Colin L. Powell says that sustainable development is a moral, humanitarian – and security – imperative, and calls for a sustained global effort to achieve it

The World Summit on Sustainable Development comes barely 20 months after we welcomed in the new century. Despite the stories and images of trouble we read in our newspapers and view on our television screens, this is a time of great opportunities to expand peace, prosperity and freedom. The spread of democracy and market economies, combined with breakthroughs in technology, permits us to dream of a day when, for the first time in history, most of humanity will be free of the ravages of tyranny and poverty.

We live in a century of promise. Our responsibility now is to turn it into a century of hopes fulfilled, a century of sustained and sustainable development that enriches all our peoples without impoverishing our planet.

When we talk of sustainable development, we are talking of the means to unlock human potential through the interlocking threads of economic development based on sound economic policies, social development based on investment in health and education, and responsible stewardship of the environment. Sustainable development is for the United States, and for me personally, a compelling moral and humanitarian issue.

But sustainable development is also a security imperative. Poverty, environmental degradation and despair are destroyers – of people, of societies, of nations. This unholy trinity can destabilize countries, even entire regions.

A decade ago, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 172 countries adopted a wide-ranging blueprint for action to achieve sustainable development worldwide. While there have been ups and downs, and progress has been uneven, we have seen real improvements since then.

For example, over the past decade, the proportion of people in developing countries struggling to make ends meet on less than $1 per day has dropped from 29 per cent to 24 per cent. Infant mortality has declined by more than 10 per cent, and mortality among children under five is nearly 20 per cent less.

Countries that have opened their economies have done better than those that remain closed. A World Bank study found that over the course of the 1990s, the 24 developing countries that increased their global trade and investment most also increased income per person much more than those that did not – six percentage points more, in fact. In those countries, the number of people living on less than $1 per day dropped by 120 million between 1993 and 1998.

We have also seen the conclusion and implementation of important environmental agreements, such as those to reduce substances harmful to the air we breathe and to control the spread of deserts.

But, while we have progressed along the road to hope, we have far to go in a world where one person in five still suffers in extreme poverty, where a baby’s chances of surviving to adulthood still depends on the accident of where he or she is born, and where illegal logging still devastates forests.

Mapping the way forward
Over the past nine months, a series of major conferences and negotiations has helped map the way forward. The Doha Development Round of World Trade Organization negotiations, the World Food Summit review conference in Rome, and the G8 Summit in Canada all forged stronger agreement on the path to development. The ‘Monterrey Consensus’, adopted by leaders and ministers from 171 countries at the United Nations Conference on Financing and Development, was an historic affirmation of the need to mobilize all sources of development financing, which also proclaimed the centrality of ’sound policies, good governance at all levels, and rule of law’ to sustainable development. As Hernando De Soto has so aptly said, ‘the hidden architecture of sustainable development [is] the law’.

The next stop on this long road is the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The United States will be taking three very important messages to Johannesburg. First and foremost, we are committed to supporting sustainable development. President Bush left no doubt on this score in his March 14 speech at the InterAmerican Development Bank, when he stated on behalf of the American people that: ‘the advance of development is a central commitment of American foreign policy’.

We will also carry the message that sustainable development must begin at home, with sound policies and good governance. Both official assistance and private capital are most effective when they go to governments that rule justly, invest in their people, and encourage economic freedom.

Official assistance is important. That is why President Bush announced that the Administration will seek Congressional approval to increase America’s core development assistance by 50 per cent over the next three years, resulting in a $5 billion annual increase over current levels. These additional funds will go to a new Millennium Challenge Account that will fund initiatives to help developing nations that are strongly committed to good governance, the health and education of their people, and good economic policies that foster enterprise and entrepreneurship.

But, as important as official assistance is to improving people’s lives, trade and private capital flows are even more significant. Trade dwarfs aid. America alone buys $450 billion in goods from the developing world every year, some eight times the amount developing countries receive in aid from all sources.

