6TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM*
A series of parallel events at the World Summit on Sustainable Development
(Johannesburg, South Africa, 27 August-3 September 2002)
Report of the Conference
Making Globalization Sustainable and Just -
Through Science, Values and Education
The Johannesburg Summit represented a major step forward for the International Environment Forum. While the governments of the world struggled to negotiate a political declaration and action plan for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) ten years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro; while thousands of civil society organizations debated the issues and tried to push governments into doing more to further sustainable development; the International Environment Forum held its its 6th Annual Conference as a series of parallel events with different partners and at different venues to reach the widest possible public. The IEF was officially accredited to the Summit by the United Nations as a scientific and technological organization, already an accomplishment for a virtual organization with no material means or legal status. One tenth of the IEF membership gathered in Johannesburg from as far away as Mongolia, New Zealand and Indonesia to participate in the various activities, including all the members of the IEF governing board. Partnerships with the Stakeholder Forum for Our Common Future and the European Bahá'í Business Forum reinforced certain activities. The Bahá'í-inspired organizations like IEF and EBBF also supported the efforts of the Bahá'í International Community and several national Bahá'í communities to draw the attention of the summit to the importance of the spiritual and ethical dimension in sustainable development.
The conference built on the conclusions from the 5th IEF conference where the complementary roles of knowledge, values and education for sustainable development were explored. During the three weeks immediately preceding the conference (1-18 August) an e-mail forum was organized on the same topics as the seminars for those who could not come to Johannesburg. The various IEF events (see programme) opened a dialogue with the broader civil society, and particularly the scientific and technical community, on these three essential components of decision-making. They explored the apparent dichotomies that emerge in an increasingly interwoven world: specific vs. universal, circumscribed vs. all-inclusive, long-term vs. short term, material vs. spiritual, etc. In this dialogue, "globalization" was approached in its many facets - cultural, spiritual, material, scientific, economic and social - to explore how individuals and societies can foster a process of globalizing the world in a sustainable and just way.
The IEF also shared a booth at the Global Peoples' Forum with the European Baha'i Business Forum (EBBF). Hundreds of copies of the IEF brochure and programme, and IEF position papers on the different topics, were distributed both from the booth and at various events and document distribution points. The 6th General Assembly of the IEF was held on Saturday 31 August during the conference period.
The IEF events opened on Tuesday 27 August with a DIALOGUE ON INDICATORS FOR SUSTAINABILITYorganized in collaboration with the Stakeholder Forum and other partners as part of the official Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development at the Ubuntu Village, the main exposition site near the official conference centre. The South African Department of Science and Technology had made a special effort to include the IEF event in the Forum. A hundred participants nearly filled the room, drawing more than the previous afternoon plenary session of the Science Forum.
The IEF decided to focus on indicators because sustainability is difficult to define as a target for action, and most definitions emphasize the material aspect of development and ignore the cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions. One of the best ways to move human activities in more just and sustainable directions is through indicators of those activities and their consequences. These can either indicate damaging states or activities to be reduced, or desirable trends to be encouraged. Such indicators can support decision-making at the local, national and international levels, although the types of indicator may be quite different at each level, and adapted to local circumstances. Considerable progress has been made since Rio in developing indicators of sustainable development at the local and national levels. However, little has been done to integrate indicators for sustainable processes between levels, nor have adequate indicators been developed for the global sustainability of the planet. The usefulness of indicators has been demonstrated on a pilot scale, and efforts are now needed to encourage their wider use. The Johannesburg Summit was therefore an appropriate place to define these needs and to initiate new partnerships to address them. This dialogue session in the Science Forum addressed the key challenges ahead in developing and using indicators of sustainable development for decision-making at all levels, including improving the coherence between levels, and capturing the moral, ethical and spiritual dimensions of development. It identified potential participants in new or enlarged partnerships to address these challenges after the Summit.
The panel of leading experts was chaired by Dr. Halldor Thorgeirsson of the Government of Iceland, who is also the Chair of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Affairs.
