Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: none


Margot Wallström

European Commissioner for Environment,

A wake-up call for global sustainability

European Policy Centre Dialogue  Sustainability and Globalisation: Towards Johannesburg

Brussels, 26 February 2002

Introductory Remarks

Thank you for the opportunity to address this EPC Dialogue on Sustainability and Globalisation: Towards Johannesburg.

I have chosen to give my intervention the title "A Wake-Up Call for Global Sustainability".

We must inject a sense of urgency into our preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development that will start in Johannesburg 6 months from today, on 26 August.

We must also shake-off any sense of complacency surrounding the subject of global sustainability. Of course this is a vast and complex subject, but the European Union has to play the leading role in ensuring that Johannesburg delivers concrete progress towards sustainability goals. We cannot be paralysed by the enormity of the task.

Within Europe we have made significant progress in recent years in improving and protecting the quality of our environment: air pollution and water quality on the whole are improving as result of European legislation.

But we still face enormous challenges. We still know far too little about the effects of the more than 10,000 chemicals many of them dangerous which we come into contact with on a daily basis. Bio-diversity loss is also a major challenge - we have now experienced the failure of the first extinction of a priority European species listed under the 1992 Habitats Directive, namely a species of Pyrenean mountain goat. In addition, our waste mountain continues to pile up.

My duty as European Commissioner for the Environment is to continue to press for concrete and deliverable actions to bring about further improvements.

And we need to make our impatience heard on the global stage.

The tragic events of September 11th last year sent a shock wave around the world and are forcing a fundamental re-evaluation of the way we view security policy. As my colleague Chris Patten says, smart development assistance can be more effective than smart bombs.

But we can't afford to wait for a huge environmental catastrophe to strike us before we tackle the wide-ranging questions of global sustainability. That is why I believe the Johannesburg Summit must be a wake-up call for global sustainability.

From Stockholm to Johannesburg: The Story So Far

The issues confronting us are not new. We need a clear sense of the history behind us as we approach Johannesburg.

Those who have been in the environment business all along refer to the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment as the start of a crusade to highlight the undeniable link between environmental concerns and human welfare.

By the time of the 1982 anniversary of the Stockholm Conference, environmental policy was gaining a foothold within governments. But the 1982 meeting in Nairobi confirmed that to many, the environment was still considered a luxury of the better off, the reserve of nature lovers and some natural scientists. The link between the economy and the environment was not widely understood.

The dissatisfaction of Nairobi led to the creation of the World Commission on Environment and Development known as the Brundtland Commission after its chair, the former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland. Once and for all Brundtland cemented the link between the economic development agenda and that of the environment. She used the term sustainable development to do so i.e. development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Many people do not like the term sustainable development. My own view is that it has indeed been adopted for a variety of reasons by many different politicians, businesses and civil society groups. But it remains a guiding political principle.

To me, it does not imply "greening through the back-door" as some would argue. On the contrary, it does mean developing governance structures that allow us to deliver mutually supportive economic, social and environmental policies. It means that we cannot pass the bill (whether environmental, social or economic) to our children and grandchildren for the choices we make today.

In the wake of Brundtland's work, the late 1980s was a remarkable time of activity for those in the environmental field. So when the world gathered in Rio in 1992 there was genuine hope that we would see real change. Those who were involved at that time speak of the excitement in the process and testify to the remarkable work of Maurice Strong in engineering the Agenda 21 document.

The Earth Summit was the largest gathering ever at that time of heads of state and government more than 120 participated. Many refer to the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) as a high water mark for sustainable development. But what did it actually deliver?

I fear that its concrete outcomes are not as well known as we sometimes like to pretend.

In fact, five documents were finalised and agreed at Rio:

Agenda 21 established the agreed work programme of the international community for the period beyond 1992 and into the 21st century setting out the priorities for the conservation and management of resources for development.

Secondly, there was a statement of 27 principles guiding environment-and-development activities.

Thirdly, there was a statement of principles on forestry.

In addition to these documents, two conventions were negotiated in parallel with the Rio process, namely:

The Convention on Biodiversity; and,

The UN Convention on Climate Change.

As well as these five documents, the Earth Summit decided to establish a Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) under the umbrella of the UN Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC). It is this body, the CSD, which is charged with the main responsibility of preparing for Johannesburg.

So what will be bringing home in our luggage from the Rio+10 meeting in Johannesburg I wonder?

At just six months away from the Summit, it is clear that heads of state and government will not be signing any major new Conventions at the start of September. But before setting out my stall on what I believe we should be bringing home from Johannesburg, let me address the question of the implementation deficit.

The Implementation Deficit

We cannot keep coming back from world gatherings with impressive commitments and fine words that we then leave in the corner of our offices to gather dust. Our implementation deficit will quickly turn into a credibility gap, notably vis-à-vis the developing world.

