Concepts of mutual respect (26 February 1997)



Concepts of mutual respect, caring for, sharing with and cooperating with our brothers and sisters both at home and internationally can no longer be seen as mere pious ideals divorced from reality, but as indispensable prerequisites for our common survival and well-being. It is on these foundations that our hopes for a more promising, sustainable future must be built.

Maurice Strong: Address to the Clarke Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Contemporary Issues at Dickinson College February 26, 1997

I am very pleased to be here with you this evening and am deeply moved and grateful for the high compliment you pay me in honouring me as this year's recipient of Dickinson College's Benjamin Rush Award. Although this is my first visit to your campus, I have long been aware through my work in the international and environmental fields of the fine reputation that Dickinson College and the Clarke Center have earned for your commitment to the highest standards of scholarship and values as exemplified by the impressive number of graduates who have distinguishedthemselves in the service of society. I feel especially proud and privileged to be associated with Dickinson through the receipt of this Award which honours the memory of a man whose contribution to public affairs in his time included a leading role in the founding of Dickinson College.

My only regret is that I am not able to remain here longer as I would have particularly liked to have the opportunity of meeting more personally with your faculty members and students. Unfortunately since accepting your invitation I have taken on new responsibilities at the United Nations to which I have now committed my full time and energies. But I do hope there will be an opportunity to return to Dickinson before too long for a longer visit.

I am especially pleased that you have asked me to address my remarks tonight to the subject of "Environmental Sustainability -an International Perspective" for this theme is central to my own interest and experience. Your timing in selecting this theme could not be more appropriate inasmuch as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1992 and the fifth anniversary of the "Earth Summit" held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992 with both of which I was closely associated.

International agenda

The Stockholm conference put the environment issue on the international agenda. It led to a proliferation of new environmental initiatives and the creation of the United Nations Environment Program, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, as well as national environmental ministries or agencies in most countries. However, despite progress in many areas, it became evident by the mid-1980s that, overall, the environment was still deteriorating and the economic behaviour largely responsible for this was continuing. In response, the United Nations General Assembly established the World Commission for Environment and Development under the Chairmanship of Norway's Gro Harlem Brundtland, one of the world community's most enlightened and respected leaders. Its report, "Our Common Future" made the case for sustainable development as the only viable pathway to a secure and hopeful future for the human community. Its recommendations ledtoadecisionbythe UNGeneralAssemblyinDecember1989tohold anewconference, the UN Conference on Environment and Development, on the 20th anniversary of the Stockholm conference and to accept the invitation of Brazil to host it. To underscore the importance of the conference it was decided that it should be held at the "Summit" level and it is now known universally as "The Earth Summit".

As an event itself, Rio was clearly remarkable, indeed historic. Never before had so many of the world's political leaders come together in one place, and the fact that they came to consider the urgent question of our planet's future put these issues under an enormous international spotlight. This was helped by the presence at Rio, both in the conference itself and the accompanying "Global Forum", of an unprecedented number of people and organizations representing every sector of civil society, and more than double the number of media representatives than had ever covered a world conference.

This "people-pressure" helped to move governments to agree on a set of principles, the Declaration of Rio, and a comprehensive program of action to give effect to these principles, Agenda 21.

Historic conventions


The Earth Summit produced agreement on two historic framework conventions, one on Climate Change and the other on Biodiversitywhich have since come into effect. It also launched the negotiating process which has led to agreement on a Convention on Desertification, an issue of special importance to many developing countries, particularly in the arid regions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite shortcomings, the agreements reached at Rio represent the most comprehensive program ever agreed by government for the shaping of the human future. And the fact that they were agreed by virtually all of the governments of the world, most of them represented by their head of government, gives them a high degree of political authority. But, as we have seen, it does not ensure their implementation. This will depend on what governments and others do to follow up and give concrete effect to the decisions taken at Rio.

So far the record is mixed at best, particularly at the level of governments. To some degree this is understandable. The changes called for at Rio were fundamental in nature and will not come quickly or easily. Climate change is a case in point. Although the latest report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change points to growing scientific evidence that human activities are a major contributor, it is clear that even the modest targets. set by the parties to the Convention on Climate Change will not be achieved.