The first presentation introducing the theme of the Usefulness of indicators for sustainable development was by Dr. Arthur Dahl, former Coordinator, UN System-wide Earthwatch, United Nations Environment Programme, Geneva, Switzerland, and President of the International Environment Forum. After briefly reviewing the work on sustainable development indicators since the Rio Earth Summit, he highlighted two challenges to make indicators useful for achieving sustainability. The first is to capture the dynamics of sustainability, reflecting the implications for future generations. The second is to cover all the dimensions of development, not just the economic or material dimension, but also the social, cultural, intellectual, ethical and spiritial dimensions that are so important for society, and for which sustainability and transmission from generation to generation are also vital. This needs to be done in ways that reflect the full diversity of human perspectives and values, and that makes any value judgements and biases in the indicators transparent.
Mr. Jochen Jesinghaus, of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Ispra, Italy, then demonstrated the Dashboard of Sustainability developed under the guidance of the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators. He compared society to an airplane which requires proper instruments and controls to fly. Indicators are the social equivalent of aircraft instruments, but the world political leaders piloting our society only seem to use Gross Domestic Product (GDP), population growth, unemployment rate and political popularity polls to guide them. The United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development has been developing a broader indicator set for sustainable development, and there are many other sets, perhaps too many and not enough, as there are gaps and methodological problems with all of them. The challenge is to converge on a consensus set of indicators. Mr. Jesinghaus urged us as citizens and scientists to push for a diversification of the indicator set that is used to guide our society. We should take the complexity of our society seriously, and this deserves the proper tools. A more diversified set of indicators requires better methodologies and better information. The dashboard is a graphic interface for sets of indicators that allows both rapid visual integration of many indicators, and an analysis of trends, comparison of countries or cities, and mapping of indicators as required by the user. A demonstration of the dashboard with various indicator sets can be downloaded from http://esl.jrc.it/dc/index.htm.
Ms. Maria Lourdes M. Lagarde, Sustainable Development Officer, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, New York, USA (replacing Ms Anne Kerr who was tied up in negotiations), explained the work on National level indicators at the UN Division for Sustainable Development for the Commission on Sustainable Development, including the new core set of 58 indicators agreed at the ninth session of the Commission and published in their "blue book", which can be downloaded at http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/indisd/indisd-mg2001.pdf. She explained that these indicators are flexible to be selected and adapted to national needs, and build on an international consensus. The challenges faced in trying to take the CSD indicator programme further include the lack of both data and local capacity, the need for international harmonization, substantive areas where indicators are still under-developed, and a lack of training in integrated information management. The focus now in the Division for Sustainable Development is on regional indicator frameworks, information management systems (such as for Small Island Developing States), and disaster vulnerability indicators. Training activities will emphasize mainstreaming indicators in National Sustainable Development Strategies to facilitate monitoring progress. Bedrich Moldan added that the Commission on Sustainable Development concluded a 5-year work programme on indicators at CSD-9, based on testing some 120 indicators in 21 countries. The manual of 58 core indicators allows national governments to select those that are appropriate locally while keeping a common methodology.
Indicators at the local level were presented by Mr. Gary Lawrence, one of the founders of Sustainable Seattle, perhaps the earliest local indicators programme, and President, Sustainable Strategies & Solutions, Inc., Seattle, Washington, USA, who shared what he had learned from this experience. He started by asking when do indicators matter? Indicators had not changed things very much. Knowing what is going on and knowing what to do are not necessarily enough. Choosing to do what you know you should do is essential. Are things we are doing being effective? Local government institutions find it hard to be self-critical, so it helps to measure good things. Communities need to know how to implement change. Are we doing the things that matter the most in getting the future we want? We may not be putting our energies in the right areas. He proposed two sets of criteria for judging where we need to focus our energy: (1) what are the institutions doing? and (2) are lives getting better? His own indicators for what institutions are doing and what they are aiming to change follow a judgement scale anchored by two extremes: MEGO = My Eyes Glaze Over, and OMG! = Oh My God! things have got to be fixed. An extreme position that we are all doomed is not founded on good science. It is best to be about two thirds along the scale to get some emotional involvement in the answers. This, by his estimate, is what we should consider first before expending any energy. It is not the experts who should be making this judgement, but the people in the community where action is to take place. The subject must matter to the community, for people do not change because something is important elsewhere. It is necessary to agree on data that they trust and you trust, and then help them to translate what has meaning for the community. Indicators allow people to choose their own meaning. At the community level where the users are everyday folks, indicators need to be rationally sound and intuitively understandable. His model of community change can be described as: Issue >>> Data >>> Information >>> Meaning >>> Action. Indicators can re-energize a community and strengthen local democracy.
