"Sustainable development is development
that meets the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their own needs."
--Our Common Future: Report of the World
Commission on Environment and Development
(The Brundtland Report), 1987
Sustainable Development and Human Rights: A Better
Future for All
Over three and a half million years ago, two of our ancestors left their
footprints in the sand near what is now Laetoli in the United Republic
For many thousands of years these ancient footprints were hidden from
view. Today the footprints of modern man are impossible to miss. Human
activity has affected every part of the planet. In our search for ways
to improve the quality of our lives, we are damaging the environment and
putting the survival of future civilizations in jeopardy.
The goals set by sustainable development challenge us to respect our place
in nature. We are a part of nature and depend on it for food, water, energy,
air— everything we need in order to stay alive and must recognize that
when the environment is depleted everyone’s well being is threatened.
Sustainable development asks us to figure out how to improve the quality
of our lives while reducing our impact on the Earth.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development that took place in Johannesburg,
South Africa from 26 August to 4 September, 2002 focused on five areas
where concrete results are both essential and achievable. An overview
of each area was provided in a message from the Secretary-General Kofi
Annan delivered on his behalf by Mrs. Nane Annan at the American Museum
of Natural History's Annual Environmental Lecture:
"First is water and sanitation. More than 1 billion people are without
safe drinking water. Twice that number lack adequate sanitation. And more
than 3 million people die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water.
Unless we take swift and decisive action, by 2025 as much as two thirds
of the world’s population may be living in countries that face serious
water shortage. We need to improve access. We need to improve the efficiency
of water use, for example by getting more 'crop per drop' in agriculture,
which is the largest consumer of water. And we need better watershed management,
and to reduce leakage, especially in the many cities where water losses
are an astonishing 40 percent or more of total water supply.
The second area is energy. Energy is essential for development. Yet two
billion people currently go without, condemning them to remain in the
poverty trap. We need to make clean energy supplies accessible and affordable.
We need to increase the use of renewable energy sources and improve energy
efficiency. And we must not flinch from addressing the issue of overconsumption
– the fact that people in the developed countries use far more energy
per capita than those in the developing world. States must ratify the
Kyoto Protocol, which addresses not only climate change but also a host
of unsustainable practices. States must also do away with the perverse
energy subsidies and tax incentives that perpetuate the status quo and
stifle the development of new and promising alternatives.
Third is agricultural productivity. Land degradation affects perhaps as
much as two thirds of the world’s agricultural land. As a result, agricultural
productivity is declining sharply, while the number of mouths to feed
continues to grow. In Africa, especially, millions of people are threatened
with starvation. We must increase agricultural productivity, and reverse
human encroachment on forests, grasslands and wetlands. Research and development
will be crucial, as will implementation of the UN Convention to Combat
The fourth area is biodiversity and ecosystem management. Biodiversity
is declining at an unprecedented rate – as much as a thousand times what
it would be without the impact of human activity. Half of the tropical
rainforests and mangroves have already been lost. About 75 percent of
marine fisheries have been fished to capacity. 70 percent of coral reefs
are endangered. We must reverse this process -- preserving as many species
as possible, and clamping down on illegal and unsustainable fishing and
logging practices -- while helping people who currently depend on such
activities to make a transition to more sustainable ways of earning their
Finally, the area of health. The links between the environment and human
health are powerful. Toxic chemicals and other hazardous materials are
basic elements of development. Yet more than one billion people breathe
unhealthy air, and three million people die each year from air pollution
– two thirds of them poor people, mostly women and children, who die from
indoor pollution caused by burning wood and dung. Tropical diseases such
as malaria and African guinea worm are closely linked with polluted water
sources and poor sanitation. Conventions and other steps aimed at reducing
waste and eliminating the use of certain chemicals and substances can
go a long way to creating a healthier environment. But we also need to
know better how and where to act – meaning that research and development
are especially important, particularly studies that focus more on the
diseases of the poor than has historically been the case."
At a recent discussion at the UN on how to integrate the follow-up to major conferences that have been held since the 1990's -- on sustainable develoment, women, population, poverty and social issues -- there was a consensus that the Millennium Development Goals (which world leaders had agreed to at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000) would serve as the main focal point for integrating the range of agreements that were established at these various conferences. Key
outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development reaffirmed
several of the Millennium
Development Goals in addition to setting other goals.
More information on this year's theme
21 is the UN's plan for improving and protecting the environment in
the 21st century.
Visit the website of the United
Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development to see what happened.
young people said to world leaders at the Summit in Johannesburg.
Explore a Virtual
Exhibit created by The World Summit on Sustainable Development that
features sustainable partnerships around the world.
On 20 December, 2000, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming
2003 to be the International
Year of Freshwater. Read about what is being done to increase the
sustainable use of freshwater.
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