New book describes how to move from words to action for global sustainability
The Challenge of Sustainability: An Action Agenda for the Global Environment

25 March 2003

par Web Team

With the ink still fresh on the global action plan signed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, an important question for world leaders is how to meet the specific objectives agreed upon in Johannesburg. A timely new book from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), The Challenge of Sustainability, is a treasure-trove of practical strategies and recommendations for action.

The book identifies key strategies for meeting the challenge of global sustainability. Among them are phasing out subsidies that encourage inefficient and excessive use of natural resources; creating business environments and public policies that attract more foreign direct investment; creating conditions that foster socially responsible investments; mobilizing additional financial resources for environmental improvement; removing barriers to imports from developing countries, particularly in the agricultural sector; ensuring that countries implement their commitments to international environmental agreements; and expanding and replicating successful pilot programs, experimental projects, and innovative policies.

Although the focus is hopeful, the book is also realistic. A number of major constraints and barriers must be removed before progress can be made. These include:
-  Lack of recognition that the environment is natural capital-the earth’s natural resource base-and the foundation of social and economic systems, which hinders large-scale investment in global sustainability.
-  Lack of international cooperation on the management of natural resources found in cross boundary areas such as a watershed or global commons, providing little incentive for countries to be concerned with consequences of their actions.
-  Continued reliance on fragmented, sector by sector programs-despite clear cross-sectoral impacts-leading to conflicting uses of resources by national and international agencies.
-  Inadequate and misdirected financing, weak supporting institutions, and inappropriate policies, which interfere with progress in managing resources and ecosystems.
-  Lack of capacity, knowledge, and skills in many developing countries, which can be a barrier to the adoption of new technologies or sustainable management of natural resources.
-  Costs of clean technologies, which can act as a barrier to the promotion of such technologies.

The book makes a compelling case that the next decade offers a unique opportunity to lift future generations from poverty and to eliminate the threat of living on an irredeemably spoiled planet.

"The human community faces an array of choices about the quality of our lives and the state of the global environment," says Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, in the foreword. "Each of these choices will help to determine what kind of world our children and grandchildren will live in. One possibility is that at long last we will pave a path toward environmental stewardship and sustainable development. But it is also quite possible that we will travel a less enlightened course, running down earth’s natural capital and severely limiting the choices our descendants will face. . . .The legacy is largely ours to shape."

Mohamed T. El-Ashry, CEO and Chairman of the GEF, is also optimistic: "In many ways, we have entered one of the most creative phases in human history. Science, technology, and communications are advancing at breathtaking speed and offering unmatched opportunities for political consensus and responsible choices. We have new tools and a vastly increased understanding that our strength lies in working together to overcome the threats facing our planet."

The Challenge of Sustainability describes dozens of successful sustainable development initiatives that are models for the future:
-  South Africa’s pioneering 1998 National Water Act. The law specifically reserves water for two priority uses: to meet basic human needs and to maintain ecological functions. Each individual is allocated 25 liters a day for drinking, food preparation, and personal hygiene. Remaining water must be allocated so that all people have equitable access-for productive purposes and for benefits that flow from water use, such as jobs.
-  The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Emissions of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer and threaten human health have been slashed since the protocol was enacted in 1987. Industrialized nations have largely eliminated chlorofluorocarbons and halons, the major ozone-threatening gases, and fourteen countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have reduced their consumption of ozone-depleting substances by more than 90 percent.
-  The Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. This unique biological preserve covers 768,990 square kilometers, including 22 distinctive eco-regions in Central America and southern Mexico, and about 7 percent of the planet’s biological diversity.
-  The increasingly constructive role of the private sector. Companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Dupont, and BP Amoco are working to reduce their negative impact on climate change and increase the options for cleaner energy. This is an acknowledgment that preserving the environment is both good business and a moral obligation.

"What will it take to protect our biological heritage, avoid the devastation that climate change could bring, sustain the soil and water that give us life, protect human health, and reduce the scourge of poverty and hunger?" Mr. El-Ashry said. "It will take leaders from all walks of life who are willing to think and act differently and lead the way. We must internalize the lessons learned and replicate our successes. Most importantly, we must build on what we have learned in the past."

The Challenge of Sustainability is based in large part on a series of GEF Roundtables on sustainable energy, forests and biodiversity, land and water degradation, and financing. At each Roundtable, panels of experts and Ministers of Finance and Environment from around the world-in consultation with civil society and other participants-provided concrete and practical recommendations for an action agenda to achieve global sustainability over the next decade. The recommendations were presented at the WSSD preparatory committee meetings, a special briefing at the UN Forum on Forests, at the International Conference on Financing for Development, and in other international fora.

Web Team

-  Download The Challenge of Sustainability: An Action Agenda for the Global Environment (PDF format - 1,8Mo : english version).
-  Hard copies and a CD-Rom can be obtained from the Global Environment Facility, 1818 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20433, USA.