The next panelist was Prof. Bedrich Moldan, Director, Environment Centre, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, a former Minister for the Environment in the Czech Republic and former Chairman, UN Commission on Sustainable Development, who has recently been working with the OECD on process indicators for decoupling economic growth and environmental impact. He discussed the need for more aggregation of data into indices. We have hundreds of indicators, including headline indicators for specific issues. We need something more powerful, and therefore aggregated, like the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) in the social sphere. There are already some efforts in this direction, like the Environmental Sustainability Index, Environmental Space, the Environmental Footprint and the Living Planet Index. We need simple aggregated indicators to convey sustainability to the public. Yet there are serious problems in aggregation. The selection of parameters can range from 3 (HDI) to hundreds. Parameters can be weighted by complicated procedures, or given no weights. Selecting parameters is already an indirect form of weighting. This is an important source of bias and raises serious obstacles to the acceptance of most indices. Once we figure out our biases, we then need to work to overcome them. Among the possible solutions are those of using a common denominator, as the Ecological Footprint does with land surface area (hectares), or GDP does by measuring everything in monetary units. Material flows analysis considers everything as tonnes of materials, but how do you compare a tonne of dioxine and a tonne of gravel? Substance flow analysis, measuring the cycling of elements such as carbon, sulphur or nitrogen, provides another approach where the selection of indicators is clearer. Aggregation of indicators is possible in principle, but it must be transparent and scientifically valid.
Finally, The challenge of integration across levels was presented by Dr. Sylvia Karlsson, International Science Project Coordinator for the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, Bonn, Germany, and General Secretary of the International Environment Forum. She noted that most indicators had emerged at the national level, and with the progress with the CSD indicators some countries were well advanced. Local level indicator initiatives were scattered, but represented a good start. At the global level there are some statistics, but they have not been developed into an indicator framework. Indicators are useful as tools for decision-making, but with the complexity of multiple levels of globalization, which indicators are appropriate at which levels? State and impact indicators can create awareness of a problem, but some problems are only visible at the local level and the issue may be lost in national averages. Others are only visible at the global level where aggregate effects on the earth system become apparent, as for the atmosphere or biodiversity. There can be cross-level deceptions, where an indicator at one level may give the wrong impression. A national indicator may look very good if the problem has been exported through trade to other countries where the damage is done. Driving force or pressure indicators can facilitate decision-making, but there are different layers of interlinked driving forces, with indicators specific to given levels. You need to choose an indicator that you can affect at your level. Response indicators measure level-specific governance actions. The results of action at one level may accumulate at other levels with actions counteracting each other. The integration of indicators across levels is thus a challenge that requires an improved understanding of the interlinkages between levels and the impacts of policies across levels. An improved set of indicators across levels can highlight global complexities and illustrate ethical trade-offs by showing how our actions are having effects at other levels.
Following the panel, the discussion facilitated by Nigel Gibbs of the Stakeholder Forum focused on potential partnerships for further work on indicators, and for their wider implementation. The audience and panel combined were asked to answer two questions: (1) What is the most crucial aspect relevant to indicators? and (2) How should we address this issue? The questions were discussed in increasingly aggregated working groups and the consensus answers shared generally, after which all the participants were asked to vote for their preferred options as the best route forward for indicator work. The final ranking was as follows:
- Introduce values and spirituality into indicator sets.
