State of the World 2002: The Road to Johannesburg

WASHINGTON, DC, January 11, 2002 (ENS) - "The world needs a global war on poverty and environmental degradation that is as aggressive and well funded as the war on terrorism," recommends the Worldwatch Institute in its annual State of the World report released Thursday.

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Sun over the Atlantic Ocean (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The 19th annual edition of the institute's review of the health of the planet and its people, finds that "Steps in the 1990s toward a more just and ecologically resilient world were too small, too slow, or too poorly rooted."

The Washington, DC based research organization has dedicated State of the World 2002 to issues central to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development set for Johannesburg, South Africa from August 26 through September 4. The Summit is supposed to be a forum for review of progress since the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and a chance to chart a new course towards planetary health.

In the report's Foreword, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says, "The Johannesburg Summit can and must lead to a strengthened global recognition of the importance of achieving a sustainable balance between nature and the human economy."

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Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin (Photo courtesy Worldwatch Institute)
Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin says, "Ten years after the Rio Earth Summit, we are still far from ending the economic and environmental marginalization that afflict billions of people. Despite the prosperity of the 1990s, the divide between rich and poor is widening in many countries, undermining social and economic stability. And pressures on the world's natural systems, from global warming to the depletion and degradation of resources such as fisheries and fresh water, have further destabilized societies."

The report highlights a number of social and environmental advances since Rio, including declining deaths from pneumonia, diarrhea, and tuberculosis, and the phasing out of production of ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in industrial countries.

But health and environmental problems have piled up. Deaths from AIDS increased more than six-fold over the 1990s; global emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide climbed more than nine percent; and 27 percent of the world's coral reefs are now severely damaged, up from 10 percent at the time of the Rio Earth Summit, Worldwatch reports.

State of the World 2002 points to what it views as the impediments that have slowed progress towards building a sustainable world over the last decade.

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Afghan refugees enter an Iranian Red Crescent camp (Photo courtesy IFRC)
"Increased financial and political support for international social and environmental programs is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success in the transition to a sustainable world," Worldwatch says. The report's authors argue that the active involvement of other powerful international actors, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the business community, will also be essential.

In the 10 years since the Rio Earth Summit, NGOs have used the Internet and email to organize effective cross-border alliances. More than 24,000 NGOs are now active at the international level. NGOs activated millions of people in a series of important campaigns in the 1990s, including the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the ban on antipersonnel landmines, and the International Criminal Court, Worldwatch says.

"Getting the world onto a more environmentally and socially durable course is a daunting task," says State of the World 2002 project director Hilary French. "But history shows that cooperation can overcome even seemingly intractable obstacles. Johannesburg will help to determine whether the nations of the world can jointly address pressing problems, or whether we will remain on a destructive path that leads to poverty, environmental decline, terrorism, and war."

In the chapter on climate, bringing the Kyoto climate protocol into force before the Summit is of critical symbolic importance, Worldwatch says. "Setting forth a blueprint for post-Johannesburg climate negotiations, emphasizing the need to reengage the United States; considering a second period of emissions cuts; and expanding the group of countries with emissions targets will also further negotiations."

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The conference hall at Sandton, near Johannesburg in Gauteng province, South Africa where delegates will assemble for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Photo courtesy Gauteng Tourism Authority)
Going into the World Summit in Johannesburg, scientists have stronger evidence that most of the world's warming of the past 50 years is attributable to human activities, Worldwatch authors point out. "But with the Bush Administration in the U.S. and European ministers once again readying to square off on global warming, one may wonder whether Johannesburg in 2002 will be simply a repeat of Rio in 1992, when the first Bush administration refused to embrace mandatory commitments to counter climate change."

With chapters headed: Farming In The Public Interest, Reducing our Toxic Burden, Redirecting International Tourism, Rethinking Population, Breaking the Link Between Resources and Repression, and Reshaping Global Governance, the Worldwatch authors cover a wide field and link all topics back to the upcoming Johannesburg Summit.

Gary Gardner, director of research for State of the World 2002, sums up the institute's findings, "In the decade since the historic Rio conference, the challenge of putting the world's economies on a sustainable track has advnaced only slightly - byt significantly. Trends are still headed largely in the wrong direction, but a shift in global consciousness is clearly discernable."

For more on State of the World 2002, visit: http://www.worldwatch.org

Official United Nations Site for the World Summit on Sustainable Development: http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/flat/riomajorgroups.htm

The Stakeholder's Forum website for the World Summit on Sustainable Development: http://www.earthsummit2002.org

International Institute for Sustainable Development Linkages Portal for the Johannesburg Summit: http://www.iisd.ca/wssd/portal.html