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The Road to Johannesburg: Setting the Agenda for the World Summit on Sustainable Development

Date & Time

Dec. 3, 2001
11:00pm – 11:00pm ET


Featuring Dr. Crispian Olver, Director-General, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Government of South Africa;

John F. Turner, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State (discussant);

Judith Ayres, Assistant Administrator for International Activities, Office of International Activities, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (discussant);

Alan Hecht, Director of International Environmental Affairs, National Security Council and Council on Environmental Quality (discussant);

S. Jacob Scherr, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council (chair);

Geoffrey D. Dabelko, Director, Environmental Change and Security Project;

Scott A. Hajost, Executive Director, IUCN (introductions)

By Robert Lalasz and Naomi Greengrass

December 4, 2001—Policymakers need to move beyond the principles and agenda established at the 1992 Rio United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and achieve implementation at the Johannesburg 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, according to Crispian Olver, South Africa's Director-General for Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Speaking publicly for one of the first times on the United States' approach to Johannesburg 2002, three high-level Bush administration officials said the White House largely concurs with South Africa's Summit priorities as set forth by Olver.

The Work Still to be Done

Crispian Olver

The state of the world, said Olver, can be broken down into three components:

* A global economy with increasing inequality despite unprecedented productivity and capital accumulation;
* A global society with unprecedented consumption and mobility, but where 1.1 billion people live in severe poverty; and
* A global environment with declining environmental assets and limited environmental rights, particularly for the poor.

While global infant mortality rates and adult illiteracy have fallen and per capita incomes have risen dramatically in recent years, Olver listed many other trends that continue to hinder universal prosperity:

* The world's population has doubled in the last 40 years and is projected to grow to 9.3 billion people in the next 50 years, with virtually all that growth in developing countries. "In 2050, 4.2 billion people will be living in countries unable to meet the basic requirement of 50 liters water per capita per day," said Olver.
* Although poverty has decreased in percentage terms, one to 1.1 billion people still live on less than $1/day. Three regions (Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America) are becoming systematically poorer, adding an average of 10 million newly-impoverished people per annum since 1990. "While we have a broadly increasing level of prosperity," said Olver, "in parts of the world there is increasing poverty and deprivation."
* 1.1 billion people remain undernourished and underweight. 1.5 billion live in water-scarce areas, and one billion live in environmentally fragile lands. Thirty-five million are HIV positive, and in the next five years, 15.5 million will die from AIDS in the 45 most affected countries.

Unsustainable Development and the Environment
Olver also stressed the mutually-reinforcing cycle of environmental degradation and unsustainable development. Thirty percent of irrigated lands, 40 percent of rain-fed areas, and 70 percent of range lands have already been severely degraded, he said. Rain forests are being destroyed at the highest rate in human history. By 2025, we will be using 70 percent of available fresh water supplies, and developed countries now dump 70 percent of their sewage and 95 percent of their industrial waste untreated into water courses.

Unsustainable development also has direct consequences on biodiversity and climate change, argued Olver. For example, he said, 70 percent of global fisheries are already depleted or fully exploited, and global fish stock catch is estimated to be declining by 660,000 tons/annum. One-third of the earth's biodiversity has been squeezed onto one percent of the planet's surface. Up to 25 percent of mammal and plant species are at significant risk of extinction.

As for climate change, Olver said that "we've already breached our CO2 absorptive capacity as a planet. Current impact studies project a three- to five-degree increase for global temperature over the next 50 years, leading to fairly profound impacts on habitat, biodiversity, droughts, floods, and food security."

"When these studies are modeled onto maps of South Africa," Olver added, "approximately 50 percent of our country in 50 years time will no longer have a climate that corresponds to anything we've got in South Africa today." These changes will have unknown effects, he said, on such elements as the country's agriculture, biodiversity, and susceptibility to malaria.

A New Global Deal
South Africa's position, said Olver, is that poverty and inequality today pose the greatest threats to sustainable global development. "Any program that we talk about at Johannesburg has got to involve a discussion about developed-developing country relationships in terms of governance, trade, investment, debt relief and others," Olver said. He added that governments cannot seriously tackle inequality on their own and must also seek out partnerships with industry and with the broader civil society.