- Improve the participatory process for choosing what should be used as indicators.
- Develop an integrated framework of coherent systems/process/trend indicators.
- Increase the quality of communications through indicators.
- Reach consensus on how to handle indicators.
- Mobilize the communities to become excited about indicators.
- Develop global key indicators for global action to focus national and local effort now.
- Develop a multi-level toolkit for indicators.
- Recognize and explore cultural differences in indicator preferences.
See also the IEF position paper on Indicators for Sustainability
The IEF event at the Global Peoples Forum at NASREC, the main NGO meeting place, was on Sunday 1 September on the topic EDUCATION AND VALUES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT. This seminar explored the role of education and values in the promotion of sustainable development. It included three presentations, one on the use of the Earth Charter in education and community development, and case studies from Africa and Latin America of innovative non-formal education programmes with an emphasis on the creation of appropriate values for sustainable development. Each presentation was followed by a question and answer session.
Dr Brendan Mackey, Reader in Ecology and Environmental Science at the Australian National University, member of the Earth Charter international drafting team and Director of the Earth Charter education programme, presented “Educating for a sustainable future - the promise of the Earth Charter”. He opened by underlining how values and ethical principles are fundamental to education for sustainable development. We must make the things we most value explicit, and promote the values we all share. These values should be translated into action-oriented ethical principles. The conflict over ethics is at the heart of the debate, but it is not articulated (i.e. is access to water a human right or is water a commodity?). The educational system must be reoriented to express the role of values and ethical principles.
He explained how the Earth Charter is a declaration of fundamental values and principles for a more sustainable way of life. It is built on principles embedded within international hard and soft law documents, modified and amplified by a decade long global consultation process. It is a secular document that should be used in churches and schools. It is being increasingly used by educators around the world as a framework for teaching and learning. The educational uses of the Earth Charter include (1) to raise consciousness and motivate people to act in more environmental and ethical ways, (2) to apply values and principles for practical uses, for instance by comparing the reality with the aspirational principles and analyzing the shortfalls, (3) to use it in community development to define action goals He discussed case studies illustrating its application in community development, schools and universities.
The Earth Charter can be used in the ongoing dialogue on global ethics, to deepen and expand the dialogue and debate, both formal and informal, that respects differences and searches for common ground in the evolution of a global ethics.
Dr Irma Allen, a Board Member of the Swaziland Environment Authority and recipient of a UNEP Global 500 Award for her work in environmental education in Africa, described a social mobilization strategy “Environmental Awards Scheme” which is being implemented successfully in three different countries through USAID’s Global Environmental Education and Communication (GreenCOM) Project, for which she is Africa Technical Adviser. The strategy is being used to increase awareness of and promote public participation in changing behavior and practices in natural resource management for sustainable development, including in Egypt, Tanzania and South Africa. The success depends largely to the extent that the facilitating local committees are able to apply principles, such as service, consultation cooperation, moderation.
She used the Tanzania Coastal Environmental Awards Scheme as a case study to illustrate non formal environmental education and communication. The project aims to build a constituency for integrated natural resource management in the coastal area. It has been successful because it is value driven, putting people into policy. The scheme stimulates community participation through its management by local cross-sectoral committees including representatives of the government, community, corporate and beneficiary sectors, which give awards for good environmental action by categories to schools, community groups, individuals, commerce/industry, and institutions. Each local awards scheme includes a public launching, sensitization to the issues, distribution of entry forms, visits to the projects by the committee to judge the results, and a well-publicized prize-giving ceremony. In Tanzania, the project, managed by three people, involved 5,000 people in 6 districts the first year, and reached 70,000 people in 13 districts by the fourth year. The values underlying the project include:
- organization by the local committees which decide what is important and build respect and collaboration between government and NGOs in a spirit of service (committee members receive no pay);
- commitment to carry on the project after the end of outside support;
- consultation among all the concerned stakeholders;
- sensitization to the environmental problems of the coastal area; and
- justice, fairness and transparency in judging the projects.
