|WIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 06, No. 1 - Critical Issues in Health and the Environment (WIT, 1994, 16 pages)|
Planet Earth has existed for more than 3.5 billion years. Humans have been on Earth for some 2 to 3 million years, living in equilibrium with other life forms. Only within the last 200 years have people begun to affect the global environment significantly, and only in the last 50 years has our impact become serious.
Recently citizens and leaders of many countries began to understand the consequences of human impact on the environment arid its potential threat to our security, economic productivity, health, and quality of life, as well as to those of future generations - and to grasp the need for urgent and concerted action. Only gradually are we starting to perceive the importance of new concepts and challenges and the promise of new opportunities. We are in the midst of what can truly be called global awakening, the long-term consequences of which are still unclear, but which almost certainly will include historic change in the structures of societies and governments, in levels of multilateral commitment and involvement in patterns and directions of economic activity, and in the life style, rights and responsibilities of the individual.
This global reawakening has been focused and organized into what most observers now refer to as a movement toward, and a commitment to, sustainable development. Sustainable development is a dynamic process intended to meet the needs of economic development without compromising the environment, now and for the future.
When the century began, neither human numbers nor technology had the power radically to alter planetary systems. As the century closes, not only do vastly increased human numbers and their activities have that power, but major, unintended changes are occurring in the atmosphere, in soils, in waters, among plants and animals, and in the relationships among all of these. The rate of change is outstripping the ability of scientific disciplines and our current capabilities to assess and advise. It is frustrating the attempts of political and economic institutions, which evolved in a different world, to adapt and cope.
The work of the United Nations stimulated tremendous global interest in the concept of sustainable development, an interest that culminated in June of 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). This meeting of over 100 heads of state and scientific experts from all over the world was popularly known as "The Earth Summit" and focused on the impact of unregulated economic development on a deteriorated global environment. In a historic agreement, UNCED adopted Agenda 21, a multi- point, comprehensive plan designed to deliver a sustainable future. UNCED also established the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) which is responsible for monitoring progress in implementing Agenda 21.
CSD operates through the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ECOSOC). Its primary function is to monitor the progress of Agenda 21, which is the collective reference for the agreements produced in Rio de Janeiro. The Commission adopted a multi- year thematic program of work based on the clusters recommended in Agenda 21. The clusters are: health, human settlements, freshwater, toxic chemicals and hazardous waste to be studied in 1994; land, desertification, forest, biodiversity to be examined in 1995, atmosphere, oceans and all kinds of seas to be studied in 1996. The clusters will be analyzed in relation to cross- sectoral issues: education, science, technology transfer, capacity-building; decision- making structures; roles of major groups including women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, NGOs, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, scientific and technological communities, farmers. Financial resources and mechanisms and critical elements of sustainability will be considered each year for each cluster as well.
This important Commission is chaired by His Excellence. Ambassador Ismail Razali, the Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations, Ambassador Razali, a prominent international diplomat who has held a variety of important positions with the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. Economic and Social Council, the Group of 77, and the International Peace Academy, is one of the world's leading experts on what actions need to be taken if we are to meet the needs of future generations.
Ambassador Razali was elected to the chairmanship of the Commission of Sustainable Development with a distinguished record. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malaysia in 1962 and between 1963 to 1967 served in India, France U.K., Laos, and Eastern Europe. He was appointed as Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the U.N. in June 1988. From 1990-1992 he headed Malaysia's delegation to UNCED (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) and elected Chairman of the CSD in Feb. 1993. He has written on the United Nations, global sustainability and Malaysian development and environment.
World Information Transfer recently interviewed Ambassador Razali at the Malaysian Mission to the United Nations to determine, first- hand his view of global progress towards a sustainable future.
Ambassador Razali hailed Agenda 21 as a "major consensus for a proposal of action" and suggested that there was now a new multilateral awareness that economic development must take into account the "finite resources available in any given context.
In the view of Ambassador Razali, Agenda 21 represented a "major consensus for a proposal of action" on development and environment. Agenda 21 takes a holistic approach to the health of the planet and its species. The proposals largely focus on a new concept of development which takes into account "finite resources available in any given context." Development now takes as its center point the human person who has serious responsibilities not to "desecrate the landscape." The conerstone of Agenda 21 is the thematic cluster, with one cluster examined each year in terms of the cross-sectoral categories.
The Ambassador praised the efforts of many governments and independent groups that are trying to implement pieces of Agenda 21. As it relates to the current global situation Ambassador Razali emphasized that there have been substantial advances in identifying effective strategies to limit the growth of human numbers, to use the Earth's national resources more efficiently, and to prevent environmental degradation. Specifically, Ambassador Razali referenced progress in the following areas that in some instances began before the Earth Summit.