Gretchen Hoff and Anne Marie DeRose
Antonio G.M. La Viña is a Senior Fellow at the World Resources Institute (WRI) in Wash-ington, D.C. Formerly an Undersecretary at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines, he was a member of the Philippine delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development and worked on a Ford Foundation-supported project on civil society participation at the Summit. Gretchen Hoff, a Research Analyst at WRI, coordinates The Access Initiative, a global civil society coalition focused on the implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, led by WRI. Anne Marie DeRose, is also a Research Analyst at WRI and works on a diverse range of issues, including the role of civil society participation in global processes.
“Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all,
and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world.
And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell
and I understood more than I saw;
for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things
as they must live together like one being.
And I saw the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops
that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight,
and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children
of one mother and father. And I saw that it was holy . . .
But anywhere is the center of the world.”
— Black Elk, Oglala Sioux
The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was called to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable development, building on 30 years of international community activity on environment and development and, in particular, assessing the world’s progress 20 years after the historic Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 . More than 80 Heads of State and many other high officials attended the summit joined by observers from civil society, academia, the scientific community, local communities and the private sector. In addition to over 20,000 participants who registered for the official summit, thousands more came from all over the world to participate in a variety of parallel events over the course of the ten days that the WSSD convened, as well as during the week that preceded the official meeting.1
The final result of the WSSD was the release of two main documents: the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation2 and the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development.3 Highlights of the Declaration include:
The Plan of Implementation, negotiated over a period of eight months and eventually adopted by governments, has eleven principal sections. These sections are summarized below:
1. Introduction: Governments reaffirm commitment to the Rio Principles, Agenda 21 and to achieving the UN Millennium development goals. They recognize that good governance, peace, security, stability, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are essential for sustainable development.
2. Poverty eradication: Dealing with poverty is identified as the greatest global challenge and poverty-related targets, goals and initiatives are reaffirmed or established with an emphasis on giving the poor access to health, water, land, energy, food, education, infrastructure, credit, sustainable technologies for agriculture and natural resources management, and housing. A World Solidarity Fund, voluntary in nature, is established.
3. Changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production: Governments acknowledge that changing the way societies produce and consume is indispensable for sustainable development. This section identifies actions that could be done to accelerate this shift, including initiatives that would result in delinking economic growth and environmental degradation through improved efficiency and sustainability. The transition to a sustainable energy future is emphasized, though governments were not able to agree to time-bound targets that would result in the increase in the contribution of renewable energy sources to total energy supply.
4. Protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development: Time-bound targets on access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, the development of integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans, maintaining or restoring depleted fisheries stocks and the reduction of the rate of destruction of biodiversity are adopted. Governments recognize the rights and the role of indigenous and local communities in utilizing and managing natural resources.
5. Sustainable development in a globalizing world: The opportunities offered by globalization are acknowledged together with the recognition that there remain serious challenges, with poorer countries facing special difficulties in responding effectively to these opportunities and challenges. Governments support the successful completion of the work programs contained in the Doha Ministerial Declaration (on international trade) and the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus (on development cooperation). They also decide to actively promote corporate responsibility and accountability, including through the full development and effective implementation of intergovernmental agreements and measures, etc.
6. Health and sustainable development: There is recognition that sustainable development can only be achieved in the absence of a high prevalence of debilitating diseases. Time-bound targets on health are incorporated, including health literacy, reduction of mortality rates, and HIV/AIDS.
7. Sustainable development of small island developing states: Actions and commitments to support the sustainable development of small island developing states are identified.
8. Sustainable development for Africa: Actions to support sustainable development for Africa are identified.
9. Other regional initiatives: Various initiatives on sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, West Asia and Europe are recognized.
