the paradigm

Fernando Henrique Cardoso says that in many ways the Earth has slipped backwards over the last decade, and pledges to help revive the Rio spirit in Johannesburg

The world has changed since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 – but unfortunately, in many respects, not for the better.

Some countries are reluctant to incorporate the concept of sustainable development into their strategic government planning, or to fulfil the commitments of Agenda 21. They are even delaying their contribution to international efforts to alleviate the impact of human activity on the environment.

The results achieved over the past ten years are worrying. The Convention on Biological Diversity, which broke new ground through envisaging an international system of access to genetic resources, has not yet succeeded in bringing about fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of exploiting biodiversity.

The Kyoto Protocol, which we hope will finally come into force this year, has not been ratified by large countries chiefly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.

There has been no structural change to unsustainable models of production and consumption in the developed world. The throwaway culture still prevails, producing unsustainable levels of residues and waste.

The principle established in Rio that all nations have common but differentiated responsibilities for preserving living conditions on the planet has not been translated into additional resources, nor has it led to the transfer of clean technologies to developing countries.

On the contrary, we are witnessing the predominance of ideas that are more conservative than those of ten years ago. Concerns about the price to be paid for sustainability, and about sacrifices that might have to be made in economic growth in order to guarantee future living conditions, now determine attitudes towards environmental issues.

As if it were possible to measure the well-being of a society only by such criteria as national earnings or gross domestic product! An increase in a country’s revenues or GDP does not always automatically translate into a better quality of life for its citizens. Many areas of development depend on suitable public policies, on responsible and ethical business practices, on greater social awareness, on voluntary work and philanthropy. Indeed, development depends on all sectors of society working together to achieve sustainability.

Progressive governance
Such development is part of what is commonly called ‘progressive governance’. This aims to present an alternative to predatory development, which destroys nature and even threatens the survival of the human race. Broadly speaking, it depends on democracy and the participation of the population in the decision-making process.

It is not easy to carry through a paradigm change of this magnitude. Large-scale mobilization is needed to counteract the hardening positions of some actors and the timidity of others.

This is what we hope will happen at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August, which will take stock of the decade since the Rio Summit and try to overcome the obstacles that prevent the full implementation of its decisions.

It will be a unique opportunity for countries that are key players on environmental issues to attend in force, so as to raise awareness among the international community. Organizations representing civil society also need to be there in significant numbers. Public opinion has advanced further than that of conservative governments or environmentally irresponsible companies and can play a part in moving things forward.

Responding to challenges
We need to guarantee that the Johannesburg Summit will launch innovative initiatives for sustainable development. Without losing sight of concerns traditionally associated with the battle to save the environment – like conserving the rainforests – it is imperative that we respond to the new challenges of our age. We need to promote the sustainable use of water, to find new sources of renewable energy, and to clarify the link between poverty and the depletion of natural resources.
An increase in a country’s revenues or GDP does not always automatically translate into a better quality of life for its citizens
Africa, a continent dear to us all, symbolizes how much people can suffer because the world has failed to find an alternative way of achieving development.

I am pleased to be able to say with certainty that Brazil has made some progress in this direction over the past ten years. Partly because we hosted the Earth Summit in 1992, Brazilians are now very conscious of the importance of sustainable development to their future.

It was gratifying to see the Kyoto Protocol recently receiving the approval of our National Congress in response to strong public demand. Brazil has made an enormous effort in combating poverty. It is already reflected in changes in such social indicators as infant mortality and schooling and, before long, it will certainly be reflected in economic indicators as well.

Brazil is not in a position to provide economic resources to help other countries fight poverty, but we can contribute with our experience, through examples of successful social welfare or personnel training programmes, or even through the participation of Brazilian companies in such sectors as infrastructure and sanitation. We realize that a healthier, better educated population means higher and better productivity within a virtuous circle of sustainable development.

Brazil is aware of its responsibility to preserve the ‘Rio legacy’ and will bring a constructive approach to the Johannesburg Summit. Ours is the approach of a nation that understands that sustainable development means including and integrating global, national and local aspects. Above all, it is the approach of a nation pledged to the vision of the whole of humanity joined in universal solidarity as citizens of our planet 

Fernando Henrique Cardoso is President of Brazil.

PHOTOGRAPH: Rafael I. Costa/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Agenda of hope | Changing the paradigm | Only one Earth | Beyond brackets | African renaissance | Unmissable opportunity | At a glance: GEO-3 | Asking the people | Recapturing momentum | Taking the measure of unsustainability | Breaking the grid lock | Training for transformation | Bring big business to account | Out of the changing room | ‘Dear delegates...’ | We need a dream | Two sides of the same coin: before and after Johannesburg| Quality environmental data for all

Complementary articles in other issues:
Klaus Toepfer: Prospects for WSSD: Towards Johannesburg
(Mountains and Ecotourism) 2002
Mohammed Valli Moosa: Achieving the vision
(Chemicals and the environment) 2002
Juan Mayr Maldonado: Open doors
(Chemicals and the environment) 2000

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
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