There have, however, been some positive developments from which we can draw encouragement. The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, accompanied by a high-level advisory committee, has made a promising start as the forum for continuing governmental consultation and cooperation in following up and implementing the Rio agreements. After a period of recession in political will, the United States is reasserting its leadership in respect of the issues on which it was so reluctant at Rio. Japan has an enacted a basic environmental law. Other countries, notably China, have developed their own national "Agenda 21" in response to the global Agenda 21. Particularly encouraging is the fact that many developing countries have initiated measures to give effect to Agenda 21 despite the fact that the additional financial resources called for by Rio have not been forthcoming.

Developing countries have good reason to be disappointed in the response by industrialized countries to their needs for financial support in effecting the transition to sustainable development. In fact many countries have actually reduced official development assistance. The rich have never felt, or acted, so poor as they do today.

Economic pressures

It would clearly be unrealistic at a time when all industrialized countries are experiencing severe economic pressures and budgetary stringency to expect these additional resources to come through increases in foreign aid in traditional terms. What is required is not totally new funds, but a massive reorientation of current budgets, subsidies, fiscal, tax and economic policies to provide positive incentives for sustainable development, and new, innovative approaches to resource transfers. A recent study commissioned by the Earth Council makes it clear that literally hundreds of billions of dollars are being used by both industrialized and developing countries to subsidize activities that are both unsustainable in environmental terms and unnecessarily costly and wasteful in economic terms. Some, including subsidies on water and energy in developing countries, actually serve to impair and increase the cost of these vital services to the poor.

Estimates made for the Earth Summit indicated that if developing countries were accorded full and free access to the markets of industrialized countries, they could earn through trade much more than they now receive as development assistance.

Economic instruments and tradeable emissions permits offer promising means of using the market system for channelling resources available for environmental improvement to those places in which they can be utilized most cost effectively. While there are still many difficulties to resolve in designing and implementing emission trading, the US government has introduced an ambitious S02 program as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment.

Custodians of biological resources

Developing countries serve as custodians of most of the world's biological resources. The indispensable services they provide to the world community have always been taken for granted,and treated as free goods.

We must now begin to place an economic value on them if we were to expect developing countries to maintain them largely for the benefit of the rest of the world. Doing so would not only ensure the conservation of these precious resources, but provide an additional source of resource flows to these countries which would represent a wise investment by the international community, rather than an act of aid or charity.

The most exciting and promising post-Rio developments are occurring outside of governments, where there has a virtual explosion of activities and initiatives on the part of grass-roots organizations, citizen groups and other key sectors of society. The Earth Council was formed as a direct result of the Earth Summit in order to facilitate cooperative action to implement Agenda 21 by empowering people at the grass-roots and community level, supporting their initiatives and linking them to the larger policy and decision making processes which affect them. Headquartered in San Jose, Costa Rica, it has developed a network of consultative and partnership arrangements with many thousands of community, grass-roots, professional and other non-governmental organizations around the world.

In cooperation with the Earth Council, engineers and architects through their international bodies, have committed their professions to cooperative programs designed to support implementation of Agenda 21 in their sectors. The World Tourist and Travel Council, representing what is now the world's largest single industry, and the International Road Transport Union representing the transport sector which is so important in both environmental and economic terms, have both, in cooperation with the Earth Council, developed their own versions of Agenda 21 for their industries, and other sectors are taking similar action. Some 1600 cities and towns around the world have adopted their own local Agenda 21 under the aegis of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, again with the support and cooperation of the Earth Council.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has been reconstituted with a membership of some 120 chief executives of major companies around the world with a commitment to continuing leadership in effecting the change of course called for at Rio. And regional business councils are being established to facilitate this process at the regional level.

Fundamental change

The evidence produced for the Earth Summit made it clear that what is needed is fundamental change in the dynamics and direction of our economic life. This basic change of course has not occurred and until it does we will, despite our rhetoric and good intentions, continue to move in a direction that is simply not sustainable.