10. Means of implementation: Governments recognize the need for significant increases in the flow of financial resources, in particular to developing countries, to achieve sustainable development. Facilitating greater flows of freight direct investment, substantially increasing Official Development Assistance (ODA) and exploring ways of generating new public and private innovative sources of finance for development purposes are identified as the principal strategies. The implementation of the outcomes of the Monterrey Consensus and the completion of the Doha work program are singled out as priorities.
11. Institutional framework for sustainable development: Governments call for the strengthening of the institutional framework for sustainable development at the international level. They reaffirm that the Commission on Sustainable Development should continue to be the high-level body on sustainable development within the UN. Actions to strengthen institutional arrangements at the regional and national levels are also recognized.
The WSSD Outcomes: An Assessment
In Johannesburg, governments looked at the world, recognized that we are faced with immense development and environment problems, acknowledged that we need to do more to respond to these challenges, but then concluded weakly by ratifying existing efforts and approaches which have been found wanting.4 For example, while the focus on time-bound targets was significant, most of them (the UN Millennium Development Goals) had already been agreed upon in 2000 at the Millennium meeting of Heads of State at the UN in New York. The only important new targets were the sanitation, fisheries and biodiversity targets.5 The failure to reach agreement on time-bound targets for increasing the contribution of renewable energy to the global energy mix was especially frustrating to many governments and stakeholders. If incorporated, this would have been the only place in the Plan of Implementation where climate change—currently the most serious global environmental threat—would have been addressed in a meaningful way. Finally, governments also failed in Johannesburg to make decisions reforming global sustainable development financing and governance, making effective implementation of their decisions highly unlikely.
The Plan of Implementation has also been criticized for its failure to address in a meaningful way the new (post-Rio) challenges to sustainable development. The Plan gave unqualified ratification to the Monterrey agreements on financing and development and to the Doha processes for a new round of trade negotiations. With that ratification, the WSSD failed to give any signal on how development cooperation and expanding international trade could be directed to serve the goals of sustainable development. While the Plan recognizes both the opportunities and challenges posed by globalization to sustainable development, governments did not provide any direction or guidance from a sustainable development perspective on how these opportunities could be maximized and how the challenges could be overcome. In this sense, Johannesburg was a missed opportunity for governments to give a face of sustainable development to globalization.
Because of this failure of governments to make meaningful decisions on so many important and urgent problems, many have concluded that the outcomes of the WSSD have been disappointing. But there were also successes in the official summit. For example, a target on basic sanitation was adopted. If, indeed, the proportion of people now without access to basic sanitation is halved by 2015, this would not be a trivial outcome. Achieving this target would make a difference in the lives of millions of the world’s poor, especially those of children suffering or dying from diseases resulting from lack of basic sanitation services.
The unequivocal recognition of community-based natural resource management, including the reaffirmation of the vital role of indigenous peoples in sustainable development, throughout the Plan of Implementation was also an important success at the WSSD. This includes:
The decision on corporate responsibility and accountability was another important achievement. While falling short of the demand by many NGOs for governments to negotiate a binding convention on corporate accountability and liability,6 the decision to promote corporate responsibility and accountability, based on the Rio principles through, among other things, “the full development and effective implementation of intergovernmental agreements and measures,” was an important step forward. This decision might actually result in future intergovernmental processes that would deal explicitly with this important issue and could actually result in a meaningful international agreement.
The Plan of Implementation has committed governments to ensure access, at the national level, to environmental information and judicial and administrative proceedings in environmental matters, as well as public participation in decision-making. This reaffirmation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration was an important success achieved at the WSSD, especially if the resources to implement this commitment are made available.
Finally, and perhaps most important, another success at the WSSD was the acknowledgment of the importance of ethics for sustainable development. In the Plan of Implementation, governments emphasized the need to consider ethics in the implementation of Agenda 21. This was the first time an explicit reference to ethics has been made in any official environment and/or development document and thus breaks new ground, providing an opening to those who believe that development and environment issues cannot be dealt with adequately unless governments, societies and communities acknowledge the critical role of ethical norms in making policy decisions.