Michael Richards, a natural resources economist with 25 years experience on rural development and tropical forestry issues, and Trustee of the Bahá’í Agency for Social and Economic Development (BASED-UK), presented his case study on the System of Tutorial Learning (SAT) in Colombia and Honduras. SAT is an innovative non-formal secondary education programme for rural well-being and development. Developed in Colombia since the early 1970s by the NGO FUNDAEC, it is now a major national programme funded by the Ministry of Education. Since 1996 SAT has been promoted in Honduras, and is already partly state financed. One of SAT’s characteristics is the way moral principles are integrated into the curriculum, so that students develop an attitude of ‘service to the community’. SAT was described as “presently the best education system in the world” by the European EXPO 2000 Jury. See the separate paper by Michael Richards: SAT - Rural Education for Sustainable Development.
See also the IEF position paper on Education and Values for Sustainable Development
The 6th Annual General Assembly of the International Environment Forum was held on Saturday 31 August at the National Bahá'í Centre in Johannesburg (see separate report).
On Monday 2 September, the IEF organized a seminar at the University of Witwatersrand on INTEGRATING SCIENCE IN LOCAL COMMUNITIES, which considered innovative partnerships and institutional arrangements for the application of science to sustainable development at the local level. This seminar suggested how science can be brought more directly to bear on issues of poverty and sustainable development at the local level, including establishing new types of local scientific institutions and partnerships, and using the approaches of science, such as independent investigation of truth, thinking in terms of process, weighing evidence and drawing conclusions, to empower people to manage their own resources and development sustainably. It explored a point raised in a report from the UN Secretary General to the Commission on Sustainable Development which stated:
“The intellectual tools and approaches of science should be made accessible in all countries, and to all levels of the population, in order to allow all persons to be active participants in finding solutions to environmental problems and defining appropriate forms of sustainable development” (United Nations Economic and Social Council, 1997).
The seminar started with an introduction to the theme, followed by four presentations of case studies from Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific on how science can be successfully integrated into the empowerement of local communities, followed by a discussion aimed to explore supporting institutional arrangements and new types of partnerships that could enhance the capacity of people on a broad basis to participate in both the generation and application of knowledge.
Dr. Sylvia Karlsson, International Science Project Co-ordinator for the International Human Dimensions Programme, Bonn, Germany, introduced the session with a presentation on Bridging multiple knowledge divides—rationales for local science integration. She noted that science was mostly organized at the national level. While there has been international scientific collaboration since Linnaeus, and this has accelerated since the 1950s with the formation of international scientific unions, the structures that decide the science agenda are mostly national, and science funding is national. The United Nations is not really a research institution; it collects data produced elsewhere, packages and disseminates them. There are international scientific advisory bodies, but they just provide advice. Unfortunately the countries of the South have few resources for science, so they tend to be left out. Agenda 21 includes a chapter on Science for Sustainable Development, but the official science community has never really been engaged, and is only now talking about it. The importance of involving the stakeholders in science is being discusses, but the processes are not well defined. There is also a tendancy to neglect the social sciences and the economic side.
The International Environment Forum wants to contribute through organizing a deeper discussion of the role of scientists in local communities, not just in using the outputs of science, but as a process of systematic learning. What can this do for communities? It provides empowerment and local implication in scientific processes, instead of just a top-down delivery of information. It also means a more systematic production of knowledge at the local level. This knowledge will not only be locally relevant, but it can also be passed upward to the national and global levels. This will help to bridge the gap between North and South, urban and rural. It will engage new groups of people to produce scientific knowledge.
