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Leading the transition to a sustainable future (8 April 1997)



One of the major impediments to more progress is the fact that many of the organizations and individuals working for sustainability in their own communities and sectors continue to work largely in isolation from each other.

Statement by Maurice Strong, Chairman of the Rio +5 Forum at Ministerial Session of the Meeting of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development


Let me first, Mr. Chairman, congratulate you on your election as Chairman of this especially important session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. It is gratifying and reassuring to know that the deliberations of the Commission are to benefit from your leadership and the unique combination of experience, qualities and commitment to the cause of sustainable development which you bring to it. This bodes well for the success of your work and of the Special Session of 'the UN General Assembly in June, on which so much depends.

It is important that we remind ourselves that the fifth anniversary of the Earth Summit also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden, in June 1972, which put the environment issue on the international agenda, and of the establishment by the UN General Assembly as a result of the Stockholm Conference of the United Nations Environment Program.

As a contribution to the Fifth Anniversary Review of the Results of the Earth Summit mandated by the UN General Assembly, the Earth Council in cooperation with a broadly representative group of other organizations and stakeholders convened the Rio +5 Forum in Rio de Janeiro March 13-19. We were honoured to have the participation of President Cardoso of Brazil as Honourary Chairman, and the full support of his government, as well as that of the State and the City of Rio de Janeiro and NGO, business and other leaders of Brazilian society. Funding and substantive support from a number of other governmental and non-governmental sources made an indispensable contribution to the Forum.

From Agenda to Action


The theme of the Rio +5 Forum was "Moving From Agenda to Action". It was the culmination of an ambitious year-long process designed to revitalize the sustainable development movement by building on the experience gained and lessons learned from the successes achieved since the Earth Summit and seek ways to remove the obstacles to action that continue to impede progress.

At the Earth Summit, countries of the world, most of them represented by their principal leaders, adopted a number of accords, principally the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21 as the program for giving effect to it, framework conventions on Climate Change and Biological Diversity, a statement on forestry principles and laid the foundations for the Convention on Desertification. In addition, at the Global Forum, a number of "treaties" were agreed expressing the commitments of various sectors of civil society.

Five years later, it is apparent that despite these commitments and the accompanying publicity, the basic concept of sustainable development is not yet well understood and the policies and structures required to implement the Earth Summit agreements are still not in place. The good news is that there is a great deal of good news; the bad news is that there is not enough of it. Despite progress made on many fronts as evidenced at Rio +5, the world community has still not made the fundamental transition to a development pathway that will provide the human community with a sustainable and secure future. Environmental deterioration continues and the forces which drive it persist.

Impediments to progress

One of the major impediments to more progress is the fact that many of the organizations and individuals working for sustainability in their own communities and sectors continue to work largely in isolation from each other. Rio +5 was designed to bring together a representative group of these "actors", to help forge new links and alliances amongst them across disciplines, sectors, institutional and national boundaries so that their successes can be multiplied and they can combine efforts to remove and overcome barriers to achievement of sustainable development.

In preparation for Rio +5, the Earth Council invited a broadly representative crosssection of stakeholders with expertise and involvement in sustainable development action to review their own experience and submit papers based on this experience on specific topics as background for the Forum and a contribution to the overall fifth anniversary review process. As it would not have been feasible to make participation in the Rio +5 Forum comprehensive, every effort was made to make it as representative as possible of key civil society actors and constituencies.

Parallel with this, Rio +5 partner organizations cooperated to set up a series of national and international multi-stakeholder consultations. This process produced more than 70 special focus reports and 80 reports from national and regional consultations, providing a rich and diverse source of information about progress, and lack of progress, in implementing the Earth Summit agreements, lessons learned from these experiences and crucial factors which drive and hinder implementation of sustainability. Thus, Rio +5 was not simply another meeting, but the focal point of a process designed to use this fifth
anniversary review occasion as an opportunity to revitalize the action process, produce new alliances for action amongst civil society stakeholders and help stimulate renewed impetus to action on the part of governments and intergovernmental organizations.

