‘Light at end of tunnel’ on sustainable development

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 18 July 2001 - - Despite the failures of governments to live up to their undertakings and commitments at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, “we can see light at the end of the tunnel,” declared Amb. Emir Salim of Indonesia who is chairing the preparatory committee for next year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development - the UN mandated Rio+10 summit meeting to review the progress in implementation of the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21, and the three treaties adopted there.

The three treaties, two of which were signed at Rio, are the Intergovernmental Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UN convention on biodiversity, and the UN Convention to combat desertification.

The WSSD is to meet in Johannesburg, and the preparatory committee is engaged in a process involving sub- regional and regional consultations, and discussions with other international intergovernmental organizations and the non-governmental organizations. The outcome of these will be fed into the second meeting of the UN Preparatory Committee in New York in January and the summit meeting in Johannesburg in 2002.

Salim a former Indonesian Environment minister said that achieving the Rio Summit goals of sustainable development, involving change in consumption patterns and new development models, and would need civil society actions.

Progress would depend not only on intergovernmental processes and decisions, but also the involvement of civil society, Salim said - conceding that at intergovernmental level.

The first meeting of the preparatory committee, and some of the consultations and roundtable show the need for further work to be done on the concept of sustainable development, involving economic sustainability, social sustainability and environment sustainability.

Since Rio 1992, said Salim, new processes and issues at work, and new issues had arisen such as global warming, biodiversity. There were also the issues of the new economy and new technology and their impacts on sustainable development, the issues of governance, and the need for international organizations and non- governmental organizations to work together.

The Rio+10 summit next year should review the implementation of the Agenda 21 and lay out a programme of action for sustainable development in the 21st century.

Some of the round tables already held had brought out that the consumption patterns of North America and Europe had deprived the developing countries of resources for sustainable development.

Underlining the need for new development models, and the view of poverty itself as causing environment pollution, Mr. Salim also spoke of what the world would achieve if as aimed absolute poverty could be halved by 2015. However, new ways and means would have to be found to move towards sustainable development.

Asked to reconcile all these with the fact that at Rio in 1992, then US President George Bush categorically declared that US consumption patterns were not up for negotiations, while his son George W.Bush, as President had now repudiated the Kyoto protocol, Mr. Salim spoke of need for civil society actions to change patterns of consumption and achieve sustainable development.

On the question of how the UN, an intergovernmental process, could sidestep governmental actions, and look to voluntary civil society moves, Mr. Salim that while they would have to persevere intergovernmental processes, changing consumption patterns required also civil society involvement.

Mr. Nitin Desai, the UN Under-Secretary General drew attention to the OECD ministerial meeting in May adopting a declaration on sustainable development, and to which the US was a party, and said it included a commitment to delink growth from material resource use to non-material and patterns of sustainable production and consumption. He also cited the conclusion of the Cartagena protocol on biosafety as proof of progress since Rio.

If all the governments had implemented the Rio declaration and Agenda 21, “we would have no need to have a Rio+10 summit, he added.”

Salim also saw a change in global political climate - democratic regimes all over the world and more active participation by civil society - and saw hope in this. – SUNS4939

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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