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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

Rio to Johannesburg: towards concrete action
A synopsis of the proceedings based on the rapporteurs' reports



The Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2002 was organized by TERI motivated by the importance of harnessing the knowledge, perspectives and aspirations of various stakeholders, as the global community prepares for the WSSD (World Summit on Sustainable Development) to be held at Johannesburg during August-September 2002. That the Summit attracted the most distinguished and influential persons working towards the goal of sustainable development across the world bears testimony to the importance of a meeting of this nature and particularly to the relevance of the venue in the capital of the world’s largest democracy. This summary attempts to distil the presentations, discussions and dialogue that took place during various sessions of the Summit from 8 to 11 February 2002. It does not represent the agreed expression of approval of any or all the participants. Nor is this a consensus document, because TERI did not attempt to create any agreement on any form of output from the Summit. This is merely a faithful recording of the highlights of the discussions and presentations in the Summit organized in a coherent and consistent manner.

Two important streams of thought or paradigms of sustainable development in general, and sustainable livelihoods in particular, were articulated by TERI staff before the Summit itself, and these need to be re-stated even though were not put forward for approval or comments by participants. These two paradigms can be summed up as follows.

  1. The global community has cumulatively consumed or damaged a large part of the planet’s natural resources, including clean air, clean water, forests, biodiversity, and healthy soil. In addition, economic development and growth has also polluted the environment beyond acceptable limits. There is a clear scientific basis and an economic imperative for major investments in the growth of natural capital. Indeed, the economic returns from accretion to the earth’s natural resource base would be much higher than similar financial investments in physical capital, however productive those might be. The WSSD at Johannesburg must emphasize and uphold this reality and formulate its plans and programmes in that direction with a major commitment for allocation of resources and cooperative action towards this objective.
  2. The problem of the poor needs to be seen in a totally different light from that generally perceived in the past. Poverty alleviation cannot take place on a sustainable basis if it does not enhance human and organizational capabilities for higher value productive work. The creation of such capability would require a substantial upgrading of skills and increased access to technical know-how even in the most deprived and destitute communities in the world. The attainment of higher technical capabilities, however, would require creation or strengthening of strong institutions, the provision of microfinance, and access to markets and knowledge flows, from which many underprivileged communities are currently distanced in a manner that leaves them permanently deprived. The WSSD must focus on design of programmes of a comprehensive nature that would enhance the capability and technical wherewithal of poor communities throughout the world.

One of the most significant results of the 1992 Earth Summit was a better understanding of the dynamics of sustainable development and of its three pillars, namely (1) economic prosperity, (2) social progress, and (3) ecological balance. Sustainable development is global in character and its widespread ramifications but is driven by local imperatives. Unfortunately, Rio’s programmatic centrepiece, Agenda 21, has remained mere rhetoric despite the global consensus on and political commitment at the highest level to socio-economic development achieved at Rio. The success of the Johannesburg Summit will be gauged by whether or not it can evolve a well-defined, action-oriented, and time-bound plan to operationalize sustainable development; its failure will signify not only a missed opportunity but also a lack of concern that poses a real threat to people, the planet, and prosperity.

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