Against this background, the International Steering Committee for Rio +5, through the Earth Council, brought together in Rio de Janeiro some 500 knowledgeable and committed people from all parts of the world for six days of intensive plenary and workshop sessions. National Councils for Sustainable Development, of which some 100 have been established since the Earth Summit, constituted a primary constituency for the Forum and made an especially important contribution to it. A separate presentation of the statement they agreed at Rio +5 will be made later in your session.

Enormous range of experience


Participants brought with them an enormous range of experience in their national councils, in community-based organizations, local authorities, business and industry, science, technology and research institutes, NGO networks, fmancialinstitutions, UN development agencies, environmental organizations, private investors, philanthropic organizations, values and educational groups. During the pre-Forum activities and at the Forum itself the Rio + 5 process generated a rich harvest of action experiences and plans from many stakeholders featuring innovative and effective strategies to integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. The results constitute a combination of new insights and reinforcement of past recommendations that have not been
fully or adequately carried out as well as new ideas and recommendations. There was a particular focus on the governance structures, legal and policy frameworks, financial support, education and consultative processes required to translate promising ideas into action.

The Rio+5 process was admittedly a complex and demanding one. This was a deliberate attempt to recognize that the issues that we must address if we are to succeed in the transition to sustainable development are intrinsically complex and systemic in nature, and if we are to deal with them effectively our action and consultative processes must reflect this reality. The Rio + 5 process was designed as an experiment in doing this, providing the framework for viewing on an integrated basis the linkages amongst the wide range of issues that must be managed inter-actively to produce sustainable development and dialogue amongst leading actors in respect of these issues. As consensus already exists at a general level on many key issues the Forum concentrated on the diversity of perspectives and actions by various stakeholders. Its principal outputs were the substantive, in-depth insights, affirmations and recommendations emerging from the pre-Forum activities and the Forum
Workshops, the practical action alliances that were developed as a result of the process and the inputs to the deliberations of governments which are reflected in the report of Rio + 5 which will
be made available to you together with the documents to which I have already referred. These documents and the proceedings of Rio +5 are now available on the Earth Council's InterNet Website.

A copy of the summary version of the report "Subsidizing Unsustainable Development - Undermining the Earth with Public Funds" by the Institute for Research on Public Expenditure of the Netherlands commissioned by the Earth Council, with the support of the Netherlands Government, has recently been released and is also available to you here.

Let me cite briefly some of the major conclusions, actions by stakeholders and recommendations to governments that emerge from Rio + 5.

Major conclusions may be summarized as follows:


1. There is a critical need for greater multi-stakeholder participation to integrate the social, economic and ecological dimensions of sustainable development into specific policies, programs and actions.

2. Sustainable development is still predominantly the domain of environmental ministries. Other government departments, particularly those dealing with economic and social policy, must become involved. This has important implications for the Commission on Sustainable Development which has made notable progress but needs to include more representatives of fmance and economic ministries.

3. The principal driving forces of economic activity -unsustainable patterns of production and consumption in industrial countries and population growth in developing countries - are still the major contributors to our current unsustainable course. North American participants declared that their current production and patterns are morally and ecologically unsustainable.

4. There is a need to address the fundamental ethical imperatives of sustainable development through the Earth Charter. A firm commitment on the part of all nations and peoples to a new integrated ethical vision is essential if humanity is to achieve the goal of sustainability and ensure the well-being of people and the larger community of life on Earth.

5. There is a need to make the difficult transition from managing sectoral issues to integrated management systems.

6. Governments are currently subsidizing unsustainable development ($700 billion a year in energy, agriculture and water alone). Large amounts of financial resources could become available for supporting sustainability if harmful subsidies are removed and positive incentives for sustainable development provided.

