Towards Johannesburg – Essay

Towards Johannesburg – Essay – World Summit on Sustainable Development

Jean De Ruyt

“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. Nothing should be done in isolation. We cannot ignore the plight of the AIDS pandemic in this regard, and international development targets will remain the framework of reference for our endeavours.

At Johannesburg, we must also focus on how to make markets work for sustainable development. Globalization must mean more than creating bigger markets. We must allay the fears that marginalization, exclusion, increased environmental degradation and loss of cultural diversity will follow in the wake of globalization’s sweep. Global public goods require global action.

We should seize the opportunity of the Summit to ensure that the World Trade Organization and multilateral environment agreements are mutually reinforcing. Further efforts are needed to eliminate environmentally damaging subsidies and promote market access for developing countries, especially for goods produced by small producers in the poorest countries. Increased use of sustainability impact assessments should be encouraged as a tool for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the potential negative impacts of trade and investment on sustainable development.

As the UN Secretary General’s Global Compact Initiative has shown, cooperation with the private sector offers a wealth of opportunities in terms of corporate responsibility, environmental accountability and public-private partnerships, for instance. “Deliverables” could likewise be presented at the Summit in the form of joint commitments by Governments and the private sector.

Our Heads of State and Government agreed at the Millennium Summit on the need for good governance at the national and international levels. Good governance and participation are obviously key to success in implementation. At the national level, this implies primarily devising sustainable development strategies and also establishing and improving access to environmental information, public participation in decision-making, and access to judicial and administrative proceedings in environmental matters. At the international level, the Global Ministerial Environment Forum, launched by the United Nations Environment Programme, has introduced a process aimed at building a more coherent and integrated international institutional environmental architecture. One option would be to adopt some sort of “general agreement” that would act as a glue holding together the various elements that constitute the current institutional set-up.

Finally, the commitment to provide new and additional resources for sustainable development remains as valid and crucial as ever. With the three-pronged approach, it entails: increasing the mobilization of domestic resources for sustainable development and strengthened capacity-building; improving the level, quality and content of official development assistance; enhancing the mobilization of private financial flows for sustainable development, including foreign direct investment, as well as the transfer of environmentally sound technologies; and exploring innovative new sources of financing.

Let us summon the will to be ambitious and, at Johannesburg, achieve a new global deal.

Jean Do Ruyt is Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations. Belgium currently holds the Presidency of the European Union.

COPYRIGHT 2001 United Nations Publications

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group