Two sides of the same coin:
before and after Johannesburg

Jaime Matas Palau

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg is one of the very few milestones in history that mark a ‘before’ and ‘after’ – a ‘before’ and ‘after’ in the international process towards sustainable development, initiated ten years ago in Rio.

WSSD must be approached with a great sense of responsibility, taking into account both sides of this coin. International commitment to sustainable development will either receive a fresh and definitive impetus or be condemned to lethargy.

It is our duty as leaders to ensure the Summit’s success. The European Union is firmly committed to this end and willing to play a key role in global efforts to achieve a balanced and sustainable development at all levels and a better future for all people – an end to which we should all be committed, whether from the North or the South, on the basis of common but differentiated responsibilities.

At the Rio Summit the international community made a commitment to move towards a new development model that would combine economic, social and environmental objectives in a balanced way, ensuring our own well-being as well as that of future generations. Rio established the foundations of this new model, and highly ambitious commitments were made for its achievement. Although many concrete initiatives for sustainable development have since been implemented, progress has by any measure been slow. During the intervening decade, pressures on the environment and natural resources have been ever increasing; poverty has increased in absolute terms; and we have been unable to change the unsustainable production and consumption patterns that link economic growth and environmental degradation; neither have we given globalization an appropriate role in sustainable development.

For the European Union, keeping these problems in check is a priority and we will go to Johannesburg with a clear agenda for change. It is essential that we recognize the links between extreme poverty and environmental degradation, as well as the negative impact of unsustainable production and consumption patterns on poverty and the environment. We are aware that solving global problems requires global action on the part of the international community – both in the North and the South, of governments and civil society, of corporations and international organizations. The EU believes that Johannesburg must result in a global agreement that reflects the participation of all development actors, incorporating their different views and contributions, since only then can we ensure implementation. We will only be able to make sustainable development a reality if we face up to the political challenges inherent to the radical changes required for the implementation of this new model.

Johannesburg is an historical event, and we must all be aware of what we are trying to achieve and what is expected of us. This is no time for renegotiating the commitments made in Rio ten years ago, but a time to take action to bridge the gap between rhetoric and facts, using the mechanisms necessary to turn those commitments into reality. In the EU we see Johannesburg as a unique opportunity for the international community to reaffirm and strengthen its commitment to the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21 and the development aims of the Millennium Declaration as well as those agreed at various international UN conferences since 1992. Once this has been clearly established as our starting point, Johannesburg’s outcome must focus on action and on a limited number of well-defined initiatives. The challenge is to negotiate and arrive at an action plan with ambitious objectives, achievable through effective collaboration between all of us. For this to happen, we must set down clear and concrete mechanisms for implementation, as well as a detailed timetable for putting them into practice. The identification of five priority areas by the United Nations Secretary-General is an essential guide for achieving this.

For the EU, WSSD is an integral part of the process in search of a global agreement, embracing the Doha Development Agenda, the International Conference of Monterrey and the ‘World Food Summit: Five Years Later’. Johannesburg offers an exceptional opportunity to achieve this global partnership, which would allow us to work for peace, prosperity and security for all on the basis of good governance. Such governance is a requirement ‘sine qua non’ of sustainable development, and must be built on the political pillars of democracy: the rule of law; the defence of human rights; gender equity; the fight against corruption and terrorism; respect for and promotion of cultural diversity, and dialogue between cultures. It is essential for the EU that the results obtained in Johannesburg be consistent. Its policy declaration, plan of action and voluntary agreements must be mutually reinforcing, and should contain solid and balanced commitments to all three dimensions of sustainable development, embracing all countries as well as international institutions, civil society and the corporate sector.

Although in Bali we made substantial progress in negotiating the action plan and a wide consensus was achieved on problem areas, some critical issues remain on which no agreement was reached. It is essential that we make concrete efforts to overcome the distances separating our positions regarding the commitments of the international community. Only then shall we be able to make a success of the Summit. In the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Johannesburg is a second opportunity for our Earth, a second opportunity to realize the pledges and commitments made in Rio. We must be aware of our responsibilities, for this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss  

Jaime Matas Palau is Minister for the Environment, Spain.

PHOTOGRAPH: Nauyen Hung/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:
Issue on Food and Sustainable Development 1996, including
Oscar Zamora: The real roots of security
Abdou-Salam Ouedraogo and Ruth Raymond: Woodman, spare those genes!
Tewolde Egziabher: Safety Denied (Looking Forward) 1999
Gurdial Nijar: Elephants, mouse-deer and genetic modification (Looking Forward) 1999
L. Val Giddings: A new green revolution (Looking Forward) 1999