The prospects for the "Change of Course" called for at Rio will be re-examined at the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly convened in June this year to review progress since the Earth Summit and provide new impetus and direction to following up and implementing its results. It will be preceded by a meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. And on March 13-19, 1997, a "People's Assembly" will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for which President Cardoso of Brazil will be the Honourary Chairman with strong support from his government, the State Government of Rio de Janeiro.and the Brazilian non-governmental, business and professional communities. It will bring together representatives of National Councils for Sustainable Development and similar bodies from throughout the world, together with representatives of key civil society sectors and constituencies to share their experience and renew their commitment to Rio's Agenda 21. Its focus will be on moving "From Agenda to Action" and it will provide an important civil society input into the official processes.

The Rio +5 Assembly will also lend new impetus to the articulation of a people's "Earth Charter" promulgating basic moral and ethical principles for the conduct of nations and people towards each other and the Earth. This will build on a piece of unfinished business at Rio where we were unable to achieve our original aspirations for agreement by governments on an Earth Charter. Values, ethics and moral principles provide the basic underpinnings of our societies and the underlying motivation for our attitudes and behaviour. Thus, acceptance of these principles would provide the indispensable foundations for the transition to a sustainable way of life on our planet.

As we move into the 21st Century, human ingenuity and the miracles wrought by our accomplishments in science and technology have produced a civilization beyond the wildest dreams of earlier generations and given us the tools with which to shape an even more exciting and promising future. But these same forces have also given rise to some serious and deepening imbalances which must be seen as ominous threats to our common future.

These threats stem primarily from the concentration during this century of economic growth, and its benefits, in the industrialized countries, and population growth, with its attendant costs and pressures, in the developing countries. This is accentuating rich-poor differences both within and amongst nations and compounding the problems of managing cooperatively the risks to our common future arising from the growing pressures on the Earth's resource and life-support systems.

Today's "world order"

Today's "world order" is much different from that which prevailed at the time of the Stockholm Conference in 1972. The line between the traditional have-and have-not nations is blurring as the result of the economic progress being made by some developing countries. There has also been a movement towards democratization of the political process in some key countries of Latin America and Asia and the emergence of a multi-social democracy in South Africa.

The more rapidly developing countries of Asia and Latin America are leading the revitalization of the global economy, challenging its domination by the traditional industrialized countries and re-shaping the geo-political landscape.

A recent World Bank report points out that in the two decades from 1974 to 1993, developing countries as a whole grew at a rate slightly higher (3%) than the rich industrial countries (2.9%) and are expected to grow by almost 5% per year in the next decade compared with 2.7% in the traditional industrial countries.

On this basis, as The Economist noted in a survey of the global economy, China will replace the United States as the world's largest economy by 2020, and 9 of the top 15 economies of the world will be today's developing countries. India will replace Germany as the fourth largest economy. And the same survey projects that developing countries' share of world output will grow to 62% by 2020 while that of the rich industrial countries will decline to 37%. But it is always dangerous to put too much weight on surveys based largely on the extrapolation of current trends particularly those limited to narrow economic indicators. Nevertheless, there seems little doubt that the direction pointed up by the Economist is valid. As the recent crisis in Mexico demonstrates, the rapidly developing countries are vulnerable to severe setbacks, although these do not necessarily negate the main trend.

The basic character of the economies of some developing countries is also undergoing a major transformation. Although most of the poorest and least developed have been largely by-passed by this movement, many others have moved beyond their traditional role as exporters of raw materials and commodities. Manufactured goods now constitute some 60% of developing countries exports as compared to only 5% in 1955. And their share of world manufacturing exports rose from 5% in 1970 to 22% in 1993.

In light of these forecasts, the G-7, which today does not include a single developing country, is clearly becoming an anachronism. The current ''world order" continues to be rooted in the past, particularly our notions as to north-south relationships. We in the West have not yet really begun to appreciate and come to terms with the immense geo-political implications of this growth of economic power in the south. Despite the movement towards a global economy and more open trading system, I see signs of a "fortress north" mentality developing in the wealthy industrial countries which would not bode well for future relationships with the developing world.


