United Nations Under-Secretary General
and Executive Director, UNEP
Few more momentous endeavours have ever been undertaken
than the attempt to change today's patterns of production and consumption.
The worldwide switch to sustainable development will require a revolution
as great, in many ways, as the establishment of agriculture thousands of
years ago or the Industrial Revolution that began in the 18th century -
and it will have to be completed in a fraction of the time. And yet the
task is not just impressively great and urgently necessary: it is also
The momentum of the present patterns is awesome indeed. It took from the
dawn of human history to the beginning of this century for the world
economy to grow to $600 billion. Now it increases by more than that every
two years. The worldwide use of energy is rising by 2.5 per cent a year,
while consumption of water and minerals has
more than doubled since 1960. And four-fifths of this accelerating
consumption is by just one-fifth of the world's population.
These patterns are ecologically unsustainable: they are already straining
the natural capacity of the planet, even at present levels of economic
activity. They are socially unsustainable: no human society can long
withstand the inequalities they perpetuate and increase. And they are
spiritually unsustainable, for humanity cannot live by materialism alone.
Left unchecked, they will drive economies and the environment
Changing course is going to be difficult, but it has enormous attractions.
Far from requiring a return to hairshirt economies, it holds out the best
prospect of future prosperity. The demand for new techniques and
technologies for sustainable living offers business that most valuable
asset, a spur to innovation. And the new challenges of sustainability
offer developing countries the chance to 'leapfrog' over industrial
economies into the world of tomorrow, instead of running to catch up with
increasingly outmoded systems. The prime responsibility for initiating
change, and reducing the consumption of resources and the production of
wastes, nevertheless rests with the industrialized countries who have
mainly created the present crisis.
The challenge is to replace economies that depend on an ever increasing
throughput of goods and materials, with those that rely on more durable
products and services, on conserving resources and on maximizing
efficiency. Both supply and demand must be tackled simultaneously if this
is to be done. Producers must develop new products, technologies and
management practices - including cleaner production - that will increase
the efficiency with which they use resources five to ten times over. And
consumers will have to demand more eco-efficient products.
Both regulations and economic incentives will be needed. Consumers will
have to have much more reliable and relevant information - through
ecolabelling, for example, if they are to make rational decisions. And
prices will have to reflect the true environmental costs of production.
UNEP - in response to the request of its Governing Council, and in liaison
with the Commission on Sustainable Development - has made the promotion of
sustainable production and consumption patterns one of its five priority
programmes. With limited - and shrinking - resources, it is nevertheless
at the centre of the world's efforts to develop both awareness of the need
for change and the responses that will bring it about. This issue of
Our Planet is one contribution to the momentous task