An uphill task

Sustainability still a long way off, says Worldwatch

Published: Friday 15 February 2002

-- (Credit: Kumar)"too small, too slow, or too poorly rooted." This is how the recently released 19th annual edition of Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2002 report describes the steps taken in the 1990s for an ecologically resilient world. Considering the dismal scenario, the document recommends "a global war on poverty and environmental degradation that is as aggressive and well funded as the war on terrorism".

Dedicating the report to issues central to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development set for Johannesburg, South Africa, from August 26 through September 4, 2002, it highlights both the environmental and health milestones achieved during the post-Rio summit and the problems that still haunt humanity.

It states that in the last 10 years, deaths from pneumonia, diarrhoea, and tuberculosis have declined, and the production of ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (cfcs) in industrial countries has been phased out. However, deaths from aids have increased more than six-fold, global emissions of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide have gone up by more than nine per cent and 27 per cent of the world's coral reefs are now severely damaged (up from 10 per cent at the time of the Rio Earth Summit). Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin says, "Ten years after Rio summit, we are still far from ending the economic and environmental marginalisation that afflict the billions of people. Despite the prosperity of the 1990s, the divide between the 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 destabilised societies."

The hurdles on the road to a sustainable world have also been pointed out in the Worldwatch report. International environmental treaties and other initiatives suffer from shaky commitments and fund crunch. Paradoxically, while the United Nations Environment Programme has struggled to maintain its annual budget of us $100 million, military expenditure by the world's governments is at present more than us $2 billion a day. Besides, although there was more than 30 per cent expansion in global economic output in the last decade, aid spending has plummeted from us $69 billion in 1992 to us $53 billion in 2000. Third world indebtedness is also increasing. There has been a rise of 34 per cent in the total debt burden in developing countries since the 1992 earth summit and this debt reached us $2.5 trillion in 2000.

Worldwatch says, "Increased financial and political support for international social and environmental programmes is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success in the transition to a sustainable world." It is argued in the report that active involvement of other powerful international players, such as non-governmental organisations (ngos) and the business community, is vital too.

The project director of State of the World 2002, Hilary French, says, "History shows that cooperation can overcome even seemingly intractable obstacles." Summing up the institute's findings, Gary Gardner, director of research for State of the World 2002, says, "In the decade since the historic Rio conference, the challenge of putting the world's economies on a sustainable track has advanced only slightly -- but significantly. Trends are still headed largely in the wrong direction, but a shift in global consciousness is clearly discernible."

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