Official development assistance is also only a fraction of private capital flows. In 1999, for example, the private sector accounted for 82 per cent of the nearly $300 billion in long-term resource flows to developing countries.

Attracting this money isn't easy. Capital is a coward. It flees from corruption and bad policies, conflict and unpredictability. It shuns ignorance, disease and illiteracy.

Capital goes where it is welcomed and where investors can be confident of a return on the resources they have put at risk. It goes to countries where women can work, children can read, and entrepreneurs can dream.

Seizing opportunities
But good policies alone are not enough. People must be able to seize the opportunities. So the third message we will take to Johannesburg is that governments, civil society and the private sector must work in partnership to mobilize development resources to unleash human productivity, reduce poverty, promote healthy environments and foster sustainable growth.

We are already deploying the power of partnerships. For example, the United States and South Africa have initiated the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. This innovative partnership with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry, and other governments, will help slow and even reverse deforestation in the Congo Basin. It will not only create national parks where none before existed, but will also ensure the livelihoods of those living in and around the forest and strengthen the ability of governments to enforce their forest conservation laws.

The New Nigeria Foundation is a unique partnership linking oil companies, NGOs and local communities on issues ranging from information technology to agriculture.

The Water for the Poor Alliance marries the resources and leadership of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation with civil society and USAID to provide potable water to 400,000 rural West Africans.

We also support the Access Initiative, in which the World Resources Institute has partnered with more than 25 civil society organizations in nine countries to assess how well governments are providing access to information, permitting public participation, and providing justice to their citizens.

America’s vision for Johannesburg is to build on these three messages – commitment, good policies and partnerships – by inviting developed and developing nations to join us in opening our economies and societies to growth, for growth is the key to raising people out of poverty.

We will also invite developed and developing nations to join us in providing freedom, security and hope for present and future generations, while providing all our people with the opportunity for healthy and productive lives.

And, recognizing that we have only one home, and it is Earth, we will invite developed and developing nations to join us in serving as good stewards of our natural resources and our environment.

To this end, we will initially work for concrete actions in seven areas essential to sustainable development – health, energy, water, sustainable agriculture and rural development, education, oceans and coastal management, and forests. We will work to unite governments, the private sector and civil society in partnership to strengthen democratic institutions of governance, open markets, and mobilize and use all development resources more effectively.

We are already doing a great deal in these areas. For example, the United States has provided $500 million to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria; launched a $500 million Mother and Child HIV/AIDS Prevention initiative for Africa and the Caribbean; doubled funds for the African Education Initiative for training and scholarships; and increased funding for agricultural development assistance programmes by 25 per cent.

In our budget request for Fiscal Year 2003, we have asked for $4.5 billion for climate spending, an increase of $700 million over this year. This request includes funding for basic science, technology research and development, business and agriculture incentives, and international activities.

President Bush has also taken the lead in creating a new international norm to increase the use of grants instead of loans for the poorest countries, especially in assistance from multilateral development banks. This approach, endorsed by the leaders of the industrialized countries at the recent G8 Summit, will complement existing initiatives to help alleviate the crushing burden of debt facing highly indebted poor countries.

Combining assets
But in all of these areas, we can and must do more. We need governments, businesses and the organizations of civil society, individually and in partnerships, to work in support of these pressing human needs. That is why we established the Global Development Alliance to combine the assets of government, business and civil society to work in partnership on implementing sustainable development programmes.

Sustainable development is a marathon, not a sprint. It does not follow from a single event like the Johannesburg Summit, important as it is, but from a sustained global effort by many players over a long period of time. Sustainable development requires institutions, policies, people and effective partnerships to carry our common effort beyond Johannesburg and far into the future.

The United States is committed to building a world where children can grow up free from hunger, disease and illiteracy. A world where all men and women can reach their human potential free from racial or gender discrimination. A world where all people can enjoy the richness of a diverse and healthy planet. And a world of hopes fulfilled for all God’s children 

Colin L. Powell is Secretary of State, United States of America.


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
Issue on The Environment Millennium, 2000

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
About the AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment