STATEMENTS FROM THE INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
for the World Summit on Sustainable Development
(26 August-4 September 2002, Johannesburg, South Africa)
THE IEF PROGRAMME in JOHANNESBURG
Thirty years have passed since the launching of international environmental action at the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. The momentum of that launch reached an apogee at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development. The Earth Summit recognized that environmental protection and management must be integrated with socio-economic issues and gave this concrete expression in Agenda 21. Yet the planet's environment continues to degrade, millions of people are mired in poverty, and too many environment and development decisions are still taken in isolation. The prevalent paradigm of growth and development generally pursued by government and industry has failed to reverse or substantially mitigate poverty, pollution, and the depletion of ecosystems. In preparing for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), it is worth asking why these 30 years of detailed planning and action have not been more effective in achieving the goals of sustainable development.
Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration states:
"Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature."
Implementing this principle requires recognition that sustainable development includes an ethical dimension of justice for present and future generations. The dominant patterns of production and consumption have failed to alleviate poverty and are the root cause of much environmental damage. The present system therefore requires profound modification. The focus of the International Environment Forum in Johannesburg is to motivate behavioural change - in people and in institutions - towards more effective implementation of Agenda 21 and other programmes that support sustainable development. Its general theme is Making Globalization Sustainable and Just: Science, Values and Education for Sustainable Development.
The many events planned for Johannesburg present opportunities for governments and non-governmental organizations to consider the changes needed for a sustainable society and to initiate collaborative action among all actors to implement those changes. While the governments finalize their action plan for endorsement by the high-level summit, many other organizations have been building wider partnerships to work together on implementation. As one contribution, the IEF organized an electronic pre-conference from 1-18 August to give to those around the world who were not able to come to Johannesburg the opportunity to contribute to this process. The summaries of these Internet discussions will be presented by IEF during its planned events in Johannesburg.
The following themes are the focus of the IEF programme and are the subject of separate position papers:
TRANSFORMING WORDS INTO ACTION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
MULTIPLE DIMENSIONS OF GLOBALIZATION
INDICATORS FOR SUSTAINABILITY
INTEGRATING SCIENCE IN LOCAL COMMUNITIES
VALUES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
EDUCATION AND VALUES FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The real challenge to us all will be after the Johannesburg summit has ended. Action inevitably begins with individuals. Governments may adopt grandiose declarations and action plans, and institutions may plan, legislate and create incentives, but ultimately it is the individual who must act. This requires the interplay of three areas: scientific knowledge, values, and education, all of which influence the individual and subsequently foster collective decision-making, behavioural change, and action.
Integration of the three elements is essential for sustainable development. Scientific knowledge without values can produce materialism, exploitation and destruction. Religious values without reason can lead to superstition and fanaticism. Education links knowledge with values and, in the light of experience, becomes wisdom, the basis for effective and just decision-making. Since sustainability can mean many things to many people, we need to extract from our diverse understandings a sense of common purpose that can be shared by all peoples.
Action for sustainable development also requires a balance among its three pillars - economic development or material welfare, social development, and environmental protection - governed by an ethical dimension of justice, now and for generations to come. Each society, each nation or community, must find its own unique balance among these dimensions, by applying the principles of a global vision of sustainability in ways and means appropriate to its own circumstances.
The journey towards a sustainable global civilization involves many participants arriving from many paths. The balance of leadership is now shared more widely among governments, civil society, the private sector and NGOs. The WSSD has gathered all stakeholders to consult on sustainable development and to seek a workable consensus for effective action. The IEF offers its programme as a small contribution to this process.
One of the most significant issues to emerge since the Rio Earth Summit is the debate over globalization. There is growing public concern about the negative consequences of economic globalization. Yet globalization has many more dimensions. It is really only a continuation of the natural processes of human evolution towards higher levels of social integration. It cannot be reversed, but it needs to be mastered and given a more ethical basis. It must be extended beyond the purely economic to become an expression of responsibility for the planet and solidarity with all its inhabitants. This is the major challenge for achieving sustainable development at the planetary level, and a significant issue for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
While the processes underlying the globalization of human society have been operating for some time, their impacts have only recently come to public attention. The human race is evolving a new global scale of interaction, integration and organization. The emergence of new communications and transport technologies and economic mechanisms has reduced or removed most physical, social and political barriers to exchanges at ever larger scales. The resulting mixing has set in motion accelerating processes of cultural, intellectual, economic, social and environmental change, with the disintegration of old institutions, systems of values and ways of thinking. This has produced increasing chaos on the one hand, and exciting processes of creativity, cross-fertilization and integration in the arts, sciences and technologies on the other. Governments, unable to deal with problems that escape their frontiers, have lost power, while other structures of civil society and the economy have gained strength.
The anti-globalization debate has highlighted the negative aspects of economic globalization, such as a worsening income distribution within and between countries, and growing pressures on the environment and its natural resource base. Cultural erosion and homogenization occur alongside the divisive manipulation of ethnic and cultural differences as populations mix. The strongest driving forces for globalization have been economic and materialistic, without balancing social, cultural and spiritual dimensions. This imbalance is also reflected at the level of international institutions, where there are some economic regulatory mechanisms such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, although imperfect and requiring fundamental reform, but no counterparts for social or environmental regulation to provide a counterweight. Globalization has also been blamed for problems that are really due to failures of governance at the national level or the spread of crime, corruption and unethical conduct in society.
These admitted problems should not hide the fact that globalization is also bringing positive benefits. The accelerating advances in science, engineering, medicine and technology resulting from rapid information exchange have created a global intellectual system. There are increasing opportunities for wealth creation from new combinations of resources and capacities, new economies of scale, and new opportunities to share the great variety this planet offers. Most hopeful of all is the emergence of a new awareness of our common humanity, with a set of universal values, extending beyond traditional boundaries of nations, races, classes or religions. Human differences are coming to be seen not as divisive but as enriching. There is increasing acknowledgment that there is only one Earth, and that we share one world citizenship. The challenge is to add a new level of unity in human society without losing the diversity that is one of the outstanding features of the human race.
Many of the present problems of globalization are due to the lack of an adequate global institutional framework to manage our global problems. There are no global political processes of governance beyond debates between nation states which generally put national interests first. There are only rudimentary structures for collective security and global environmental management, and little to address social or economic justice or the equitable distribution of resources.
The essential requirement for a positive, responsible and just process of globalization is a foundation of universal values, recognizing that the Earth is one country, and that we have an obligation of solidarity for the entire human race. We need to evolve balanced and effective mechanisms for global governance and collective security, while respecting individual initiative and human diversity. These should be accompanied by institutions for global environmental management for problems at the planetary scale like climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss and global contaminants, while simultaneously reinforcing local responsibility for the environment of each community. Economic and social mechanisms are also required at all levels to eliminate poverty and bring consumption into balance with resources. The actions adopted in Johannesburg should aim in these directions.
The foundation of Western technological civilization is scientific knowledge. Yet much unsustainable behaviour and environmental destruction today is due to a lack of knowledge. Decisions made at all geographical levels-from the individual up to the global scale-have consequences and impacts often beyond the knowledge and foresight of the decision-makers. A sustainable society cannot be realized without detailed and thorough knowledge of all the dimensions of sustainable development, and a wise and judicious implementation of this knowledge. Thus, one challenge for scientists and other purveyors of knowledge is to communicate these issues at all levels and to all actors in society in a language that everyone can understand. Just as economic indicators such as GNP and the unemployment rate are used to communicate the state of the economy for management purposes, so can scientific indicators or measures of the environment and social welfare be used to identify problems and guide policy options for more sustainable development.
Sustainability is difficult to define as a target for action, but indicators of human activities and their consequences on the environment can signal the need to move these activities in more sustainable directions. Such indicators can either warn of damaging states or activities that need to be reduced, or define desirable trends to be encouraged. 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 need to be adapted to local or national circumstances. The challenge is to assemble sets of indicators that capture all the essential dimensions of sustainable development. Considerable progress has been made since Rio in developing and testing such indicators on a pilot scale at the local and national levels, although comprehensive measures or indices of sustainability are still beyond reach. However, little has been done to consider what makes certain indicators more useful at particular levels of governance, to integrate indicators for sustainable processes among levels, or to develop adequate indicators for the global sustainability of the planet. There are also major gaps in the coverage of existing indicators, particularly concerning the social, institutional, cultural and spiritual dimensions so important to human development and prosperity.
The usefulness of indicators for sustainable development has been demonstrated on a pilot scale, and efforts are now needed to encourage their wider use. The WSSD is an appropriate place to address all these challenges and to initiate new partnerships to resolve them. The following are some of the questions that will be considered.
What are the key impediments to the development and use of indicators for decision-making at all levels? How can we encourage wider agreement on the best sets of indicators, balancing local specificity and the need for common measures of shared problems? What indicators can be used to measure the cultural, ethical and spiritual dimensions of society that are vital to its sustainability? What can be done to stimulate the greater use of indicators at the local and national levels? How do we encourage government and business to supplement environmental audits and balance sheets with ethical audits and balance sheets? What indicators need to be developed to measure the global sustainability of the planet? How do we improve the coherence in indicators between levels? Who are the stakeholders who need to be involved, and what new or enlarged partnerships are needed to address these challenges in the years ahead?
Science, broadly defined to include both natural and social science, has often been distant from the struggle of individuals and local communities to achieve sustainable, just and peaceful societies. Even when decisions are made at the national or global level based on extensive scientific knowledge, they may be viewed with suspicion at a local and individual level. Furthermore, the achievements of science in terms of both knowledge and technology are a resource that is very disproportionately distributed in the world, where the developing countries are the most marginalized.
The people whose daily actions may have significant effects on the environment and natural resources, and on their community development, generally lack equitable access to scientific knowledge. Yet the poor also have the right to benefit from science. One barrier has been the assumption that only professional scientists can do science. We need to ask how to bring science more directly to bear on issues of poverty and sustainable development. Thought needs to be given to establishing appropriate scientific institutions in all countries, even if the models or forms chosen are different from those that wealthy countries can afford. The approach of science, learning to think in terms of process, to weigh evidence and draw conclusions, can also be made directly accessible to the poor. They possess acute powers of observation, even though they may lack the vocabulary and scientific heritage of Western science to explain what they see. Innovative science education incorporating these approaches can raise the value of local and traditional knowledge in local communities, while expanding their understanding of the increasingly globalized context in which they live.
What is needed is a widespread culture of science for sustainable development. The way knowledge is generated by science and used in society can be restructured to improve decision-making. Knowledge should be accessible to everyone, not just scientists, and should reach down to local communities where many resource-use decisions are taken. It should include information on environmental status and trends, the effects of local activities on the environment, and the requirements for sustainability. Simple indicators, graphics and maps can help to make the information easily understandable. As far as possible, local people should be involved in observing their own environments and activities, reporting the results and receiving immediate feedback.
The integration of science in local communities can help to address the significant knowledge divide between the North and the South concerning environmental change, both local and global. With simple environmental monitoring protocols, for example, people can observe their impacts and adjust their own behaviour. Such applications of science can be empowering in a way that economic aid often fails to be. For example, if high school students, as part of their education, gathered basic data on environmental and social parameters under the guidance of researchers and with support of the educational infrastructure, the cadre of observers and the amount of data collected would increase dramatically. There are already a number of successful examples where this has been tried. School children, non-governmental organizations, major groups, and amateur volunteers have all helped to collect data and fill data gaps.
The availability of local scientific institutions everywhere will give everyone access to science and its benefits. With new information technologies, this is now becoming possible. The aim should be a system in which decisions in local communities are taken with the best available information according to their capacity, placing the local situation in its larger geographic, national and global context, and integrating all relevant factors.
Scientific knowledge by itself is not sufficient. Motivation is important in the use of knowledge, whether that motivation is spiritual or altruistic in origin, or basically selfish. Religion and science are complementary sources of knowledge. Science has brought progress in health, communication, agriculture and material comfort, but with a widening gap between rich and poor. It has supported war as well as peace. Knowledge of our purpose and place in the world, of good and evil, cannot easily come through science. It is religion that has provided a moral and ethical framework. Successful societies in the past have generally developed using both science and religion as their sources of knowledge. Combining these two sources of knowledge is necessary for a prosperous and sustainable world. Science cannot reconcile issues of values; both relevant knowledge and appropriate values are needed for effective decision-making.
The goals and pursuits of any society are driven by the values that society chooses to prioritize. Values that define humans only as well-endowed animals, that emphasize immediate material well-being and gratification, that favour one group at the expense of others, that encourage individualistic hedonistic self-satisfaction over the family, community or society as a whole, and that focus on the short term over the long term, have pushed civilization in very unsustainable directions. Such values are at the root of the planet's dilemma.
In the current era of rampant individualism in Western culture, promotion of a global, shared system of values that benefit both the individual and society may seem unrealistic. Fortunately, common values run through all the great religious, spiritual and cultural traditions and form the foundation of human and other rights. For example, global solidarity based on the recognition of the oneness of humanity can place individual decisions within their broader context and create a feeling of responsibility for the rest of humankind. Work can be seen not only as a way of earning income, but in a more spiritual context as a form of service to humanity. This motivation leads to the pursuit of opportunities that result in economic, social and spiritual progress. The practice of moderation and contentment can help to solve the social and environmental problems originating from excessive consumption.
We need to find ways to restructure the economic and social institutions of our society to reflect similar values. Just as an individual could view work as service, business and government could be reoriented to be of service to the whole society and not just a favoured part. In the context of business, profit should be just one measure of the efficiency of a company's operations, rather than an end in itself. Justice also has institutional dimensions. For example, workers will be motivated to contribute to their business if they receive a just share of the profits. Collective decisions will be most just if they are based on widespread consultation and participation by all those affected. There may even be a just rate of return on capital, with a moderate rate of interest that reflects true value added, rather than hidden exploitation or externalizing of costs.
There is also an institutional responsibility, divided between government and business or private owners, for the equitable and sustainable management of natural resources for the benefit of all humanity. Sustainability requires respect for the limits of the life support systems of this planet. This is an institutional responsibility at a global scale for which institutions need to be developed or strengthened.
Values, or the application of spiritual principles, have been the missing ingredient in most past approaches to sustainable development. Grand declarations and detailed action plans, even when approved by all the governments, do not go far if people are not motivated to implement them in their own lives, and if institutions are not made responsible to carry them out. The exciting thing about addressing sustainability at the level of values is the potential to create self-generating human systems building a more sustainable and thus ever-advancing civilization.
It is apparent that the message of sustainable development is not being received widely at the grassroots. This may be due in part to educational approaches that act as a constraint rather than a catalyst. There are indications that the current educational system and the economic system that it perpetuates contribute to humanity's problems. Young adults tend to emerge from the educational system without a deep sense of ecological matters and without knowing what to do with the knowledge they do have. They are unequipped to make decisions that are environmentally enlightened when they take their place in the work force.
Parents, and particularly mothers, are the first educators, and the pre-school years are the most critical in value formation. The core values instilled in the small child have traditionally come from family, culture and religion (or spirituality), but more recently the media (particularly television) and advertising have become important transmitters and manipulators of values. When children arrive at school, they usually receive information, sometimes knowledge, but rarely ever wisdom.
A new education paradigm is needed. The focus should be on the requirements of sustainable development and fostering cooperation instead of competition. The aim should be to help the child discover its unique potential, rather than solely concentrating on the acquisition of skills to be competitive in the job market. Such an educational approach would be participatory, interactive, integrative, value-driven, and knowledge-based.
The first step is to draw on the wisdom of the local community in creating a school and curriculum appropriate for that specific situation, while placing it in the global context. The community needs to plan where it wants to be tomorrow, how it will get there and how it will educate its children for life in that future community. If community members, including the children and youth, participate in deciding what should be learned, education will be meaningful. In this way people will become concerned, then committed and then take action.
The second step is to change the emphasis from curriculum development to human development. Education must include training in communication, decision-making, problem-solving, creativity, conflict resolution, envisioning the future and change management.
The third step is to acknowledge that in education, the roles of family, business, commercial interests, non-governmental organizations and the media are just as important as formal schooling and that the goals of advertising, for instance, should be aligned to the goals of creating a sustainable community.
The fourth step in education for sustainable development is to acknowledge that there is a spiritual aspect to human life that has been pushed aside in the pursuit of material well-being. Education needs to recognize the complementarity of science and religion and the essential roles of each in creating a prosperous and sustainable society.
These steps are illustrated in recent experience in rural service-oriented educational approaches. They show how to address the WSSD objective of promoting values and ethics through education to impact on people's lives and behavour. These initiatives are non-formal, process-oriented, innovative, participatory and empowering. The rural education programme SAT (System for Tutorial Learning) in Latin America is particularly relevant to local conditions and poverty reduction. It is implemented in Colombia by the Foundation for the Application and Teaching of Sciences (FUNDEAC) and the Ministry of Education, and in Honduras by the Bayan Association for Indigenous Social and Economic Development with support from the Baha'i Agency for Social and Economic Development (BASED-UK), which has coordinated a major grant from the UK DFID.
SAT - Rural Education for Sustainable Development
Michael Richards, SAT project manager for BASED-UK.
Last updated 4 May 2004