Mixed feelings


The major movement of economic growth to the south is evoking mixed feelings, and responses, from the traditional industrialized countries, the "DECD" countries. On the one hand, their export industries have welcomed - and been quick to exploit - the opportunities that have opened up in the rapidly growing economies of the developing world. A recent DECD report postulates that if China, India, and Indonesia continue to grow at current rates, without changing current patterns of domestic income distribution, some 700 million people in these three countries alone -more than the combined populations of America, the European Union and Japan, will, by 2010, have an average income equivalent to that of Spain. This compares with only 100 million today.

On the other hand, DECD countries increasingly look on developing countries as competitors. Low labour costs and rising productivity are making their manufactured products highlycompetitive in northern markets -helping to keep consumer prices down but evoking strong and growing resistance from those in the industrial countries who see their investments and jobs at risk.

British financier and European Parliamentarian Sir James Goldsmith predicts that freer trade with developing countries will lead to massive movement of industry to the Third World and large-scale unemployment in DECD countries as well as in developing countries. Similar concerns are being raised in this country and even in Japan.

While the borders have been opening to trade in goods and services and flows of capital, the movement has been in the opposite direction in respect of the flows of people. No sooner had the Berlin Wall come down symbolizing removal of the boundaries that had separated east and west in Europe, than new walls are being erected against those who are uprooted, dispossessed and persecuted. This comes at a time when political turbulence, conflict and economic hardship in the developing world, as well as in parts of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, are creating increased pressures for emigration. In a very real sense, these barriers are creating a new iron curtain separating rich and poor. For the same countries that are tightening their borders against the poor and dispossessed welcome and even woo those with capital and marketable skills.

Developing countries continues to be home to most of the world's poverty and much of its conflict at the same time as it is generating the lion's share of new economic growth. But the developing world has never been homogenous and the new South is much less so. The rapid changes occurring there are deepening the processes of differentiation, particularly between those who are growing and those who continue in the grip of economic stagnation and poverty. These' changes have immense implications for all of us. In environmental terms alone they could be decisive for the human future.

The fact is that whether or not developing countries follow the same growth pathway taken by the more mature industrialized countries, their impacts will undoubtedly move us beyond the thresholds of safety and sustainability. Our environmental future will be largely determined by what happens in the developing world. Yet we who have largely created these risks, and benefitted most from the processes of industrialization that have given rise to them, can scarcely deny the right of developing countries to grow. Nor would it be fair or reasonable or practical for us to seek to impose unilaterally constraints on their growth in the name of environment.

Some of the most environmentally devastated areas of the world are in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe. We have a compelling interest in helping to ensure that they rebuild their economies on an environmentally sound and sustainable basis. I will not focus on them here except to say that they are a critically important part of the problem and must share fully in the solutions to them.

Larger global risks


Developing countries are contributing more and more to the larger global risks such as those of climate change, ozone depletion, degradation of biological resources, and loss or deterioration of arable lands. China has already become the second largest source of CO2 emissions and will almost certainly succeed the United States to the dubious honour of becoming Number 1. Meanwhile, in our countries, as these issues have somewhat receded from our own immediate experience, it has become more difficult to maintain the levels of public interest and commitment required to support the actions needed to deal with them. It is sobering to remind ourselves that all of the environmental deterioration and risks that have arisen to date have occurred at levels of population and economic activity that are much less than they will be in the period ahead.

A series of paradoxes is developing which will soon confront both industrialized and developing countries with some very painful tensions and challenges. While efficient and competitive economies produce more gross national product, the benefits accrue disproportionately to the minority who have capital and knowledge to deploy. This class is highly mobile and those in it can move their assets and activities across national borders.

Meanwhile, the continued existence of extreme poverty with its attendant deprivation and suffering affecting some 1.3 billion of the world's people is an affront to the moral basis of our civilization. All the more so in that the means to eradicate it clearly exists. What is needed is the assertion of a new political and moral will which would in tum' produce the social and economic innovation required to devise the means to deal effectively with it. The gaps between rich and poor, privileged and underprivileged, are deepening, both within and amongst societies. This process, if it is not reversed will inevitably lead to greater social tensions and potential for conflict. Democratic, market capitalism must find ways of dealing with these emerging dilemmas or risk becoming the victim of its own success. It must become just as effective at meeting society's environmental needs as it is in generating economic growth.

