Svend Auken, the Danish Minister for the Environment and Energy, has called for a global deal between North and South on sustainable development. OECD countries should take the lead, he said, in the overall objective of “decoupling environmental degradation from economic growth … within, say, ten years from now.”
The call was made before a packed audience of international representatives from business, government and civil society in the first session of the OECD’s Forum 2001 on Sustainable Development and the New Economy which opened in Paris on Monday May 14. One point was made clear at the Forum’ first session: the OECD countries had carried out some reforms but despite the rhetoric and good intentions, as well as some successes, the record in general was bleak. It was now time to go beyond fine words and into action.
This opening session sounded a powerful note to launch a busy week in the OECD’ s calendar. First, the Forum, which follows the inaugural Forum 2000 held a year ago, runs to Wednesday with speakers and participants gathering from all over the world. The outcome of the discussions and public debates will feed directly into the annual OECD ministerial, starting Wednesday and chaired by the Danish government; sustainable development and trade, as well as growth and the new economy, will be the main items on the agenda there.
Mr Auken’s challenge was the first of at least three major elements of a global deal which the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development next year could pursue. In addition, Mr Auken said, developed countries should address questions of poverty in developing countries by opening up their markets Mr Auken went on to urge developing countries to commit themselves to turning the World Trade Organization into a “genuine vehicle for sustainable development.”
One of the main purposes of any global deal would be to ensure that the developing countries can increase standards of living without having to go through the same stages of polluting technologies as the developed countries did, Mr Auken explained.
He also called on developed countries to live up to their commitments on various international environmental agreements. “We have had sufficient time to adjust till now,” he added. But on the key question of climate change and the US rejection of the Kyoto protocol, he was blunt: “Non-ratifiers should restrain from obstructing the drafting of the rules… As I said recently to friends in the American Administration: Don’t poison the pie you will not eat.”
Mr Auken noted that new OECD indicators to measure sustainable development as an integral part of its economic reviews and “decoupling” would establish a “new way of thinking” about what welfare was about.
OECD secretary general, Donald Johnston, said this year’s Forum was “unique” in that for the first time “its discussions will have a direct pipeline to the work of the ministerial groups which will be held later in the week.” He said Mr Auken would be reporting personally on the outcome of Forum discussions to OECD ministers and strongly urged Forum participants to intervene as much as possible.
Mr Johnston described the OECD’s new report on “Policies to Enhance Sustainable Development” as a comprehensive strategy for “decoupling” growth from environmental degradation. But he warned that OECD members have fallen “far short” on implementing policy options on sustainable development in the past.
“In fairness, we have to admit that the trade-offs are difficult. They often imply losses for particular sectors at least in the short term,” he said. “And tangible benefits frequently do not emerge in the course of a normal political cycle.” This was an “important defect in democratic systems…”
Poverty, Mr Johnston said, was one of the major challenges to sustainable development: “The challenge before us now is to develop a real constituency for our shared future and close the gap between our economic, social and environmental policy goals and our actions.”
In this respect, OECD countries must exercise “leadership” especially as they moved towards a new trade round. But Mr Johnston also placed responsibility for progress on sustainable development into the hands of the business, consumers, labour, public interest groups and the general public.
It was a point taken up by the president of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie where the Forum is being held. Michel Demazure said public opinion had to be mobilised and citizens made aware of the “high stakes” involved if sustainable development was not just to become the preserve of private lobbies.
Mr Demazure also warned of the negative effects of the “democratisation of science” where experts were increasingly being challenged and social consensus extremely difficult to achieve in developed countries.
The opening session ended with questions from the floor. In particular, Friends of the Earth International president, Ricardo Navarro, presented the secretary general with a “Hypocrisy Trophy 2001” because he claimed the OECD was using the theme of sustainable development solely to enhance its own image and was not doing enough to regulate export credit agencies whose activities many believe are damaging the environment.
©OECD Observer May 2001