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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Agenda Aimed at Generating Action Emerging for 2002 Johannesburg Summit

{short description of image} 26 October—A growing consensus is building around the idea that next September's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg must agree on definitive actions that can comprehensively address the economic, social and environmental issues confronting the global community, according to Nitin Desai, United Nations Secretary-General for the Johannesburg Summit.

"There is a pressing list of challenges that must be squarely confronted by the international community. Many people and organizations have concluded that Johannesburg will be the best place to reach agreement and to make commitments that will result in actions on the ground."

While governments have yet to formally adopt an agenda for the Summit, Desai said there is an increasing urgency to address sustainable development issues, particularly in light of growing political, economic and social tensions around the world.

"What we need," he said, "is to build a system, a set of rules, or an environment, that will enable globalization to become a more positive force for improving all people's lives." This new environment, he cautioned, must involve greater international cooperation, particularly in the areas of finance, technology transfer, debt relief and trade, and equity.

Desai said the challenge is to promote sustainable development on a wide range of national, regional and international initiatives to lessen stress on the environment, reduce poverty and encourage economic growth and prosperity, particularly in the developing countries.

"We already know — and have agreed on — what has to be done," Desai said. "What we need to know now, is who is going to do what, and when."

In the ten years since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where the world first paid attention to the notion of sustainable development—a concept that embraces actions that allow people to prosper and the environment to thrive-there have been significant changes in the way many governments and businesses have incorporated human and environmental concerns into their work. Yet change has not come quickly, and most of the work in meeting the challenges of sustainable development still lies ahead.

In a series of consultations held around the world, Desai said experts were concerned about a number of current trends affecting attempts by governments and other institutions to respond to the challenges of sustainable development. One of these trends relates to the sharp shift of resources to the private sector over the last decade due to the growing demands for efficiency and increased competitiveness in the global market.

One trend that has complicated efforts to promote sustainable development and that must be tackled, Desai said, has been the fall-off in assistance to developing countries. "It is very difficult to understand how a developing country, trying to compete in the world economy while struggling under the load of high debt payments, can possibly devote the necessary resources to sustainable development without assistance from the richer nations.

Desai said the Johannesburg Summit also provides an opportunity for countries to hammer out a series of time-bound actions for meeting the targets that they have already set for themselves in a range of agreements and at various gatherings, such as at the Millennium Summit.

For example, Desai cited the need to focus on promoting sustainable agriculture as a way to help countries meet the target for halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015. In fact, Desai said, 70 percent of the poor who live in the rural areas of the Third World cannot be lifted out of poverty unless we conserve and enhance the natural capital of land, water and other resources which provide livelihoods.

Likewise, he said, to meet the agreed target for improving the efficiency of resource and energy use four-fold over within the next two decades, countries must eliminate environmentally damaging subsidies and tax incentives in the energy sector. Other challenges that must be confronted, he said, include reducing health threats caused by poor water and air quality, which account for 25 percent of all preventable health problems in the world today.

The Johannesburg agenda will move into sharper focus over the next few months, Desai said, as the pace of meetings and activities at the national, regional and international levels gains momentum.

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24 August 2006