The following presentation was on Agriflection: Facilitating learning partnerships in applied agricultural science by Steve Worth, Senior Lecturer and Manager of the Undergraduate Programme at the Centre for Rural Development Systems, University of Natal – Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He described an extension model for engaging farmers in agricultural science. There is a need to change the way that those who create technology and use it interact, as the basis for a new non-technology-based extension curriculum. South Africa has outstanding commercial agriculture, but millions suffering from food insecurity and poverty, with huge untapped potential. Rural families live in complex farming, food production and livelihood systems, where indigenous knowledge can provide the context for technology transfer. By getting farmers to participate, they can be involved in identifying their own resistance to adopting new technologies. This approach is based on certain value assumptions:
- every human being is noble and worthy of respect;
- every human being is endowed with talents and faculties;
- indigenous knowledge and formal science are both valid systems for learning.
The extension model must therefore work within the farming and livelihood system, use local knowledge, and recognize the realities of rural families. By reinforcing the learning paradigm, it can unlock agricultural potential. Certain core assumptions must be questioned. Is the extension needs based, or does it lead to dependency? Should it be asset based to produce more sustainable development? Is it technology-centred, and aiming only at technology transfer, or people-centred to produce empowerment? An agricultural knowledge information system should be based on the farmer's assets: human, financial, social, natural and physical, and work to create something together with what they already have. By shifting the learning paradigm so that research becomes investigation, education becomes application and assimilation, and extension becomes service and sharing, each role player engages in the learning process and the farmer is enabled to become a service provider. The result is the integration of local knowledge and science.
Michael Richards, Research Consultant in Rural Development and Natural Resources Economics, and Trustee of the Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development (BASED-UK), United Kingdom, followed with an exciting case study on Science for Rural Education and Development: A Case Study from Colombia (see outline from powerpoint or download powerpoint 392 K). This outlined the experience of FUNDEAC (Foundation for the application and teaching of science) and its SAT (system of tutorial learning) for non-formal education at the secondary level leading to self-reliant development. This reinterprets science into its rural context, and organizes a dynamic process of investigation to find solutions to technical problems, combining modern and traditional knowledge. (also see separate paper on SAT)
Innovative approaches to community-based science education in China was the topic for Keith A. Metzner, Community Development Advisor for Biodiversity Conservation, Eastern Steppe Biodiversity Project, Choibalsan, Mongolia. He described a project for social enterprise training to build social unity in harmony with Chinese culture. Social enterprises may be developed like economic enterprises, to reinforce and complement economic development, meeting both material and spiritual needs. The approach is similar to that of FUNDEAC in Latin America, but adapted to China. By generating social wealth, and the ability to contribute to social development and the well-being of the community, people learn to work well together, human attributes increase, there is initiative with discipline, and an increase in knowledge. Success depends on understanding the basic needs of society, and applying the principles related to those needs through courses and training programmes.
Another project he is involved in is the Environmental Action Programme for Rural Women in Mongolia, targetting the young population under 35 that is open to new ideas. It builds an understanding of biodiversity, while getting around the male-dominated system where decisions come from above. The women are well educated but cannot reach leadership positions. The aim is to empower rural women to promote sustainable development, since it is the women who grow the crops and manage the households.
For the final talk on Linking science and indigenous knowledge for community environmental management, Dr. Arthur Dahl, former Coordinator, UN System-wide Earthwatch, United Nations Environment Programme, Geneva, Switzerland, and organizer of the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, drew on examples from various Pacific Island cultures where traditional knowledge and modern science had reinforced each other for practical community management of environment resources (see separate paper).
See also the IEF position paper on Integrating Science in Local Communities
The last event was a joint seminar of the International Environment Forum and the European Bahá'í Business Forum at the IUCN Environment Center on Tuesday 3 September entitled MULTIPLE DIMENSIONS OF GLOBALIZATION. The room was full and the discussion stimulating on this topic of general interest. The seminar extended the debate on globalization beyond the present narrow focus on economic and trade issues to consider its wider negative and positive dimensions in the context of the evolving complexity of human society. Initial panel presentations on the environmental/ecological, economic, and political/institutional dimensions of globalization provided the basis for an open exchange on the importance of relating processes of globalization to sustainability. A major issue was the need to reinforce the ethical and spiritual dimensions of society. This would make the processes of globalization more just so that they make a positive contribution to sustainable and equitable development, and improve rather than reduce human security.
