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close this bookWIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 06, No. 1 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1994, 16 pages)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSPECIAL FOCUS: Sustainable Development: Providing for the Future Generations
View the documentOur Common Future?
View the documentDID YOU KNOW?
View the documentConsumption and Waste Levels in Developed and Developing Countries
View the documentGOOD NEWS
View the documentFOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Amish and Sustainable Development
View the documentDiet, Nutrition and Chronic Diseases: An International Perspective
View the documentVoices of the Planet
View the documentPOINT OF VIEW: Enviromentalism: Ideology and Ethics

Our Common Future?

"Our global future defends on sustainable development. It depends on our willingness and ability to dedicate our intelligence, ingenuity and adaptability and our energy - to our common future. This is a choice we can make."


Foresight Capability

· Beginning with The Limits to Growth study for The Club of Rome in 1972, a number of global, regional, and national studies have analyzed demographic, economic, and environmental trends and their interrelations. More than 30 nations and regions around the world have undertaken 21st century studies to explore alternative strategies for achieving sustainable economic development and security.

Population Growth

· In spite of rapid population growth in many countries, birth rates are declining for more than 90 percent of the world's population. Between 1960 and 1987, eight countries in East Asia and Latin America lowered their fertility rates by more than 50 percent. In Asia, the countries of Taiwan, South Korea, and China, along with the city- state of Singapore, have made remarkable strides. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Turkey have also made substantial progress. In Latin America, the countries of Cuba, Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica have achieved major reductions in population growth rates, while Mexico and Brazil have realized substantial declines.

Development and the Environment

· There are many examples of progress toward sustainable development and use of natural resources in both developing and industrial nations. These include improvements in sustainable management of human needs; agricultural systems; tropical forests; expansion of fresh water and saltwater aquaculture; increases in irrigation efficiency and waste water reuse; advances in energy sources; reduction and recycling of solid and toxic wastes, and reductions in barriers to trade between nations.

Food and Agriculture

· Farmers in a number of countries are beginning to use low- input, regenerative agricultural methods that reduce expensive and environmentally harmful material inputs of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. They had also increased the use of biological pest controls, organic fertilizers, crop management, and other sustainable farming methods. In most cases, such methods result in a net economic gain for the farmer, compared with more costly high- input methods, and in greater long- term productivity of the land.

Biological Diversity

· To safeguard the world's wild plants and animals, a global network of parks and reserves is being developed. Worldwide, the number of protected areas has grown from about 600 in 1950 to some 3,500 areas today, containing about 425 million hectares. A number of initiatives arc under way to protect wild species and biologically- rich habitats. These include a range of laws and treaties, a number of "debt- for- nature" exchanges that provide economic incentives for conservation, and new policies by development lending agencies designed to protect biological diversity. Sustainable uses of forests and other ecosystems are also being pioneered that will allow species to survive despite commercial activity.

Tropical Forests

· There is substantial evidence of progress in efforts to curb deforestation. Development agencies are providing increased funding for forestry and conservation projects. Forestry reviews are now planned for 30 tropical countries, under way in 11, and completed in 3. More than a dozen countries have national forestry plans, and more than two dozen are developing projects for the sustainable production of forest products. As noted earlier, studies in Brazil and Peru show that net revenues from long- term harvesting of non- timber forest products are two to three times greater than from commercial logging or clearing the forest for cattle ranching. Worldwide, there are over 5,000 forestry and conservation organizations; many are working to protect the forests while meeting local needs for forest products.

Ocean and Marine Resources

· Relatively few successes in the management and protection of marine resources can be cited, but there are hopeful signs. The management of ocean fisheries is improving, and a number of international and regional initiatives have been launched to control pollution and protect marine species and environments. The U.N.'s Regional Seas Program to control pollution has made progress, most notably in the Mediterranean Sea. The concept of a common marine heritage, though weaker than initially conceived, is still part of the Law of the Sea Convention, now signed by 159 nations and ratified by 39 (although not by the United States or several other major maritime nations).

