by Vinit Chouraria
August 30, 2002
Dear Friends & Community,
The UN World Summit on Sustainable Development is nearing the halfway point. I've learned a lot about the current state of the world, what needs to be done, and what the obstacles are.
"Sustainable development" is being defined as "the ability of the present generation to meet its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
I have been moved to tears many times here. It is very inspiring to be amongst many who are clearly willing to do whatever it takes to create a world where everyone has access to the basics of a healthy life, and where the earth's natural eco- and bio-systems are protected for those in the future. Those of us that are here seem well aware of what is at stake: our entire planet and life as we know it.
It is the largest international conference in world history (65,000 attendees), one that involves not only virtually every nation, but virtually every element of society within those nations. It is truly a real cross-section of the entire planet, all here to tackle the big issues confronting us all. In order to succeed, we must learn to work out our differences together in dialogue and focused action, with a scope beyond anything that's been dealt with before. And not succeeding is not an option for anyone.
The thing that has most impressed me here is the level of agreement about what needs to be done. In spite of the complexity and enormity of the problems, and the vast array of organizations, there is a lot of clarity about the direction we as a global society need to take. And indeed, solutions and progress will require the same enormity of commitment from all parties to work together, and to keep at it for a long time to come.
In fact, the agreements that came out of the original Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 remain the basic blueprint that is being used now, with some updating and strengthening. Agenda 21 is the primary set of agreements that were hammered out there, and most of them have specific targets and timelines by which the different national delegates were committing themselves. In addition to this were the separate agreements for Biodiversity (which the US didn't sign) and Climate Change (later strengthened with the Kyoto protocol, which the US signed and pulled out of on once Bush was in power).
The US government (and its close ties to corporate interests) remains one of the biggest obstacles to progress, and the source of much frustration here. The current administration has consistently refused to sign key major international environmental agreements, stating that it "would hurt the US economy." It is a given that grappling with the big global issues is going to cost everyone, and much of it is cleaning up the mess that we collectively have made of things,
Now Bush is choosing not even to bother attending the Summit (106 heads of state are attending, and virtually every other head of state from developed nations). Despite the fact that the US is by far the biggest consumer of resources and the biggest overall polluter, the government continues to communicate through its actions that it is not concerned with the results of its policies on other countries. The arrogance and irresponsibility is breathtaking. And very painful, as time is running out for countless species and entire eco-systems.
That being said, the fact is also that many other governments are not following through on the commitments they made in Rio ten years ago, which is why most of the issues being dealt with, such as pollution, poverty, climate change, etc., are substantially worse now than they were ten years ago. The long-term sustainability of the planet has not been much of a priority in general worldwide until now, and it is our fervent hope that this is changing with the scary evidence of rapid destruction.
Next week, I will give you a summary of the specific issues being dealt with and the solutions being proposed.