Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2002
DSDS 2002: Keynote address 3, 10 February 2002Prof. Gus Speth
Dean, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, USA
Success at Johannesburg
I must begin by praising TERI for its extraordinary accomplishments. Our school at Yale is very pleased to now have a formal partnership with TERI in its new degreegranting programs.
The phrase sustainable development has come to mean so many things to carry so much baggage that it is helpful when someone comes along and reduces it to the essentials. And for doing this, we must thank Ashok Khosla, who wrote the following words of wisdom:
This is what Johannesburg should be all about in my view: protecting and regenerating the environment and eliminating large-scale poverty.
I want to begin today by reviewing some basic facts about poverty and environmental conditions in our world today. If we are going to make progress at Johannesburg, we have got to be honest about how deplorable these conditions are and, indeed, how deplorable our record is in addressing these conditions. We desperately need new sense of urgency.
Today, our information on global environmental trends is far more complete and sophisticated than at Stockholm, but it is not more reassuring.
On top of these processes of biotic impoverishment comes the biggest threat of all, global climate change. Here, the US is the worlds biggest polluter, so it is relevant to note the degree to which the US is fouling its own nest. The best current estimate is that, absent major corrective action, global warming in the lifetimes of todays children will likely make it impossible for about half the American land to sustain the types of plants and animals now on that land. In one projection, the maple-beech-birch forests of New England simply disappear. In another, much of the Southeast becomes a huge grassland savannah unable to support forests because it is too hot and dry. And, of course, the developing world will be the hardest hit.
We know what is driving these global trends. Environmental Impact is a product of the size of human populations, our affluence and consumption patterns, and the technology we deploy to meet our perceived needs. What this useful formulation can obscure, in addition to the impacts of poverty, is the vast and rapidly growing scale of the human enterprise. It took all of history for the world economy to grow to $6 trillion in 1950. Today, it grows by more than that every five or so years. Since 1960, gross world product has doubled, and then doubled again. The scale of human activity economic production is doubling every 20-25 years.
Today the world economy is poised to double and then double again in the lifetimes of todays young people. We could not stop this growth if we wanted to, and, indeed, the world economy must grow if we are to meet the needs of half the worlds people who live on less than $2 per day. If only the next doubling could be for the benefit of the poor!
There are good reasons to believe that the next doubling of world economic activity will differ in some respects from the growth of the past. But there are equally good reasons to believe that the next doubling of the world economy could, from an environmental perspective, look a lot like the last. The OECD estimates that its members CO2 emissions will go up by 33 percent between 2000 and 2020. Motor vehicle use in OECD countries is expected to rise by 40 percent by 2020.
The implications of all this are very profound. We have entered the endgame in our historical relationship with the natural world. The current Nature Conservancy campaign has an appropriate name: they are seeking to protect The Last Great Places.
Humans dominate the planet today as never before. Whatever slack nature cut us is gone. We live in a full world. We impact hugely on the great life support systems of the planet. Nature as something independent of us is dead. We are in a radically new ethical position because we are at the controls.
How have we responded to the challenges? There are outstanding success stories but rarely are they scaled up to the point that they are commensurate with the problem. For the most part, we have analyzed, debated, discussed, negotiated these issues endlessly. Our generation is a generation, I fear, of great talkers, overly fond of conferences. But on action, we have fallen far short. As a result, the same disturbing global trends highlighted 20 years ago by UNEP, Worldwatch and others are still very much with us, depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer being the notable exception.
The results of twenty years of international environmental negotiations are, if truth be told, pretty dismal. It is not that what has been agreed, for example, in the framework conventions on climate, desertification and biodiversity, is wrong or useless. But the problem is that these agreements, as we know, do not drive the actions that will be needed. And the same can be said for the extensive international discussions on world forests. In general, international environmental law is plagued by vague agreements, lax enforcement and underfunded support. We still have a long, long way to go to make these treaties effective. My own view is that we have overinvested in international environmental law to the neglect of other means. In any case, it is a frightening thought to consider that we have wasted much of the 20 years we could have spent preparing for action.
The Kyoto Protocol is an effort to step beyond the framework and reach a binding, action-forcing agreement on climate change. I congratulate those who negotiated it. I find it deplorable that the US is not joining.
Poverty must also be addressed with a new seriousness. This is so even if your only concern is the environment. An ongoing transition to a world without mass poverty, where the prospects for widely shared prosperity are good, is essential even from an environmental perspective. Over much of the world, poverty is an important destroyer of environment because the poor have no other choices than to lean too heavily on a declining resource base. Also, the only world that works is one in which the aspirations of poor people and poor nations for fairness and justice are being realized. Developing country views in international negotiations on environment are powerfully shaped by fear of high costs of environmental compliance, preoccupation with their own compelling economic and social challenges, and distrust of industrial country intentions and policies. Sustained and sustainable human development provides the only context in which there is enough confidence, trust, and hope to ground the difficult measures needed to realize environmental objectives.
There is good news to report on the human development front. Since 1960 life expectancy in developing regions has increased from 46 years to 62. Child death rates have fallen by more than half. Adult literacy rose from 48 percent in 1970 to 72 percent.
Yet the bleak realities of poverty remain. Among the 4.5 billion people who live in developing countries, three-fifths live in communities without basic sanitation; one-third is without safe drinking water; a quarter lacks adequate housing; and a fifth are under-nourished. Fully two billion people lace modern energy services. For the 1.2 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day, there can be no doubt that poverty is a brutal denial of their human rights.
On the policy front, an impressive consensus has emerged around objectives. The world community has come together with a concerted commitment to the goal of halving the incidence of absolute poverty by 2015. This goal and related goals in health and education were endorsed by all governments in the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations. Eliminating large-scale poverty is not a crazy dream. It could be accomplished in the lifetimes of todays young people.
These combined challenges of environment and poverty underscore the importance and the urgency of the Johannesburg Summit. Johannesburg is the opportunity to move beyond talk to action. Johannesburg is the opportunity to reignite public concern before it is too late. Johannesburg is our chance to get it right, this time - to correct the mistakes we have made in the past in our efforts to address these issues. We need major success at Johannesburg. We need to do a lot better than merely avoiding a failed summit
So how should we measure success?
As Maurice Strong, Jan Pronk, and others have indicated, Johannesburg will succeed if agreements are reached on specific plans of action to which governments are unambiguously committed, with targets and timetables and commitments to funding. Nothing else will close the huge credibility and accountability gaps that have opened since Rio. Given the shortness of time, these initiatives must build on past progress. The real agenda for which action is expected must be well focused and not diffuse, vague or overly broad.
There are many areas where I believe we can still develop concrete, actionable initiatives. In each area there are communities of experts who could be tapped to develop action plans. I suspect they are eager to be called upon.
If one works up the scale of increasing sophistication, one finally gets to the proper development model. It includes all these elements.
I do not believe it is too late to develop actionable initiatives in these and other areas. But it is almost too late. We should invest in this effort with urgency in the weeks and months immediately ahead.