THE OTHER “SUMMITS”: HOPE IN DIVERSITY
The larger success of Johannesburg was, however, not in the official story. The government meeting in Sandton was only one of the many “summits” that took place not only in Johannesburg but elsewhere in South Africa during and before the official meeting. Some of these “summits” were:
The Global People’s Forum at the NASREC Fairgrounds, attended by thousands of representatives of nongovernmental organizations from all over the world—a majority from the Global South—convened commissions on many important themes related to sustainable development and adopted its own declaration and plan of action;7
The People’s Earth Summit brought together environmental and globalization activists and local communities worldwide, was uncompromising in holding governments and corporations accountable for poverty and environmental degradation8 and ultimately withdrew its consent from governments attending the WSSD;
The Summit of Indigenous Peoples in Kimberley reaffirmed their mutual solidarity in their struggle for social and environmental justice and asserted their rights to self-determination and to own, control and manage their ancestral lands and territories, waters and other resources;9
The Capetown Conference on Responsible Tourism brought together tourism stakeholders from all over the world and examined the challenges of sustainable tourism development and the responsibilities at the local level;
The Gathering of Landless People from Africa and other regions of the world, where, in a run-down amusement park near Soweto, they spent the week attending workshops on land reform, holding rallies and preparing for a march to Sandton during the final days of the WSSD;10
The Forum on Environmental Justice emphasized the “forgotten” agenda of the official summit—environmental racism and its costs and consequences—and challenged governments and corporations to halt destructive and unsustainable practices that disproportionately harm people of color, indigenous peoples and poor communities;11
The International Forum on Globalization12 and its teach-in, conducted by an alliance of activists, scholars, economists, researchers and writers, sought to bring a critical perspective to the WSSD process by highlighting what it considered the number one threat to the survival of the natural world—economic globalization;
The Children’s Earth Summit in Soweto was where more than 100 children from different countries gathered to demand that the world give them a future;13
The many meetings at the IUCN Environment Center in NEDCOR Bank focused on the future and on partnerships, providing space for stakeholders (over 20,000 of them visited the center during the WSSD) to convene and dialogue with each other, seeking ways to move forward on sustainable development;14
The Summits of Legislators15 and Local Governments16 convened representatives of each of these groups, respectively, to explore common approaches and solutions to sustainable development;
The International Business Days,17 held at the IUCN center and other venues during the WSSD, brought together business leaders from the world to explore the contributions of the private sector to sustainable development and for dialogues with stakeholders;
The Implementation Conference18 was convened to inspire stakeholders to collectively create clear and measurable ongoing actions to implement sustainable development; and,
The Ubuntu Village Exposition Center,19 the Water Dome Exhibition Center20 and other exhibitions displayed the latest in technology, innovations and ideas on sustainable development from diverse countries, groups and organizations worldwide.
Each of these were “summits” in their own right and understanding what took place in Johannesburg during the WSSD, its success and failure, requires an appreciation of these many different summits. These were not meaningless exercises organized for the benefit of those who did not participate officially in the WSSD. They were convened with specific objectives and the intent of influencing the official process, as well as to send the message that, with or without governments, the work on sustainable deve-lopment must be continued. In many ways, as reflected by the Global People’s Forum and the Kimberley Summit of Indigenous Peoples, the outputs of these other summits mirrored the outcomes of the official meeting.
Global People’s Forum
The Global People’s Forum (GBF)21 was attended by thousands of representatives of NGOs (approximately 20,000 registered in the forum) from all over the world, the majority of whom were from the Global South. The GBF convened many commissions on important themes related to sustainable development, the reports of which became the basis for a civil society declaration and a program of action: The Global People’s Forum: Civil Society Declaration: A Sustainable World Is Possible and Global People’s Forum Program of Action: A Sustainable World Is Possible.22
The Declaration calls on all governments to fulfill commitments made in Rio and Johannesburg. It asks for civil society participation in implementing these commitments. It reaffirms the equality of all people, affirms the rights of Indigenous Peoples and calls for the rights of refugees to be acknowledged. It advocates fair trade, redistribution and reparations, corporate accountability, debt eradication, anti-privatization, transparency, right to self-determination and respect for human rights. The Declaration also asserts that the principles of human and environmental security and justice should be the root of all political, economic and environmental agreements and interventions.
