Towards Johannesburg. (Essay)

Article excerpt

"If national governments are basically unilateral in their attitudes towards global problems, anarchy will prevail over international governance and what should be our global village may turn into a global jungle."

-Gro Harlem Brundtland, addressing the "Earth Summit", Rio de Janeiro, 13 June 1992

World leaders will gather in JOHANNESBURG, South Africa from 2 to 11 September 2002 for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Their task will be to undertake an overall review of the decisions taken at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development--the Earth Summit--including the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, created to provide a comprehensive road map towards sustainable development.

One in two jobs worldwide--in agriculture, forestry and fisheries--depends directly on the sustainability of the ecosystems. But today's environmentally unsustainable practices are in fact plundering our children's future heritage. We have certainly made progress since the Earth Summit, but we must face an inescapable reality: our responses are too few, too little and too late. Against this backdrop, expectations will be high at the Johannesburg Summit. How do we address these and together build a new ethic of global stewardship?

National preparations are well under way to produce crucial tools for the implementation of sustainable development goals. These tools, rather strategies for sustainable development, will provide the cornerstone for implementation at the domestic level in the years to come. They will be all the more effective if they include targets to reverse the current trend of environmental loss, as well as intermediate and sectoral, quantitative and qualitative targets on environmental and resource productivity. The intergovernmental regional events are also under preparation and cover extraordinarily diverse processes, ranging from climate change negotiations to the International Conference on Financing for Development. These events will be instrumental in renewing consensus and commitment for sustainable development. The challenge will then be to build ownership of these regional processes at UN Headquarters in New York and somehow reach consensus at the international level.

At Johannesburg, we should first take measures to protect the natural resource base of economic and social development. We need to commit ourselves to new international targets to reverse the trend in loss of environmental resources and enhance eco-efficiency. As a number of conflicts revolve around the exploitation of natural resources, we should also address the security aspects. Specific initiatives are of the essence on some key issues: on fresh water--if present trends continue, two in every three people will live in water-stressed conditions by 2025; on land--each year an additional 20 million hectares of agricultural land become too degraded for crop production or are lost to urban sprawl; on biodiversity--one in every plant species is at risk of extinction, many once-valuable fisheries have already collapsed and half of the world's coral reefs are currently at risk; and on energy, in order to come to grips with global warming.

The Summit should discard artificial oppositions between economic well-being and environmental protection, and instead promote actively the integration of environmental concerns with poverty eradication. The poor are best served by programmes that aim to secure sustainable livelihood and reduce vulnerability, while promoting sustainable land use and agriculture, access to safe drinking water and sustainable energy, better local air quality and lower exposure to toxic substances. …

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