The thrust of the Johannesburg Summit, Olver said, should be towards a "new global deal" that focuses on the three pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development, and the environment. Elements of the proposed deal, which South Africa will push at the Summit, include:

* Renewing the commitment to implement Agenda 21 (but not, Olver cautioned, a renegotiation of the Agenda).
* Formulating a plan to put global consumption and production patterns in line with the earth's capacity to renew its resources.
* Managing the environment as a global public good.
* Implementing the global commitment to combat poverty for sustainable development. "The commitment has already been made by heads of state at the Millennium Summit in the Millennium Declaration," said Olver, "which set out a very ambitious set of targets for tackling poverty and inequality. The only thing it forgot to do was to discuss how to do it."
* Addressing trade, finance, and investment issues that underpin the marginalization of Africa and the developing world. "In this context, we're extremely pleased with what happened at Doha and the kind of opening up of the development round at Doha," said Olver. "For the agenda of the Summit, it has enormously positive implications."
* Agreeing to reform and replenish global financing mechanisms for sustainable development, a process that might begin at the March 2002 International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico.
* Mobilizing resources and investment finances behind the sustainable development agenda and the New Partnership for African Development—an initiative by African heads of state to formulate a unified development strategy for the continent.
* Discussing how peace, stability, and security promote sustainable development.
* Agreeing on instruments to address gaps in the broader international governance framework as well as to implement equitable governance systems at the national level.

Olver stressed that the "global deal" has got to be "far more about implementation and delivery and far less about haggling over brackets and text." The Summit, he said, must emphasize clear targets as well as clear commitments to those targets and the strategies, delivery and monetary mechanisms, and resources being used to achieve them.

"A shopping list is inevitable when we discuss the Johannesburg agenda," Olver said, "since we are going to be dealing with a lot of issues and a lot of complex issues. But what is important is the broad framework that holds them together and the broad strategy that we're trying to achieve."

The U.S. Reaction
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State John F. Turner said he was delighted by Olver's overview of the issues. "His scope and his themes and his processes are going to work well with what this administration is thinking of," said Turner.

According to Turner, the Johannesburg Summit is getting "a lot of high-level focus" in the Bush administration, and U.S. officials are identifying "some exciting themes" with which to build achievable results at the Summit. "I look to Johannesburg as a great challenge but also a great opportunity for the U.S. to show leadership with its partners to indeed help achieve a more sustainable goal for our future, to address poverty, and to truly integrate the idea of environmental stewardship with the economy and economic and social sustainability," said Turner.

Turner then outlined a number of specific areas in which he said the United States hopes to make progress at Johannesburg:

* Governance and local capacity building—"If we're going to get the kind of stability and investment that's necessary," said Turner, "we simply have to have predictability for private investment ... whether it's rule of law or regulations that work."
* Private sector: "I'm convinced that the role of the private sector is absolutely essential," said Turner. "The amount of dollars available worldwide for capital investment is five to 10 times that which we could even dream of in government assistance. So our challenge is to leverage the ingenuity and resources of the private sector, especially in the developing world."
* Finance: "We need to rethink the whole strategy for development assistance," said Turner. "We need to figure out how we can leverage that with the private sector and how we do it smarter." On the recent negotiations over export credit agencies, Turner said that the United States was taking a "strong and lone stand," but that the issue has as much impact on resource stewardship as any other measure.
* Other priority areas: For infectious diseases, Turner said that the United States is committing $300 million this year and "hoping to leverage that to address HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB." Other issues Turner mentioned as important for sustainable development were: water; climate; energy; fisheries and marine resources (especially declining fish stocks); forestry (including implementation of the Tropical Forestry Act); land degradation; and biodiversity.

John F. Turner
"This has to be a collective effort between government, the private sector, corporations, and the NGOs," said Turner. "But to me it's an exciting opportunity for the United States and the world to build a new way of doing business and make a significant and lasting commitment to sustainability around the world."

Judith Ayres of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that she had emerged from discussions with Olver and colleagues with "a resounding sense of resonance, harmony, and eventually (we hope) symphony. . .as we put together the agenda for the WWSD in Johannesburg." She said the United States is hoping that the Summit will provide "forward-looking leadership for domestic efforts and international cooperation in the years to come."