A recent article in "The Economist" - hardly a radical publication - stated that "if the Marxist prediction of a proletariat plunged into abject misery under capitalism has so far been unfulfilled, the widening gap between haves and have-nots is causing some to think that Marx might yet be proved right on this point after all". And George Soros, one of the capitalist system's most successful practitioners, has warned that capitalism is replacing communism as the main threat to the future of our societies.

Globalization of capitalism

The globalization of capitalism is producing a new and universalizing culture symbolized by CNN, brand name consumer products like Coca-Cola, MacDonald's and Levis, pop music, shopping malls, international airports, hotel chains and conferences. To the privileged minority who participate fully in this culture it provides an exciting and expanding range of new opportunities and experiences. But for the majority, particularly in the non-western world who live on its margins and feed on its crumbs, it is often seen as alien and intimidating. Caught up in the dynamics of modernization of which they are more victims than beneficiaries, it is no wonder that many react with anxiety and rejection, seeking refuge and identity in their own traditional values and cultures. The clash between modernism and fundamentalism has deeply rooted secular as well as religious dimensions and is producing a new generation of conflict and turbulence.

A countryman of mine, Professor Thomas Homer-Dixon cites the growing potential for eco-conflicts as a result of competition for land and other resources that become locally scarce and competition for shared resources like river systems and common areas like the oceans. The recent confrontation between Canada and the European Union over depleting fish stocks is a portent of this.

Meanwhile, medical scientists warn of the growing risks of emergence of new forms of disease and the resurgence of new strains of traditional communicable diseases, like tuberculosis and malaria. While these problems will arise primarily in developing countries, there is no way in which we can be isolated from them or their consequences.

What, then, is the answer to this bewildering complex of forces that are shaping our future? The sobering fact is that the answer lies with us. After a long period of evolution human beings have emerged as the dominant species on our planet. But we are a species out of control. Human numbers and the scale and intensity of human activities have reached the point at which we are now affecting, perhaps decisively, basic conditions and balances on which our life and well-being depend. We have become the principal determinants of our own evolution and we have no option but to manage the forces that are shaping our future, or we will surely be engulfed by them. It is an awesome responsibility and one for which we are clearly not yet ready.

The dominant ethos

For today the dominant ethos is that of individual self-interest. And I am sure that everyone here would share my deep belief that individual rights and freedoms constitute the fundamental foundations of our society. But in order to be able to exercise these rights and freedoms, they must be accompanied by a high sense of responsibility to each other and to future generations. It is this sense of responsibility that must be re-furbished as many of the actions to ensure a secure and sustainable future for those who follow us on this planet require new dimensions of cooperation with others, both at home and internationally. This is particularly true in the field of environment.

A new generation of enlightened leaders in both business and government is realizing that sound economic policies and practices must integrate environmental and social considerations. This was the basic message of the book, "Changing Course" by the leading Swiss industrialist, Stephan Schmidheiny, and some 50 other Chief Executive Officers of major corporations, in their report to the Earth Summit. It called for fundamental changes in economic practices and behaviour based on a commitment to "eco-efficiency" - efficiency in the use of energy and resources and in the prevention, disposal and recycling of wastes.

Eco-efficiency is good for business as well as for the environment. The old maxim that "knowledge is power" is now being accompanied by the realization that "knowledge is money" and therefore a primary economic resource. The growing drive to convert knowledge into proprietary intellectual property, could tend to reduce the total stock of knowledge and restrict access to the products of research and development for those who do not have the means to purchase it. This could especially disadvantage those, particularly in developing countries, whose needs are greatest. Yet it is in. our common interest to ensure that they have access to the best state-of-the-art technologies and techniques so that in the course of their own development they do not add unnecessarily to the pressures on the earth's environment and resources.

We must leave "space" for developing countries to grow and to set them an example that enables them to avoid the abuses and the costs of our own growth experience. For they will be much more influenced by our example, and by evidence that sustainable development is in their own interest, than by our exhortations.

