Prof. Hans van Ginkel
Rector UN University

at the World Summit for Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa
 29 August 2002

The obvious decline in the condition of the natural environment, combined with persistent levels of extreme poverty in many parts of the world, have given rise to the global appreciation of the urgency with which we gather here in Johannesburg. They point to the core imperative that sustainable development must be mainstreamed within the broader global political agenda and approached in a more comprehensive, strategic and integrated manner. That is what we are doing here today in Johannesburg. These goals can only be achieved if we strengthen international cooperation and work together in a coherent and mutually supportive manner to develop and implement the right policies that bear on sustainable development.

The crises confronting us have been extensively detailed. The realization of the urgency of the situation - coupled with the willingness to come together to discuss solutions - is evidenced by the Declarations associated with Monterey, the launching of the Doha Development Round and our presence here in Johannesburg. We must not lose sight, however, that at the end of the day Declarations are a means to an end.

Few deny that improving developing countries' access to the markets of the rich (particularly in agriculture) is necessary for the successful pursuit of sustainable development. It is equally true that modifying or interpreting trade rules to integrate developing countries more fully into the world economy while promoting the flow of financial resources to the poorest are also essential.

However, too frequently we lose sight that these sustainable development prerequisites are by themselves insufficient. As one who has devoted an entire career to advancing education at all levels, I firmly believe that to be truly effective, the most critical condition for successful implementation of policies to promote sustainable development is the requisite human and institutional infrastructure. Only with these in place can developing countries take advantage of the benefits that may come in the form of improved market access, modified trade rules and increased financial flows. Sadly we are far from having in place even the minimal human and institutional infrastructure to secure these benefits.

Desperately needed at the local, regional and global levels is coordinated action to train and educate the vast number of students, teachers, government officials and others that comprise the key actors in the severely "time-bound" race for sustainable development. Simply put, how can interests be advanced if there is not a full knowledge of all the relevant issues and the information to address them successfully at the national, regional and global level?

How can NEPAD possibly achieve its goal of good governance without a fully educated and well-informed society? How can developing countries negotiate and implement the extraordinarily sophisticated legal agreements of the Doha Development Round if they are not fully aware of the national, regional and global implications? How can enhanced financial flows be effectively used to promote sustainable development?

This vision has led the UNU to devote a substantial part of its resources to the subject of strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development. Sustainable development is not a one-day tutorial. Integrating sustainable development into the curriculum at all education levels and sectors is needed to ensure that students from primary to post-secondary are aware of its imperatives and respect its principles and values in their professions and as habits of everyday life. We have been active at our Tokyo headquarters as well as in our fourteen regional institutes in training technicians, future diplomats and other young people in the substance and importance of the multilateral and regional agreements crucial to attaining sustainable development.

We have long experience in disseminating critical information to developing countries to assist in creating well-informed negotiating strategies at regional and global conferences. The UNU Press is one of our flagships in this respect and I invite you to witness this for yourselves by visiting the UNU publication display.

Neither last, nor least in this respect, we are well down the track of finalizing our ambitious project for a virtual university focusing on sustainable development to achieve the same goals of training and educating at all levels of schooling.

There is a further necessary condition to achieve sustainable development to which we attach pivotal importance. Policies to build human and institutional capacity must be complemented with the right population policies. . The road from Rio to Johannesburg runs through Cairo.
Sustainable development aims at improving human well-being, particularly through alleviating poverty, increasing gender equity, and improving health, human resources and stewardship of the natural environment. Because demographic factors are closely linked to these goals, it is essential that international strategies take population into account. Any consideration of sustainable-development policies must include population growth and distribution, mobility, the health impacts of environmental change, differential vulnerability, and the empowerment of people, especially of women.

Only with a voluntary decline in population growth can we derive the critical economic benefits that come through a reduction in the number of children relative to the working age population. Slower population growth and strengthened human and institutional capacity go hand in glove. We must follow consistent and mutually supportive policies in these areas and greatly increase investment in health, education infrastructure, training and education. If we do not put the human population centre stage our efforts to improve human well being and improve the quality of the environment will fail.

Education, science and technology are all stressed in the WSDD Draft Plan of Implementation. They have great potential to improve the well-being of society at large, but have yet to be fully harnessed or mainstreamed into sustainable development efforts. The Ubuntu Declaration, an initiative led by UNU, will call on the science and education communities to join forces and mobilize themselves to work for sustainable development.

UNU's reports to this conference, which I am proud to present today, examines how changes in international institutions - and better interlinkages between them - can improve environmental quality and promote development. They provide a careful assessment of existing proposals and past attempts to reform the existing governance system. They also describe other critical research in all the target areas of the WSSD and many others.

My UNU colleagues have come to this conference with three important objectives:

  •  to listen carefully to the views and opinions expressed throughout the conference and enrich our own thinking;
  •  to inform you of the wide variety of work underway in areas of critical importance to sustainable development; and
  •  to state clearly that UNU stands ready to cooperate with all institutions that share our vision for the need for a well-educated society and     sound and relevant research to underpin the successful achievement of the goal of sustainable development.

This world summit has the potential to serve as a turning point in our efforts to pursue the agreed goal of sustainable human development. We do not have the right to let this unique possibility pass us by. I can assure you that the United Nations University will indeed play its part.