Department of Public Information - News and Media Division
30 May 2002
ISSUE IS NOT ENVIRONMENT VERSUS DEVELOPMENT, BUT HOW
TO INTEGRATE THEM, SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS
Secretary-General Kofi Annan is the author of the following text entitled “A chance to secure our future”:
Imagine a world of relentless drought, storms and famine; of islands, deltas and coastal regions flooded by rising sea levels; a world where millions die of air and water pollution, while millions more flee in search of safer places to live, and yet others fight each other for scarce natural resources.
Alternatively, imagine a world of clean water and air; of green technologies, where homes, transport and industry are all energy-efficient; where everyone shares the benefits of development and industrialization, and of the earth’s natural resources, yet those benefits can be sustained from one generation to the next.
The choice between those visions is ours to make.
One school of thought depicts all economic growth and development as leading inexorably to the apocalypse. Another downplays the real ecological problems we do face, or assures us that some spontaneous technological breakthrough will come to our rescue. Neither approach is helpful, and neither is accurate. We human beings can thrive in the future, as we did in the past, by living in harmony with our natural environment. But, at present, we are failing to do so.
Over the past two centuries, remarkable gains in living standards encouraged some of us to believe that natural limits to human well-being had been conquered. But now the sheer number of human beings, the natural desire of all of them to share the prosperity so far enjoyed only by a few, and the unprecedented rates at which we are using energy and other resources, have taken us into uncharted territory. We should no longer imagine either that one fifth of humanity can indefinitely enjoy prosperity while much larger numbers live lives of deprivation and squalor, or that patterns of production and consumption, which destroy the environment, can bring us lasting prosperity.
The issue is not environment versus development, or ecology versus economy. It is how to integrate the two.
We thought we had found a way out of this predicament 10 years ago, with the agreements reached at the Earth Summit in Rio. But progress since then has been slower than we hoped. Developed countries, especially, have not lived up to the promises they made -- either to protect the environment or to help the developing world. Discussions on finance and the economy, from the local to the global, still treat the environment like an unwelcome guest.
Now we have another chance to get this right: the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in three months’ time.
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Of course, one summit by itself will not change history. But I believe this summit will be seen to have marked a turning point, if we win clear commitments to change, and new initiatives to make it happen, in five specific areas:
· Water -- In order to save the more than 3 million people who die each year from water-related diseases, we must improve water and sanitation services, and access to them, by finding new money for water development and management. And in order to save two thirds of the world’s population from facing serious water shortages in the decades ahead, we must reduce leakage and waste, especially in agriculture (“more crop per drop”); and provide for regional management of watersheds that are vital to more than one country.
· Energy -- In order to give poor people a chance to escape from poverty, we must provide clean energy for the
2 billion people who now lack it. And in order to make sure this advance is not accompanied by disastrous climate change, we must improve energy efficiency, use more renewable energy, implement the Kyoto Protocol, put an end to perverse subsidies and tax incentives, and fund research on new types of clean energy and carbon sequestration.
· Agriculture -- In order to ensure that food production keeps pace with the number of mouths to feed, we must find ways to halt land degradation and reverse the sharp decline in agricultural productivity, especially in Africa. That means planning and managing land use more responsibly, implementing the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and funding research on new drought-resistant crops.
· Biodiversity -- And in order to halt the galloping extinction of other species, which has devastating implications for human life, we must clamp down on illegal and unsustainable fishing and logging practices; we must help people who currently depend on such activities to find other, more sustainable ways of earning their living; and we must fund new research on ecosystems and biodiversity.
In all these areas, there are things we can do now -- with the technologies already at our disposal, provided we give the right incentives. But science will bring us many more solutions if we make the right investment in research. Knowledge has always been the key to human development. It will also be the key to sustainability.
This agenda will sound impossibly ambitious to some, disappointingly narrow to others. But I believe it represents the essential, achievable start that we must make, if we are to preserve the hope of a decent life for our children and grandchildren. And that is what Johannesburg is all about.
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