Sustainable development as a concept has clearly come a long way over the years and the phrase has become almost a by-word in political speeches, meetings and discussions. Yet, there remain varying levels of understanding of its meaning. “Sustainable development” and “environment” are not two different concepts, as some would have it. It is environmental management fully integrated in development planning that is the essence of sustainable development. It encompasses social, economic, cultural, religious, moral, scientific and technical dimensions.
This is reflected in the objectives of the two main sustainable development conventions on climate change and biological diversity which resulted from the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) process launched at Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
It is heartening to note a growing consensus on some key facts: that economic growth may in fact benefit from sustainable development; that many of the solutions to environmental degradation are regulatory ones; and that fears of exorbitant costs or lower standards of living are unfounded.
Still, I am disturbed by how little developing countries’ views have been represented in your discussions. Perhaps their views are misunderstood: that developing countries have low environmental standards; that they lack the capacity to undertake sustainable development planning; that poverty causes environmental degradation. These are myths to be dispelled.
The reality is that some multinationals investing in developing countries often undermine sustainable development initiatives instead of supporting them. Capacity-building for them is a tool for expanding market access and increasing profits. In fact, it is the unbridled pursuit of wealth, not the lack of it, that is the greater cause of environmental degradation. And it is commercial, sometimes illegal, logging by large companies that destroy forests, and not, as your editorial implies, the subsistence activities of the local population. Let us remember this as we prepare for the 10-year assessment of UNCED at Johannesburg this summer.
Bernarditas C. Muller,
©OECD Observer No 230, January 2002