Progress towards the goals established at Rio has been slower than anticipated and in some respects conditions are worse today than they were ten years ago.

Why has progress been so slow? Let me give you just two reasons.

One reason is that the industrialised world's unsustainable patterns of consumption and production have remained unchanged. This, for me, lies at the heart of the problem of globalisation. Market liberalisation and trade are indeed opening up new economic opportunities. But the western model of production and consumption is simply not viable as a model for the global economy. For example, if the Chinese were to follow the American model of having one or two cars in every garage and were to consume oil at the US rate, China would need over 80 million barrels of oil a day. But the world only produces around 74 million barrels a day at present!

A second major reason for the obvious gap in implementation is that the financial resources required for implementing Agenda 21 have simply not been forthcoming.

Official development assistance (ODA) actually declined from 0.35% of donor countries' GNP in 1992 to 0.22% in 2000. The target of 0.7% of GNP, which has been repeated so many times, still remains a distant prospect. Within the EU, the only 4 Member States to have met this target are Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Of course, ODA is not the only way to channel financial resources to the developing world. Trade and private capital flows are quantitatively much more important and have increased significantly since 1992. Net Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows to developing countries grew steadily throughout the 1990s to reach a total of $120 billion in 2000 compared with $30 billion in 1992.

But as we know, FDI flows are highly volatile and have focused on only a small number of countries - with ten developing countries receiving 80% of total FDI flows to the developing world. Such finances rarely stimulate investment in public services and infrastructure, which are both foundation stones for sustainable development.

Agenda 21 is a very comprehensive document consisting of over 40 chapters, over 100 programme areas and 3,000 recommendations. But unless we tackle the issues of financing and our consumption and production patterns, commitments and recommendations alone will not be up to the task.

Worsening Trends: The New Wake Up Call

As European Commissioner for the Environment, I often feel caught between the prophets of impending doom at one extreme of the debate and the "no worries" brigade at the other extreme. The latter's scepticism may be born of ignorance. This is positive in some respects as they can sometimes be won over by objective arguments. But scepticism is more often rooted in worn-out ideas, short-term profit motives, rigid structures and conservatism.

I sometimes like to borrow from Paul Harrison, a British expert on environmental matters who has written a number of entertaining and instructive books on global environmental issues. He begins his 1993 book "The Third Revolution" with a description of the plot in Shakespeare's Hamlet:

"Claudius is swift in the commission of evil: there is no chink of delay between thought and deed.

But Hamlet: Hamlet knows from the outset that something is wrong.

By the end of Act One, he knows exactly what is wrong.

At the end of Act Two, he knows what needs doing.

Act Three brings his best chance of killing Claudius with least damage. He lets it pass.

Then Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Ophelia, Laertes and Gertrude all die unnecessarily.

Hamlet waits until circumstances force his hand.

Before he does what had to be done all along, Hamlet has less than half an hour to live".

Hamlet's indecision and procrastination are a perfect illustration of our own predicament. I think we are still somewhere near the beginning of the play. But we already know what is wrong in terms of our unsustainable impact on the globe. Let me highlight a few examples.

Population: in the last 50 years we have added more people to world population than during the preceding 4 million years since man first stood upright. The earth's present population of 6 billion is projected to rise to 9 billion by 2050. Just think through what that means with our current production and consumption patterns!

Bio-diversity: in 1996, 25% of the world's 4,600 mammal species and 11% of the 9,700 bird species were at significant risk of extinction. More than 20% of the world's 10,000 freshwater fish species have become extinct, threatened or endangered in recent decades.

Forests: between 1990 and 2000, around 140 million hectares of forests were lost. That is a total area larger than the combined size of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and The Netherlands.

Water: water tables are falling so that while consumption is rising by 2% to 3% annually, resources are consumed faster than they can be replenished. At least 1.1 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water and about 2.4 billion have no adequate sanitation.

Desertification and soil degradation: these continue to be major problems. Nigeria is losing over 500 square kilometres of productive land to desert every year. Southern parts of Europe are also severely affected. The loss of topsoil from wind and water erosion now exceeds natural formation of new soil. In Africa, the annual loss of livestock production from the cumulative degradation of rangeland is estimated at around $7 billion, a sum almost equivalent to the entire GDP of Ethiopa.

I could go on. But we cannot allow the enormity of the task to paralyse us into inaction. We must also recognise that there are some positive signs too, not least in the following areas:

- in the health care sector, in reducing child and infant mortality rates;

- in hunger reduction; and,

- in providing access to education, safe water and sanitation.

New advances whether in the form of wind turbines or hydrogen cell technology also offer the hope of a break with unsustainable trends.