On environmental issues, the Declaration asserts that communities and peoples must have control over biological resources as well as their rights to direct all development, including in agriculture and aquaculture, towards models that are ecologically and socio-culturally sensitive and which conserve or enhance biodiversity and biodiversity-based livelihoods. It advocates the recognition of indigenous and traditional knowledge, the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the rejection of genetic engineering, the promotion of renewable energy and the phasing out of nuclear reactors.
The goal of the Program of Action, adopted at the GPF, is to build a sustainable world, based on principles of human rights, economic justice and environmental protection. It includes demands and recommendations on: land issues; agriculture; biodiversity; conflict and peace; corporate accountability; debt eradication and reparations; climate change and energy; financing development; forests; global governance and corruption; jobs, living wages and employment; mining, human security and environmental justice; marine, inland fisheries and coasts; participation and enforcement; poverty, racism and sustainable development; sustainable consumption and production; water; sustainable development and the millennium development goals; restoring self-governance in the age of globalization; social protection and household food security; trade and sustainable development; health; environmental health; and science and education and capacity building.
The Kimberley Summit of Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples met for their own summit in the Khoi-San Territory, Kimberley, South Africa, from 20-23 August 2002. The outcomes of this meeting were also a political declaration and an accompanying plan of action.23 In the Kimberley Declaration, Indigenous Peoples reaffirmed their relationship to Mother Earth and the responsibility to coming generations to uphold peace, equity and justice. The Declaration noted that the commitments which were made to Indigenous Peoples in Agenda 21 have not been implemented due to the lack of political will.
In their declaration, Indigenous Peoples:
Lessons from the Other “Summits”
The other “summits” of Johannesburg illustrate how far the world has come in meeting the challenges of sustainable development. It is clear, for example, that many stakeholder groups are far ahead of governments in building a sustainable development movement on the ground. In many places in the world, sustainable development is not seen primarily as an environment or even development dilemma. Rather, it is seen, at its core, as a human rights and ethical challenge—the demand to ensure that people and planet deserve better than what we have so far done to each other and to our environment. Hence, social justice, equality and equity wove a common strand through the disparate and often fractious debates in many of these other “summits.”
What is also striking about the other summits of Johannesburg is the diversity of voices and interests that sought to be heard on sustainable development issues. Unlike Rio, where civil society engagement was led principally by the global environment movement, Johannesburg saw a different face to global civil society: one that was neither singular nor homogenous and certainly not a synergy of shared experiences. The environmental NGOs, development groups, laborers, indigenous peoples, farmers, businessmen, women, religious and spiritual leaders, scientists, policy researchers, local officials, youth and children: all these and many others came to Johannesburg from the cities and villages and from the mountains and islands of all the continents of the world—and to no one’s surprise, only rarely did they speak in one voice.
The diversity of voices and faces of those who were in the many summits of Johannesburg should be celebrated.24 This diversity represents the success of the idea of sustainable development: that it has spread throughout the world and that all peoples and stakeholders recognize it as an imperative. At the same time, however, this same diversity poses a difficult challenge: that of finding common ground and therefore forging common strategies and positions on sustainable development. How do you find unity in this diversity? Can civil society ever speak in one voice again? What is needed to make this possible?
It was only in the last days of the WSSD that many civil society organizations found a common voice: in the form of a march25 led by the landless peoples from Alexandria to Sandton and in a joint declaration that many (but not all) NGOs signed. In this joint declaration, many NGOs dissociated themselves from the overall outcomes of the WSSD. They condemned governments for their “tragic unwillingness to translate the Rio principles into concrete action or show any determination to commit themselves to the objectives of Agenda 21” and for showing “an irresponsible subservience to corporate-led globalization” and making “attempts to roll back the commitments they reached in Rio.” Finally, civil society organizations reaffirmed that “another world is possible, and we shall make it happen!”