Ayres cited several recurring themes that will be priorities for the United States at Johannesburg: poverty reduction; the necessity of recognizing that healthy economies go hand in hand with healthy environments; and a redoubling of efforts to engage industry and the private sector in the pursuit of sustainable development worldwide. On this last point, Ayres cited the long-standing EPA Energy Star program as exemplary of the voluntary industrial initiatives she hoped will be examined at the Summit. EPA programs in Africa, she said, are already leading the way towards sustainable development in areas from urban-water-utility management to climate technology transfer.

Hidden Capital and Concrete Results
Alan Hecht of the National Security Council and the White House Council on Environmental Quality said that, although the Bush administration is still refining its approach to Johannesburg, he is "beginning to see a story emerge" from his conversations with those at other agencies along the lines of Olver's three pillars of sustainable development.

Hecht said that poverty alleviation and development are crucial to President Bush's overall global strategy, and that the United States would be examining many vehicles toward these goals. But Hecht stressed the role of the private sector because "it simply dwarfs the amount of other money available." Nine out of ten available dollars for investment worldwide, said Hecht, are in the private sector.

So what are the barriers to sustainable development investment? Hecht cited an A.T. Kearney survey (2001 FDI Confidence Index) of more than 1000 CEOs worldwide that shows many companies are still reluctant to invest in middle and lower-income countries. He also cited Hernando de Soto's book "The Mystery of Capital," which argues that there are huge amounts of capital in the developing world going unutilized because local and national laws do not allow property to be leveraged into working capital. The challenge for Joahnnesburg, said Hecht, is to "find ways to stimulate that hidden capital" as well as to make capital more available to the world's marginalized by making developing countries more attractive for private-sector investment.

The social pillar of sustainable development is also crucial to the mission of Johannesburg, said Hecht. "What could be more unsustainable," he said, "than people who have no sense of hope, no education or who are stricken with AIDS and other diseases?" While the United States will continue to offer government assistance, Hecht added that Johannesburg should underscore the responsibility developing-country governments have to their own people. "We care about many people in the world," said Hecht, "but their own governments have to care more." The Summit's social component, said Hecht, should include foci on education and opportunity creation.

Finally, Hecht said the environmental challenge for Johannesburg will be to focus on a narrower set of issues in "for which there is really high risk and for which action will really help people, and to give it political focus and momentum." Such issues, Hecht said, include: clean water; energy for the two billion who don't have it; forestry; soil; coral reefs and fisheries; health; and proper response to emergency conditions and disasters and improving capabilities for dealing with them.

Overall, Hecht echoed Olver's calls for an emphasis on practical implementation at Johannesburg. "How many wells have to be built?" said Hecht. "How many pipelines? By whom and where and how is it done? The White House wants concrete results. It wants this meeting to be a vision and a direction for the future, and it wants it narrowly focused and be able to say in 2002. . .that we're giving hope to people around the world." In response to Olver's call for a new global deal, Hecht said: "We're not afraid of a deal, a compact. But it's important to see what's in it."

Agenda 21: Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of action for achieving global sustainable development adopted by the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development. Agenda 21 goals require global, regional, national, and local efforts.
Millennium Summit: Heads of state and/or government of UN member states met in New York from 6-8 September 2000 for the Millennium Summit, where they discussed such issues as globalization, security, poverty, and the future role of the United Nations.
Capacity building: Capacity building refers to efforts to enhance the governing, managerial, and administrative skills and capabilities of governments and nongovernmental organizations within developing countries. Development professionals hope that through capacity building efforts, developing countries will gain more efficient and democratic governance and ultimately become less dependent on foreign assistance.
Export credit agencies: Export credit and investment insurance agencies are public (or quasi-public) agencies in developed countries that provide loans, guarantees, credits, and insurance to domestic corporations to encourage business ventures overseas in risky countries, particularly in the developing world. These investments have included environmentally-sensitive projects, such as oil pipelines, mining, and industrial plants.


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Environmental Change and Security Program

The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) explores the connections between environmental change, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy.  Read more

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more

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