heart of Sustainability: "Talking Points" on the World Summit on Sustainable Development: An Introduction

By Robra, Martin | The Ecumenical Review, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Justice-The Heart of Sustainability: "Talking Points" on the World Summit on Sustainable Development: An Introduction


Robra, Martin, The Ecumenical Review


We share a common future ... The neglect of longer-term concerns today will sow the seeds of future suffering, conflict and poverty. (1)

The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) will take place 26 August-4 September 2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa, ten years after the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. "Justice--the Heart of Sustainability" was chosen by the ecumenical team as a title for its contribution to the debate on the political declaration of the world summit. The ecumenical team which is accompanying the preparatory process on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC) includes WCC delegates, representatives of member churches, world communions, ecumenical organizations and Roman Catholic orders as well as members from other faith communities. It is recognized for its inclusiveness, diversity, and strong focus on the ethical dimension of the issues at stake from a faith-based perspective.

Clarity, critique, alternatives

For more than twenty years the WCC has been engaged in efforts within its own worldwide constituency to build a faith-based understanding of the integral interrelationship between social justice, human development and protection of the environment. Taking stock ten years after the Rio summit in 1992, the ecumenical community approaches the Johannesburg summit with deep concern that, once again, hopes are being raised only to be dashed by unfulfilled promises.

In the ten years since Rio the concept of "sustainable development", combining the need for development with the concept of sustainability, has been undermined by the inexorable march of corporate-driven economic forces and their global outreach. The underlying development paradigm, with its strong emphasis on economic growth and market expansion, has served, first and foremost, the interests of the powerful economic players. It has further marginalized the poor sectors of society, simultaneously undermining their basic security in terms of access to land, water, food, employment, other basic services and a healthy environment. Unfortunately international trade, financial investments and private-public partnerships (which are high on the agenda of G8 countries for the Johannesburg summit) are still operating within the framework of this same development paradigm.

The WCC wants to bring clarity, critique and alternatives--a "CCA-approach"--to the WSSD negotiations and the debate on sustainable development:

--clarity on how unsustainable economic practices and policies undermine lives and livelihoods, especially of poor and marginalized peoples;

--critique of the underlying economic paradigm, and the destruction of the environment, based first on the churches' experience in light of their involvement in several decades of development work, and second on spiritual values for just and sustainable communities;

--alternatives which emerge among communities struggling for life in the globalizing economy.

The spiritual dimension

The South African Council of Churches and the WCC see it as their responsibility to accompany the summit with worship and prayer. It is an important coincidence that the middle of the summit is marked by Sunday, 1 September. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has called for celebrating I September, the beginning of the Orthodox church year, as Creation Day. The Patriarch himself has issued several messages for this day in recent years, focusing on the deep concern of the Orthodox church for creation. (2) The European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) has echoed this call, inviting (together with the Conference of European Churches and the Roman Catholic Council of European Bishops Conferences) churches in Europe to observe Creation Day and to pray for the summit in Johannesburg. Following the ECEN impulse, the WCC has also shared this invitation with its own member churches. …

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