Fresh Water

· While global demand for water continues to grow, in the United States water use declined by 11 percent between 1980 and 1985. Because agricultural use accounts for more than 70 percent of global water consumption, new micro-irrigation techniques have major potential to slow the depletion of underground water supplies. Wastewater reuse in Israel, industrial water recycling in a number of countries, and a variety of household water- saving devices all offer the promise of slowing the growth in water demand.

Nonfuel Minerals

· Din the production of mineral commodities, there is potential for improved efficiency in all stages of production. In a number of industrial countries, recycling of metals, building materials, and other mineral products is saving money, creating jobs, reducing air and water pollution, and conserving energy and water as well as mineral supplies. When aluminum is recycled instead of produced from ore, energy use and air and water pollution are reduced by 90 percent or more. Although extraction of minerals from the sea poses difficult problems, the oceans are an important potential source for many minerals in the future.


· Many methods have been developed for improving energy efficiency in transportation and industry, and for buildings and appliances. Technology now commercially available can reduce energy consumption in these sectors from 20 to 60 percent or more. A range of renewable energy technologies is being developed that could be competitive with fossil fuel energy sources within 20 to 30 years. These include geothermal, wind, solar, photovoltaic, alcohol fuels and other biomass sources.

Air, Atmosphere, & Climate

· There has been substantial progress by industrial nations in protecting the atmosphere through improved energy efficiency, control of sulfur dioxide emissions, and reduction of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions. In 1988, 22 nations agreed to reduce sulfur emissions within 5 years by at least 30 percent of 1980 levels. In early 1989, the European Community agreed to end all use of CFCs by the year 2000. Recent international efforts suggest that a convention to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could be achieved in the near future.

Hazardous Substances

· Several different methods are being developed to slow the proliferation of hazardous substances. These include reduction of toxic waste production in industry, the use of integrated pest management in agriculture to lessen dependence on hazardous pesticides, and methods to improve the storage of nuclear wastes and limit their future production. Genetically- engineered bacteria have been developed that can digest some toxic substances. Successful waste- reduction programs are in place in a number of countries, including Sweden, the Netherlands, Colombia, Venezuela, and the United States.

Solid Waste Management

· Several industrial nations have effective programs to minimize the amount of municipal solid waste that goes to landfills. West Germany reuses or incinerates 45 percent of its solid waste, while Japan recycles or burns 73 percent. While the United States recycles only 11 percent of it solid waste, this represents an increase from less than 7 percent in the 1960s. State- of- the- art landfills can prevent groundwater pollution and recover methane gas as a fuel. Modern incinerators can greatly reduce waste volume and generate electricity. In the Third World, China and India have launched extensive waste recycling programs.

Ambassador Razali feels that despite these encouraging signs of progress the preponderant pattern worldwide is "business as usual" In areas where change from environmentally damaging activity to sustainable practices is most needed, there are many sources of resistance to change - vested interests in the status quo, organizational inertia, bureaucratic rigidity. Many of the modest but real examples of progress may stem directly from growing understanding of, and apprehension over, global threats such as air and water pollution, deforestation, and loss of species. He believes we are in the midst of a vast global experiment and that the outcome of the experiment is not yet clear.

A critical issue goes to the outcome of the current debate between developed countries of the north and developing countries of the south as to how we fund the transition to sustainable economies. Funding the transition to sustainable economics remains a critical and difficult problem. Progress on this issue has been disappointing with countries of the North due to their own economic and social problems, contributing far less than is required and with some countries of the South apparently willing to "turn their backs" on agreed upon strategies if such aid is not forthcoming shortly.

Ambassador Razali concluded the interview by emphasizing that both governments of the North and the South share a common responsibility for a "global partnership". If such cooperation is not forthcoming we face the very real prospect of leaving our children and grandchildren a legacy in which humans become "a sub- species".

SOURCES: Agenda 21; Interview with H.E. Ambassador Razali; Earth Negotiations Bulletin. December 21, 1993; Our Common future; The Global Ecology Handbook.

"We who are adults must ask ourselves what is the use of anything we do, if it does not help children7 Let us commit ourselves. We owe this to every child".

SOURCE: Mother Teresa for UNICEF