That is why I still believe we are somewhere nearer the start of the play than its end, but it would be a tragedy to wait until some terrible disaster befalls us before taking effective measures. To continue the literary metaphor, Claudius represents the shocking depletion and waste of resources, the poisoning of our natural environment, climate change and the other challenges which we must take decisive action to control.

The Johannesburg Outcomes: Tackling Poverty and the Environment

So we know the nature of the problems we have to address in Johannesburg. We shouldn't, therefore, try to re-invent the wheel. Instead we must focus on concrete implementation and a renewed sense of commitment.

In a nutshell, Johannesburg is not just about the environment. The examples I have given underline why Johannesburg must be about tackling the complex linkages between poverty and the environment.

Thirty years have passed since Indira Ghandi declared at the Stockholm Conference that poverty unites, and that the battle against poverty is also a struggle for a better environment.

After the events of recent months, Johannesburg cannot tackle environmental issues in isolation from the grim fact of life that for too many people, poverty and exclusion are the daily reality. The World Health Organisation estimates that poor environmental quality contributes to 25% of all preventable illness in the world today. The poor are typically on the frontline.

While East Asia has been making progress, average income in Sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by an average of 1% per year between 1975 and 1999. The region also faces major difficulties in integrating itself into the global economy and has gained little benefit so far from trade liberalisation. In sub-Saharan Africa, 46% of people still live on less than $1 a day and life expectancy is 49 years compared to over 60 in all other regions.

That is also why we have to see the World Summit this summer as part of a continuum of action stretching from Doha through Monterrey to Johannesburg and beyond.

The new trade round launched in Doha last November must improve market access for developing countries.

The UN Ministerial Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey next month will address finance for sustainable development.

Johannesburg must then build on these agreements in tackling the poverty/environment interface.

Our approach to globalisation and sustainability must be one of strengthened multilateralism across the agendas of environment, trade and development co-operation. The ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by enough parties to bring it into force before Johannesburg would equally sent an important signal.

Against this backdrop, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development is continuing its preparations for Johannesburg.

Following their most recent discussions in New York, it seems that the world is coming to the consensus that there are two types of outcomes to expect from the Summit:

  • a global Declaration or action plan, to show the results of the collective effort and of the new spirit of global partnership; and

  • a series of specific commitments or agreements by "coalitions of willing people", including governments, the private sector and other stakeholders.

We do not need new statements of principles. We do need a concrete Action Plan with deliverables upon which we can be held to account.

I do not actually like the term "coalitions of willing people" it implies that there are too many "unwilling people" out there!

Of course I accept that there could be a sort of "variable geometry" applied to the Johannesburg outcome. But we cannot limit our level of ambition in the run-up to Johannesburg to "lowest common denominator solutions". To do so would be too complacent and lacking in the necessary sense of urgency. That is why I prefer to refer to networks or partnerships for action.

So let me outline today four areas at the interface of poverty eradication and environmental improvement in which I believe we can and must all sign up to concrete actions.

Energy: we must sign up to concrete action in the field of energy and development, with a particular focus on the provision of reliable sources of energy, improved energy efficiency, clean technologies and the development of locally-owned renewable sources.

Water: Johannesburg should launch a strategic partnership with international organisations, governments and stakeholders to promote sustainable water resource management based on the principle of integrated river basin management.

Urban Environment: given that around 80% of Europe's population now lives in urban areas and that this trend is increasingly manifesting itself in the developing world, local urban actions must be revitalised at Johannesburg. The Commission is ready to support the transfer of the successful Sustainable Cities Campaign from Europe to other regions.

An African Initiative: Johannesburg must deliver regional actions for Africa building on ongoing initiatives like the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

These actions bring together economic development, social and environmental concerns.

It will also be necessary to deliver action in the areas of health, social protection and education, not always exclusively related to natural resource exploitation. In addition, Johannesburg must conclude concrete actions to improve governance for sustainable development more generally.

The EU's Leadership Role

Let us also be clear that the European Union will again need to play the leading role among rich countries in achieving an ambitious and action-oriented outcome to the Johannesburg Summit.

The European Union took such a leading role on climate change when it decided at the Göteburg and Stockholm Summits to press on with the Kyoto Protocol.

Europe needs to bring to the preparations for the Johannesburg Summit the same level of leadership that it has shown on Kyoto.

We need the USA on board with the Johannesburg agenda and we will continue to work with our partners in the US to strive to achieve that. But I remain convinced that it will again fall to the EU to take the lead.

The European Commission of course stands ready in this regard.

The Spanish Presidency of the EU throughout the remaining preparatory process and the Danish Presidency which will be in the EU chair at the time of Johannesburg also have important roles to play in ensuring that the EU delivers.