7. The information revolution is creating a new kind of impoverishment (Africa's capacity for electronic communication is growing at 6% a year while the rate in Asia and Europe is about 20%).

8. International accords are in danger of becoming external interventions unrelated to the organic needs of national and local communities in developing countries.

9. There are many successful cases of sustainable development practices which must be multiplied.

10. Local Agenda 21 efforts need to be better integrated with national Agenda 21 frameworks for sustainable development.

11. Private philanthropy and private investment are now the main source of development resources which must be better focused and integrated in an efficient delivery system for sustainable development.

12. The current UN system is not able to enforce compliance with international accords which must be more deeply rooted in local and national support.

Major Actions and Affirmations by Stakeholders, include:


1. Agreement at the first meeting of the Earth Charter Commission on a "benchmark" draft Earth Charter to be used as the basis for extensive dialogue and consultations by people and organizations throughout the world to produce a "people's" Earth Charter which would be submitted to the United Nations for appropriate recognition and action by governments in the year 2000. It builds on the Declarations of Stockholm and Rio and the many other processes which have produced relevant ethical statements, particularly the IUCN's Covenant. A copy of this benchmark draft and summary report of the Earth Charter Commission meeting is being made available to you here.

It is encouraging to note that the World Environment Day celebrations on this anniversary  year in Seoul, Korea, will focus especially on the issue of environmental ethics.

2. All participants affirmed their commitment to ensuring the mainstreaming of gender issues, full participation of youth in all sustainable development processes as well as special measures to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples and the mobilization of support for the issues of particular concern to them.

3. Participants affirmed the priority that must be accorded to eliminating the dire and debilitating poverty that continues to afflict so many of the world's people and to the incorporation of specific measures to ensure this in sustainable development policies and practices.

4. The nearly 70 consultations organized by civil society actors in partnership with governments (in most cases National Councils for Sustainable Development or similar multi-stakeholder groups) produced a number of specific affirmations and recommendations for national and local sustainable development.

5. Commitment by the President of the World Bank and the Administrator of the United Nations Development Program to support of civil society participation in sustainable development through National Councils for Sustainable Development.

6. Affirmation by the World Travel and Tourism Council in collaboration with the World Tourist Organization and the Earth Council of their Agenda 21 for the travel and tourism industry.

7. Affirmation by the World Federation of Engineering Organizations of their commitment to integrate and support sustainable development principles in their professional work, complemented by their report on the Engineer's Response to Sustainable Development.

8. Initiation on the initiative of Energy 21 of a campaign to enlist at least one million communities worldwide in programs to improve energy efficiency by twenty-five percent or more by the year 2001.

9. Initiation of a process for improved consultation and cooperation amongst governmental and private donors to provide new and more effective financial support for local and national sustainable development initiatives.

10. Development of a framework and enhanced linkages to facilitate cooperation and consultation amongst the growing network of National Councils for Sustainable

Development and the establishment and strengthening of regional alliances, as for example in Central American, the Southern Cone countries of South America and in Asia as a parallel forum to APEC.

11. Examples by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development of progress by business in practical actions to implement sustainable development and affirmation of its commitment to continued progress as evidenced by the signing at Rio +5 of a Memorandum of Agreement between the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the United Nations Development Program.

12. Affirmation by the International Road Transport Union of commitment by its members to a sustainable development charter based on Agenda 21.

13. Agreement signed in Rio de Janeiro between community-based initiatives of IMAS, headquartered in Costa Rica and the Earth Council.

14. Affirmation of civil society support for the United Nations Environment Program as a basis for a strengthened world environmental organization within the United Nations with a status equivalent to international economic and trade organization.

15. Affirmation of the value and importance of continuing on a periodic basis global consultations amongst civil society actors for sustainable development building on the Rio +5 experience and the proposal made by the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro for establishment of a "Rio Forum".