A distinguished panel of experts on globalization, chaired by Dr. Wendi Momen, President of the European Bahá'í Business Forum, initiated the discussion.
Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl, President of the International Environment Forum, and former Deputy Assistant Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, Geneva, outlined some of the Environmental and Ecological Dimensions of Globalization. He noted that the biosphere is already a single system, and the human race is a single species. While exchange among people was slow in the past, all barriers to human integration have been removed by recent technological developments, permitting the organic evolution of human society towards higher levels of organization and complexity at the global level. This is thus a natural process. Rapid globalization has, however, caused many environmental problems from the increasing scale of human impacts now reaching planetary limits, as evidenced by climate change, the ozone hole and biodiversity loss. Increasing trade has spread invasive species, hazardous chemicals and mountains of waste, and put global pressures on natural resources such as forests. Strengthened global environmental governance is necessary, going beyond the present ad hoc international legislation through separate conventions. Science and information are already globalized, making us aware of our interdependence. Since human social evolution is based on values rather than genes, it is now necessary to globalize our values based on the shared core of spiritual principles found in all religions.
Dr. Iraj Abedian, Director and Group Economist, Standard Bank, Johannesburg, South Africa, spoke on Economic Globalization: Some Pros and Cons. He pointed out that the capacity to generate wealth in a global economy has accelerated beyond belief, making it possible for countries to develop many times more rapidly than in the past, but still not resolving grinding poverty for many. However such rapid change creates socio-economic insecurity, political and ideological tensions, and instability in financial markets with hugh human costs that present institutions are unable to manage. The key things necessary to create a coherent economic system are systemic justice, micro-institutions of a coherent value system including trust, fairness, equity, reliability and sustainability, and a framework of economic and financial governance of the global order consistent with these values. This will require a fundamental restructuring of global governance institutions for a social order founded on the twin pillers of moral and material advancement.
Dr. Felix Dodds, the Executive Director of the Stakeholder Forum for Our Common Future, London, reviewed political and governance issues. For him, the inability of the political leadership assembled in Johannesburg to address even small incremental changes raised doubts about the ability of the present system to reform itself. The summit had failed to internalize globalization in the environmental or economic sectors, and had rejected the sectoral approach proposed by South Africa. There had been no discussion of values and an evident lack of trust between governments. There was no vertical linking of institutions, and no effort to regulate transnational corporations. UNDP had half the resources of a few years ago, and UNEP only a tenth of that. Stakeholder inputs to the summit had been ignored. The UN system required fundamental reform or support for it would evaporate, but there was no sign of where the leadership for this would come from.
In the discussion that followed, it was pointed out that non-governmental organizations were no better organized than governments and suffered from a similar lack of trust. The goal of an integrated global society was inevitable, and required fundamental reforms, not cosmetic changes. Our choice was to arrive there by consultation and coordinated action, or to be driven there by crises and catastrophes. New forms of communication were pushing human social institutions to evolve in new directions. The new system that was emerging was creating multiple nodes of leadership through change that was by necessity slow and incremental. If we could adopt the right set of basic values, the necessary institutions would evolve in an organic way.
See also the IEF Statement on Multiple Dimensions of Globalization
Overall, the conference allowed the International Environment Forum to emerge from obscurity and to cultivate new partnerships at the international level. It demonstrated that there was a widespread willingness to consider the ethical dimension of scientific, environmental and developmental issues, and to see the relevance of spiritual principles to the practical problems facing the summit and all of global society. This was only possible because of the commitment of so many IEF members to support the summit process through this conference. The door is now open to continue these collaborations after the summit and to pursue further opportunities. Much will depend on the human resources the IEF can assemble and the continuing commitment of its members.
*The International Environment Forum is an international Bahá'í-inspired non-governmental organization that addresses environment and sustainable development. It was accredited to the WSSD, in the category of scientific and technological organizations.