What sort of report card on our own performance will the European Union be able to take to Johannesburg? While individual Member States have different stories to report in terms of their domestic sustainable development strategies, I believe that the Union scores around 5 out of 10. We are half way there.

In Göteburg, the European Council agreed a strategy for sustainable development, putting the environmental dimension on a par with economic and social development in the Lisbon Strategy. Real change must be undertaken within the EU in order to achieve sustainable development, what we call "putting our house in order". Our strategy focuses on four themes:

- climate change;

- transport;

- public health; and,

- natural resources.

Progress in implementing this strategy is to be reviewed at every spring European Council on the basis of a report presented by the Commission. However, there is still plenty of work to do. As was made clear in this year's Synthesis Report, there is a "delivery gap". Furthermore, the environmental dimension is not yet as fully integrated as I would like it to be. We will continue to work to improve this.

In Göteburg, we also committed ourselves to presenting a Communication "on how the Union is contributing and should further contribute to global sustainable development". So, a new Communication on the external dimension of sustainable development was adopted two weeks ago to complete the first step taken in Göteburg by showing that the EU can provide answers to global concerns about sustainability.

This Communication set out 39 actions to be implemented as part of the European commitment to a global partnership for sustainable development, among which are included the four priority actions I have just set out for Johannesburg. The Environment and General Affairs Councils should now address this Communication in preparation for the Barcelona European Council.

So what do I expect from the Barcelona European Council in this regard?

  • I expect an endorsement of the 39 actions and a commitment to regular review on their implementation as part of the comprehensive European sustainable development strategy.

  • I would call on the European Council to commit Europe to the same level of leadership on the World Summit on Sustainable Development as demonstrated in the field of climate change. That also implies a commitment form the fifteen Heads of State and Government to participate at the Johannesburg Summit.

  • Europe's leaders should send a clear signal with regard to the progress they expect on the Doha and Monterrey agendas in advance of Johannesburg.

  • Barcelona should also underline the commitment of the EU to concrete deliverables at Johannesburg.

Finally, Barcelona should highlight the strong political commitment of Europe's leaders to return to these issues at the spring European Council under the Greek Presidency in 2003 to assess progress made in delivering our external sustainable development strategy and the actions agreed at Johannesburg.

Concluding Remarks: Governance for Sustainability and Globalisation

In the context of Johannesburg, the Göteburg European Council also stated that the EU would aim for a "Global Deal" on sustainable development, to use a phrase originally coined by the South African Environment Minister, Mr Valli Moosa.

Some industrialised countries have argued against the term "Global Deal", partly because of the domestic connotations of the term, partly because of uncertainty as to what it means, and partly because they feared that a simple equation lay behind the term. Namely, developing countries must implement all existing and future multilateral environmental agreements and the developed world must make the public financial transfers to allow them to do so. I don't believe that anyone really ever argued that the solution to issues of global sustainability could be quite as simple as that.

Personally, I find the term "Global Deal" appealing but we cannot be married to it. Many are increasingly speaking of a "Global Partnership", using terminology already signed up to in Rio. But, the terminology is much less important than the actions we sign up to.

Today I have outlined my views on the outcomes that Johannesburg should include. It will require efforts from the developed world as well as developing countries. And it will require the input of all the "Major Groups" of actors identified in Agenda 21.

Let me therefore finally add a few words on the governance required to deliver a "Global Partnership". Addressing the challenges that we face is beyond the capacity of any individual State.

We must pay testimony to the crucial role played by environmental and development NGOs at Rio. The energy and resources they mobilised at Rio has not flagged over the last decade.

There are good reasons why business too should be pro-active in Johannesburg, just as I've argued on many occasions that it should be pro-active when it comes to promoting sustainable development inside the EU. As more and more market leaders are coming to realise, economic development that is environmentally and socially sustainable, including in the developing countries, is of strategic interest to businesses. This is why I would argue that any new partnership or deal between the North and the South should be underpinned by a new partnership between the public and the private sector.

Johannesburg should bring business on board in the way that NGOs came on board at Rio.

But let's not overlook the role of the trade unions either. My recent contacts with the ETUC give me optimism to believe that the European trade unions at least can increasingly come to play an important role in delivering sustainable development.

Engaging the social partners at this level is perhaps easier than tackling the "global governance gap" more generally. In order to make globalisation sustainable we need to find a much better balance between global market forces on the one hand and global governance and political institutions on the other.

By way of final conclusion, let me return to Hamlet. Of course we can all identify with his indecision. It is all too understandable when you caught between those who say the situation is hopeless and nothing can be done about it, and those who say things are just fine and there's no need to get excited or worried.

The only effective remedy is decisive action …. now!

Thank you for your attention.

Side Bar