Conclusion: Ethics, Spirituality and Sustainable Development
Another world is possible. This is the ultimate lesson from the World Summit on Sustainable Development. But for this to truly be achieved, ethics and spirituality need to be incorporated into the global response to poverty and ecological degradation.
The struggle to ensure equity and sustainability is not new. Indeed, it is as old as our earth and as our history. The truth is that there is evil and selfishness in the world and in our society, that human beings can be greedy, focused on their narrow interests at the exclusion of others, and that many of our problems, including those related to environment and development, are a result of this. If we are to truly find a solution to these problems, it is important to name them as they are: selfishness, greed, evil, sin. If we do not recognize this and find a way to integrate ethics and spirituality into our response to global problems of poverty and ecological irresponsibility, no matter what we do, no matter how technically perfect and state-of-the-art our solutions are, no matter how wonderful the policies we adopt, we will make little difference and will lose the struggle.
We must incorporate ethics into the implementation of sustainable development, if the world is to move forward. Over the last 20 years, we have identified and developed many responses—technologies, policies and mechanisms—yet we seem to make little headway. Certainly, despite the hard work of many, the problems are increasing exponentially while the solutions continue to be piecemeal and only incremental progress is being made. This gap between effort and outcome stems from our failure to recognize, understand and act on problems as fundamental issues of good and evil. Naming the problem, for what it is, is a critical step in moving forward. But while naming the problem is important, incorporating ethics into the work for sustainable development is not about name-calling or laying blame. Rather, it requires us to think hard as to how we can identify, develop, adopt and implement policies, processes and mechanisms that systematically integrate ethical and spiritual norms in their design and operation.
Even though we must name the problem for what or who it is, it is important to continue engaging with “it” in a strategic and effective way, to wrestle with it even if we have to roll in the mud. Our noses may get bloodied, our arms broken, and yet only in this kind of engagement can we embrace the opportunity for conversion. Although human beings are, at their core, good, our acts can be evil and, as such, conversion is a gift that is offered to each human being. In the hope that all our efforts may make a difference, one must not seek to defeat but instead to convert “the other,” which can be done through reason accompanied by tolerance and kindness.
If ethics are difficult to incorporate into sustainable development, spirituality is even more challenging. Because many states have strict rules about separation of church and state, it is difficult to use religious or spiritual language in the discourse on sustainable development. This is unfortunate because most of the world’s religions and cultures actually converge on their understanding of the relationship between humanity and nature and the role of God in that relationship. This understanding finds its most concrete expression in the words of Father Horacio de la Costa, a Filipino Jesuit from a homily in 1980, which is certainly still relevant now:
There is very little peace and justice in the world today. But God does not want us just to pray for peace and justice. He wants us to bring them about. He stands by to help; to work miracles, if necessary, but only if we do what we can, give what we have to give.
He will fill our nets with fish; but only if we are willing to fish all night, even if we catch nothing. He will make our water wine, but only if we take our jars to the well and stagger back filled not half-way but to the brim. He will feed multitudes, but only if we are willing to share our limited resources, our five loaves and two fishes, and by using the intelligence he has given us, by hard work, thrift, foresight and courage, try to expand these resources.
If only all of those who participated in the WSSD and all persons of good will throughout the world would “do what we can, and give what we have to give”; if only we shared our limited resources and realized that we are all hoops of one circle—nature, human communities, men and women, young and old, the richest and the poorest countries; and if only all of us could see in the center one mighty flowering tree growing to shelter all the children of one mother and father, we, like Black Elk, would see that “everything was holy and that anywhere is the center.” Then, it is certain: Another world is possible.