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Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2002
Ensuring sustainable livelihoods:

challenges for governments, corporates, and civil society at Rio+10
8 - 11 February 2002, New Delhi

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DSDS 2002: Valedictory session , 11 February 2002

Leadership for sustainable livelihoods
Smt. Sheila Dikshit
Hon’ble Chief Minister of Delhi

  1. Major societal changes require leadership with vision and commitment to causes that are larger than issues of immediate interest. The challenge of sustainable development requires leadership at an outstanding level if we are to ensure that this planet is liveable for our children and their children. This is as much a moral issue as an economic imperative. It would be useful to recall President Carter’s call during the later 1970s to treat energy independence for the US as "the moral equivalent of war". What we face today in respect of the challenge for sustainable development is also the "moral equivalent of war".
  2. Two major inputs would be required by leaders in the 21st century, which include
    1. Defining economic welfare in terms that are distinct from the mistaken notion of treating GNP as the sole measure of economic welfare and wellbeing.
    2. Ensuring that civil society is involved in this exercise both at the stage of conceptualization of programmes of action and their implementation.

In the first of these challenges we would have to ensure that proper indicators and information systems are established for measuring the impact on society of income disparities, the prevalence of poverty, the non-availability of employment opportunities, and a whole range of variables on the degradation of natural resources and the environment. The lack of provision of clean air, proper drinking water, sanitation facilities, and – particularly in the case of rural areas – soil quality and healthy, biomass resources impact directly of human welfare. Yet, these impacts do not enter into an assessment of the GNP of a nation. We, therefore, need to change our measurement of economic growth and development not only at the macro level but also at a decentralized level on a matching basis. It is for the leaders of society to articulate these issues and create a debate whereby thinking and action can be altered in the right direction.

As for the involvement of the public, it is not enough to say that democracy based on political actions by itself ensures people’s participation. The leadership in any democracy is in danger of being distanced from the people except during elections. And in any case, the kind of interaction that takes place during election time generally focuses on strategies and means to win immediate support through the ballot box. The concept of democracy has to be taken to the level of regular interaction with the people through formal as well as informal means, so that there is proper participation of civil society in decisions and actions far beyond what government structures generally allow. In Delhi we have vigorously pursued a programme in this area called Bhagidari, which essentially involves frequent meetings and interactions with the people on matters that are of direct interest to them and which affect their own wellbeing. With technology having developed to a level where communication can take place almost instantaneously, it is possible for governments to set up systems whereby people can remain directly in contact with decision-makers even between meetings and interactions which require a physical presence. Through the internet and other means, it should be possible to ensure a two-way interaction between the people and their leaders on a continuous basis.

The speed at which changes are taking place globally and at the local level requires political leaders to anticipate and keep a step ahead of developments, so that they are always fully prepared for what is likely to come next. I believe leadership in the 21st century would be very different from what actually worked in the 20th century.

One major shortfall we see today is in respect of leadership at the global level. What are we doing to mitigate the serious problem of climate change, for instance? Clearly, not enough, as the weakening of the Kyoto Protocol would indicate. We have the dichotomy of some countries growing prosperous on the one hand, others shipping deeper into poverty and debt, and development assistance actually going down. This shows a lack of global leadership in international efforts in solving one of our biggest problems today, namely widespread poverty.

I would look forward to a discussion on these subjects with other colleagues who are speaking in this session.