It is clearly in our own interest to ensure that developing countries have both the incentives and the means to make the transition to sustainability. This means facilitating their access to the latest state-of-the-art technologies and to the additional capital they will need to employ them. It would be unrealistic to expect that this would come through increases in foreign aid in traditional terms. But as pointed up in a recent Earth Council study, governments everywhere continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on direct and indirect subsidies for activities which run counter to sustainable development -as for example to chemically-intensive agriculture, to water and fossil fuels. These impose costly burdens on people as taxpayers and consumers as well as encouraging environmentally unsound and unsustainable practices. A reorientation and redeployment of these resources would provide all the resources required to effect the transition to sustainable development, at home and abroad, while improving' economic efficiency.

Developing countries would also attract major new funds for investment in sustainable development if industrialized countries were willing to accord to the indispensable services they provide to the world community -for example, as custodians of most of its precious and irreplaceable biological resources and life-supporting ecosystems -the real value of these services and reflect this in the terms of trade and the prices they pay for the relevant products of the developing countries. This will require radical changes in the current policies and priorities of governments and a substantial re-vamping of the system of incentives and penalties by which governments motivate the economic behaviour of individuals and corporations.

Massive commitment to energy efficiency


Energy is at the centre of the environment development nexus. Already consumption of commercial energy by the developing countries of Asia is growing at a faster rate than in DECO countries. The 1993 report of the World Energy Council's task force on "Energy for Tomorrow's World" estimated that by 2020 developing countries will need some $30 trillion of new investment in energy facilities if they are to meet their growing needs on the basis of current patterns of use and efficiency. This is nearly 50% greater than the entire world GNP -clearly an impossible prospect.

A massive commitment to energy efficiency is the only answer. It is as essential in economics as in environmental terms -the most cost effective and sensible investment in the energy future of developing as well as more developed countries.

Foreign aid is in decline and private investment now accounts for the principal flows of financial resources to the rapidly developing countries. Accordingly, we must develop the incentives and innovative financial mechanisms to ensure that private capital will support development that is sustainable. Such new financial mechanisms as tradeable emission permits can utilize markets to channel funds available for environmental improvement to the places where they can be employed on the most cost-effective basis. Only by the "greening" of private capital can we make the transition to sustainability provided for in Rio's Agenda 21.

A wide variety of new non-governmental actors is emerging which are becoming primary agents of change. In a thoughtful article in the Summer 1994 Issue of Foreign Affairs, Lester M. Salmon compared the growth in the numbers and influence of voluntary, non-governmental organizations in the last half of this century with the emergence of the nation-state system in the eighteenth century.

In the field of environment and sustainable development the most exciting and promising post-Rio developments are occurring outside of governments, where there has been a virtual explosion of activities and initiatives on the part of grass-roots organizations, citizen groups and other key sectors of society, including the private sector. One of the most promising vehicles for this is. the establishment of National Councils for Sustainable Development in almost 100 countries, bringing together representatives of governments with those of civil society to develop their own national and local "Agendas 21".

The Earth Council, headquartered in San Jose, Costa Rica, is a unique product of the Earth Summit. It is a new kind of global, non-governmental organization, designed to act as a catalyst to facilitate and support implementation and follow-up of the results of Rio. In doing so, it consults with a network of several thousand organizations, most of them of a grass-roots nature, and also including a broad cross-section of development, environmental, social and public policy leaders and experts throughout the world. Its principal mission is to help to support and empower people and provide them with information and tools with which to develop local Agendas 21 and to help to link people at the community and grass roots level with the broad policy and decision making processes which affect them, and to amplify their voices in these processes, voices that are too seldom heard or heeded.

Not all non-governmental actors are, of course, of the benevolent kind. Organized crime built on the profits of drug trafficking and other illicit activities has been growing to an alarming degree, increasingly pre-empting the attention of governments and even in some cases subverting them.

Developing countries which once saw pollution as a problem of the rich are now experiencing these problems in even more acute form than we did. The cities of the developing world are growing at rates beyond anything experienced in the industrialized countries - outstripping their capacity to provide even the most basic housing, infrastructure, health, education and social services to their exploding populations. Cities like Cairo, Manila, Bangkok, Calcutta and Mexico City are amongst the most polluted on earth.