Recommendations to governments and others


Specific recommendations for implementing sustainability emerged from the working sessions at the Rio +5 Forum. Like the recommendations for managing the various subsystems of sustainable development that were submitted in more than 70 technical papers and 80 national and sub-regional consultations, they were based on the experience of attempting to implement sustainability.

A primary need identified by the Forum is to provide better mechanisms and policy instruments for translating the agreements reached at Rio and subsequent experience and recommendations into effective action at local, national and sectoral levels. They must be transformed into a more coherent and consistent set of policies, legal frameworks, fiscal and budgetary processes, institutional mechanisms, communication and educational programs. To support the establishment and strengthening of these mechanisms, the following is a summary of the principal recommendations made:

1. That the United Nations and governments take note of and lend support to the civil society Earth Charter process. As Co-Chairman of the Earth Council Commission, I am pleased to present the report of its first meeting and this benchmark Earth Charter draft to you and to undertake to keep you fully informed concerning the continuing Earth Charter process.

2. That governments facilitate and support formation of multi-stakeholder mechanisms to develop local Agendas 21.

3. In particular, that governments support the further establishment and strengthening of National Councils for Sustainable Development and similar mechanisms to develop and implement National Agendas 21 which link local with national sustainability actions and contribute to regional and global cooperation.

4. That governments and international organizations support the establishment by National Councils for Sustainable Development of Regional Forums to contribute to the incorporation of sustainable development measures in regional trade and investment accords.

5. That international development agencies and financial institutions develop new and more effective delivery systems to ensure local and national sustainability and the democratic and transparent use of resources.

6. That despite current budgetary austerity, donor governments and agencies provide new and additional concessional funding required to support the transition to sustainable development and the implementation of Agenda 21 by developing countries, particularly the least developed.

7. That the Global Environmental Facility be replenished at a higher level with an expanded mandate.

8. That the United Nations and its member states provide full and strong support to the United Nations Environment Program and to building on its foundations a world environment organization with more effective monitoring, assessment and early warning functions as the bridge between science, policy and international law in the environment field, the principal source of the environmental dimension of the sustainable development nexus and the work of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, with a status and strength equivalent to that of the international economic and trade organizations. May I also remark at this point that the Nairobi Declaration provides a promising starting point for this and that the measures at the resumed session of UNEP's Governing Council to establish new mechanisms to carry out its governance functions will, I hope, prove also to be a positive step in this direction.

9. That the United Nations General Assembly make provision for appropriate participation in its deliberative and negotiating processes to all relevant major stakeholders which can contribute to the formation of international accords and facilitate support for their national and local implementation.

10. That industrialized countries agree at the forthcoming meetings of the Parties to the Climate Convention to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by twenty percent from 1990 levels by the year 2005.

11. That corporations be more accountable to the communities in which they operate as well as to society generally.

12. That governments initiate a negotiating process to establish a global framework for regulation of international capital flows.

13. That governments agree to review and reorient the system of incentives and subsidies by which they motivate the economic behaviour of corporations and citizens to eliminate subsidies and other incentives which encourage and support unsustainable development practices, particularly in respect of energy, transport, agriculture and water, and provide positive incentives for the achievement of sustainability.

As I have already mentioned, copies of the extensive documents and reports of the Rio +5 Forum sessions from which these recommendations emanate are available to you here and I am pleased that your program provides for further opportunities for review and consideration of the results of Rio +5, including special presentations by the business community and representatives of the National Councils for Sustainable Development.

I am pleased that you have accorded me the privilege of providing you at this opening session with an overview of the results of the Rio +5 Forum. We hope that the insights and observations of this broad cross-section of civil society actors, their affirmations of their strong and continuing commitment to action in their own communities, organizations and sectors, will lend credence to their recommendations to you as the representatives of governments. Rio +5 strongly affirmed its support of your efforts to ensure that the meetings of this Commission and the historic Special Session of the General Assembly will indeed succeed in revitalizing and lending new impetus and direction to the transition to a sustainable future for the human community for which the Earth Summit iaid the foundations. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.