to keep

Hilde Johnson
says that the World Summit on Sustainable Development provided a basis for action, and urges rich countries to take full responsibility to deliver their commitments

Three months have passed since we concluded the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It is time to fulfil our promises.

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio succeeded in putting sustainable development at the forefront of the political agenda. An important break-through was made. Since then, a lot of dirty water has passed under the bridge. So have many of our promises. We – the international community – have failed to fulfil our commitments from Rio. And the failure lies first and foremost with the rich countries.

As the millennium turned, we were given a chance to restate our obligations and our intent to promote development and to reduce poverty.

At the Millennium Summit the international community adopted the eight Millennium Goals. We have committed ourselves to halving poverty by 2015. In Monterrey, the international community had the chance to let their words be accompanied with money. Important – though not sufficient – progress in securing funding for development was made.

Then we reached Johannesburg. The journey from Rio had taken ten years, and a lot seemed to have been lost on the way. Protecting the environment turned out to be a much tougher battle ten years later. Progress had been made in strengthening the commitments and agreeing on conventions. Still, follow-up was lacking. In poverty reduction what we needed was to go forward, but the international community took several steps backwards. The gap between rich and poor increased, and official development assistance declined significantly.

That is partly why the World Summit on Sustainable Development differed from Rio. It put poverty reduction at its core. As stated in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, eradicating poverty is not only the greatest challenge facing the world today, but a requirement for sustainable development.

A basis for action
Despite the less than ideal outcome of the World Summit, it provides – together with Rio and the Millennium Development Goals – our basis for action. It is on this basis that we have to move ahead. It is on this basis that we have to act. Our commitment to fight poverty, to promote social and economic development, and to protect the environment stands. It is time to keep our promises, and fulfil our obligations. It is time for deeds, not words.

Fighting poverty must be at the core of our efforts. To be won, this fight must be based on a strong partnership between the developing countries and the rich countries. A ‘partnership deal’, a compact, was made in Monterrey. The rich countries committed themselves to give debt relief, increase their aid and open their markets for more trade from the developing countries. The developing countries committed themselves to improve their governance and strengthen their policies. The main vehicle for this partnership is the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, to be shaped by national authorities and supported by the international community.

Norway is insistent on fulfilling our part of the deal. The baseline for our effort is outlined in the Action Plan for Combating Poverty in the South towards 2015, launched by the Norwegian Government in March 2002.

  • We are steadily increasing our aid budget, and have committed to channel 1 per cent of our gross national income to aid by 2005.

  • We are continuously pushing for broader, deeper and faster debt relief, not only for the heavily indebted poor countries but also for post-conflict and middle-income countries. Norway will continue to be in the forefront on this.

  • We are actively participating in the World Trade Organization (WTO) trade negotiations – with a development focus. We are working at increasing market access and in this way aligning our trade policy with our general development policy. Norway provides duty free and quota free access of all goods from the least developed countries.

Remembering Rio, we know that aid, debt relief and trade all have to increase within an environmentally sustainable framework.

We know that the world’s poor are often directly dependent on natural resources and ecological systems to meet their needs. We know that they are dependent on nature to lift themselves out of poverty. We know that fertile ground secures food – and income. We know that clean, safe water and adequate sanitation has clear health implications. And that 1.1 billion people lack access to safe water. I can only refer to the statement made by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the Millennium Report: ‘No single measure would do more to reduce disease and save lives in the developing world than bringing safe water and adequate sanitation to all.’ It is most fitting that 2003 is the International Year of Freshwater.

Threatened livelihoods
We also know that, when an environmental disaster strikes, the poor are the first to suffer the consequences. Land degradation, desertification and drought are threatening the livelihoods of more than a billion people in more than 100 countries. In Africa alone, over 38 million people risk starvation. Drought and floods have contributed heavily to this situation. And it is not only the environment that is disaster-struck; it is humanity.
When an environmental disaster strikes, the poor are the first to suffer the consequences
We have just learned, through recent studies from the University of Oslo, that the humanitarian disaster in the Sahel in the 1970s and 1980s was triggered by industrial emissions in Europe and North America, which peaked in the 1980s. We now have a new humanitarian crisis on our hands. The Executive Director of the World Food Programme, James T. Morris, says the crisis in Africa is part of a worrying new global phenomenon of shifting weather patterns, which have led to unparalleled natural disasters. It is my claim that, if these shifts are man-made, they are made by us – the rich countries. It is we – the rich countries – that carry the main responsibility for the global environmental problems. And it is with us that the main responsibility for securing sustainable development lies. This responsibility was not duly reflected in the outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Supportive partnerships
But this is no excuse not to deliver. It is on the present basis that we will have to provide our support to our partner countries and implement environmental measures in our own countries. We can not put ourselves in a situation where we – the rich countries – fail to act, and leave the developing countries to pick up the bill.

A first step in the right directionwas taken in Johannesburg, when we reached the important conclusion that multilateral environmental agreements are to be treated equally with the WTO rules. This conclusion reflects that the two legal regimes serve equally important purposes. We have to ensure that this mutual equality and supportiveness is retained in the WTO negotiations.

But this is not sufficient. We need a more appropriate international institutional architecture in the environmental field to ensure effective implementation of international environmental treaties. Furthermore, we need to ensure that environmental concerns are taken into account, and as seriously, as are financial and other concerns.

Addressing interlinkages
We also need to work with our partner countries. Norway has to this effect entered into a partnership agreement with UNEP to address the interlinkages between poverty, environment and trade in African countries. This partnership has two main objectives. Firstly, we aim to strengthen the environmental management capacity at national and local levels. This will again serve as a basis for poverty alleviation. Secondly, we seek to improve the understanding of the linkages between poverty, environment and trade, and thereby promote coherent and consistent approaches to the poverty and environment challenges. It is our ambition that this partnership will help our partner countries take the responsibility for designing national environmental action plans and incorporating them in their national poverty reduction strategies.

But before that, we – the rich countries – have to do our part. When – not if – we do so, and deliver our promises from Monterrey and in protecting the environment, it might be time to make another deal – another compact – with our partner countries. When we take the full share of our responsibility, we can ask our partner countries to take theirs. Then a more sustainable world is possible

Hilde Johnson is Minister of International Development, Norway.

PHOTOGRAPH: Duan xing-yun/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Looking through new lenses | Development with a human face | Trade can transform | Achieving win–win–win | People | Promises to keep | As precious as gold | Expanding the circle | At a glance: Globalization, poverty, trade and the environment | Acting local | Cooperation is catching | Books & products | Getting through the bottleneck | Investing in the environment | Bishkek Mountain Platform | You can’t breathe money | We will succeed | Fair trade? Fair question


Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Global Environment Facility, 2002
Issue on World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002
Issue on Poverty, Health and the Environment, 2001
Børge Brende: Walking the talk (Beyond 2000) 2002

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