The need for a cooperative alliance with the new South and the nations of the former east bloc is particularly compelling when it comes to management of the "commons" beyond the jurisdiction of individual nations -the oceans and Antarctica comprising some two-thirds of the area of the earth, the atmosphere and outer space. Perhaps the most important "commons" of all is the global system of inter-acting cause and effect relationships on which the survival and well being of all life on earth ultimately depends. The care and management of this system requires a degree of cooperative stewardship beyond anything we have yet realized. The multi-lateral institutions, particularly those established since World War II provide the institutional framework for the system of governance by states required to exercise such stewardship. But they are the newest, least developed, least appreciated and least supported of all the levels in our hierarchy of governance.

At the global level, the United Nations and its specialized agencies and organizations, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, constitute the principal elements of this multi-lateral system. There are also many other regional and specialized organizations which perform important functions within the extended family of the community of international institutions,

There has been a plethora of reports, studies and proposals for reforming and strengthening these organizations and some progress has been made in this direction, but far too little. The reason is a built-in resistance to change within some of the institutions themselves and lack of sufficient concerted political will to change on the part of the governments concerned, even in some cases those who are the most vocal advocates of change.

As you know, reform of the United Nations has now become an important political issue, particularly in the United States where it is linked closely with the future role of the United States in the UN. It was the US leadership following World War II that led to the creation of the UN and the US has since been its principal supporter both in financial and political terms, and is now leading the drive for reform, both to improve performance and reduce costs. I am convinced that, overall, the changes on which the United States government is insisting are achievable if not in every respect exactly in the way in which the US would prefer.

We are singularly fortunate at this time of change to have as the leader of the United Nations, the new Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who brings to the position a greater degree of knowledge and experience of the organization than any of his predecessors. He has made reform of the UN his highest priority and brought responsibility for driving the process into his own office, in which I have the privilege of assisting him.

There are some issues about which it is important to be clear. The United Nations is not a world government; it was established by governments, with the leadership of the United States, as a servant of governments to help them to do cooperatively those things that they cannot do, or do as effectively, on their own. Its decisions and the revenues required to carry them out remain entirely the prerogative of member governments. It has no taxing or enforcement power of its own and, as Secretary-General Annan made clear during his Washington visit, it does not aspire to level its own taxes or to usurp the sovereignty of governments. In those areas in which governments decide that they wish to use the UN as an instrument for collaborative action, they do this through a willful exercise of their sovereignty, not an abdication of sovereignty.

I am persuaded that the 21st Century will be decisive for the human species. For all the evidences of environmental degradation, social tension and inter-communal conflict have occurred at levels of population and human activity that are a great deal less than they will be in the 21st Century. Theoretically one can make a case that these problems will be manageable. But in practice it will require that we extend to the global level the kind of social discipline and cooperative management that some of the more successful modem societies, notably the United States, have developed. Prospects for this are not promising. Some of the poorer and least developed nation states of Africa, particularly those which had artificial boundaries imposed upon them, are already proving to be virtually ungovernable. And the political and institutional structures of even the most rapidly growing developing countries is often fragile and vulnerable.

The risks we face in common from the mounting dangers to the environment, resource base and life support systems on which all life on earth depends, are far greater as we move into the 21st century than the risks we face or have faced in our conflicts with each other. All people and nations have in the past been willing to accord highest priority to the measures required for their own security. We must give the same kind of priority to environmental security. This will take a major shift in the current political mind-set. Necessity will compel such a shift eventually; the question is can we really afford the costs and risks of waiting.

In the final analysis, the behaviour of individuals as well as the priorities of society respond to the deepest moral, ethical and spiritual values of people. I am convinced that the radical changes now occurring in our society are producing a historic convergence between our traditional perceptions of relationships, between the practical aspects of human life and its moral and spiritual dimensions. It has too often been assumed in the past that there is an essential dichotomy between the "real world" of practical affairs and the more ethereal, ideal world of morals and spirit.

Concepts of mutual respect, caring for, sharing with and cooperating with our brothers and sisters both at home and internationally can no longer be seen as mere pious ideals divorced from reality, but as indispensable prerequisites for our common survival and well-being.

It is on these foundations that our hopes for a more promising, sustainable future must be built.