Kenneth G. Ruffing
This historic Summit will be finished in just under a week. But the real work - the work of implementing the agreed Plan of Implementation and the Type 2 Initiatives, and of fulfilling the commitments embodied in the Political Statement - will just be beginning.
As is the case with most others in this room, OECD Ministers of Economy, Development and Environment have agreed that sustainable development is an overarching goal of their governments, and of the OECD as an organisation. Furthermore, they have recognised that OECD countries "bear a special responsibility for leadership on sustainable development worldwide, historically and because of the weight they continue to have in the global economy and environment". It is time to put this into practice. The priorities for action are clear: we need to achieve more sustainable consumption and production patterns, to increasingly decouple environmental pressure from economic growth, to ensure sustainable management of natural resources, and to work together in partnership to eradicate absolute poverty.
But these are easier said than done. In some areas there are major obstacles hampering the necessary policy reforms, resulting in a distinct "implementation gap" between policy advice and action. The result of this "implementation gap" has been a deterioration in some environmental conditions, and the continuance of poverty, hunger and disease as defining characteristics of the lives of so many. Most of the challenges that remain relate to either the protection of global public goods, such as biodiversity or a stable climate, or to continuing inequalities between countries or peoples in terms of development, poverty reduction, and access to basic good and services such as energy and clean water and other ecosystem services.
One of the areas where OECD countries can show leadership is to increase the coherence and integration of their own policies, and to take the necessary steps either unilaterally or in co-ordination with others to overcome some of the obstacles to policy reform. This includes integrating sustainable development concerns across Ministries, and ensuring that existing policies do not work against each other. For example, OECD countries are the largest donors of overseas development assistance (ODA), but at the same time have policies in place to protect and subsidise their own national industries often at the expense of developing country economic opportunities. In fact, it is probable that in many instances the development benefits of official aid are swamped by the effects of trade distorting subsidies and other barriers to trade. OECD country support to domestic production - particularly in the sectors of agriculture, fisheries and energy - amount to roughly 6-7 times the amount of ODA provided to developing countries. Not only do many of these subsidies lead to economic distortions and environmental damage in OECD countries, but together with other barriers to trade they represent a loss of an estimated US$ 43 billion a year to developing country trading partners. OECD is working together with its member countries to identify and establish more coherent policies for sustainable development, and to overcome some of the obstacles - such as the fear of a loss of competitiveness - which block policy reform. As an interdisciplinary Organisation, the OECD is particularly well suited to supporting countries in their efforts to increase coherence across the full range of public policies affecting sustainable development. But policy prescriptions are not enough. Success boils down to a question of will! For that we depend on political leadership.
OECD also plays an important role in reinforcing political will by monitoring country progress towards sustainable development. Monitoring progress helps countries to identify the effectiveness of the policies they are using both to achieve nationally agreed objectives and to implement their international commitments; it also facilitates peer review and peer pressure as tools to encourage countries to implement appropriate policies effectively. OECD's unique system of country surveys helps to foster good governance by ensuring accountability in government policies using the peer review system and by sharing best practices in policy experience amongst countries. Following a mandate given by OECD Ministers in 2001, OECD has been working to better incorporate reviews of sustainable development policies and performance in our country economic surveys. Having agreed upon a list of sustainable development indicators, each Economic and Development Review of OECD countries will include a new section assessing the country's performance. This is a new departure for OECD as an Organisation, and an important one to ensure transparency and accountability in moving towards sustainable development. This new activity will not replace the comprehensive environmental performance reviews which will continue to be undertaken for all OECD member countries over a 5-6 year cycle.
Few question the Brundtland Commission definition of sustainable development, namely "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Within societies, the luxuries of one generation are often the needs of the next. But that is not true of the health of the biosphere upon which all of us, rich, less rich and poor, depend. This means sound and effective management of the global commons which takes us far beyond our individual country reviews.
In both instances the OECD has a key role to play by providing a forum for exchanging views and policy experiences among countries, and for working together to develop the right framework conditions and monitoring systems to facilitate the implementation of global sustainable development.