Five years have passed since the Earth Summit. Have we made any progress? Have we moved closer to the goal of sustainable development in the last five years? Is the world better off today than it was five years ago? A pessimist will say that the glass is half empty. As an optimist I prefer to say that the glass is half full. Let me count the main achievements", asserts Ambasador Tommy Koh of Singapore. The following is adapted from his article.
First, the Earth Summit has brought to a final resolution the age-old debate between economic development and protection of the environment. The new wisdom is that we want economic progress, but we also want to live in harmony with nature. To be sure, Governments have to make hard choices and there are trade-offs between the two objectives. But since the Earth Summit, it is no longer possible to talk about development without considering its impact on the environment or to talk about protecting the environment without considering its impact on sustainable development. Many countries have enacted legislation to provide for environmental impact assessment.
Second, the Earth Summit has empowered the environmental movement.
Within national Governments, the ministries of environment and environmental protection agencies have become more important. The NGO (non-governmental organization) community has gained in stature and influence. Many countries have established national councils on sustainable development. The business community has rallied to the cause and established the Business Council on Sustainable Development. Business leaders have become aware that support for the environment is not inconsistent with profitability.
Third, the Framework Convention on Climate Change has come into force.
The States Parties are engaged in the difficult process of negotiating a Protocol which would contain legally binding limits on the emission of greenhouse gases.
Fourth, the Convention on Biological Diversity has also come into force. States Parties are required to undertake inventories of their biological diversity. They are also required to publish Red Data Books containing their endangered species of flora and fauna. Although we continue to lose about three species of flora and fauna every day, the prospect is better today than five years ago that the world will arrest and reverse this trend.
Fifth, in response to the urgent need of Africa, a Convention to Combat Desertification has been negotiated and adopted.
It will enter into force in December 1997. I hope the international community will back the Convention with the requisite political will and economic resources to make it work.
Sixth, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has entered into force. In response to the mandate in Agenda 21, a conference was convened to deal with the difficult issue of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks. This resulted in the 1995 Agreement. Another positive development was the 1995 Washington Conference on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities.
The Conference adopted a declaration and a programme of action. This was an important development because about 75 per cent of marine pollution is caused by land-based activities. We should, however, work for a convention to protect the marine environment from land-based pollution.
Seventh, the second UN Conference on Human Settlements was held in Istanbul in June 1996. The sustainable management of cities is a challenge which merits high priority because by the year 2000 half the world’s population will live in urban human settlements. During the past five years, the awareness of the problem has increased.
In the cities of East Asia, a high proportion of the urban population has access to drinking water, modern sanitation and housing, compared to five years ago. The challenge of making our cities sustainable, however, remains formidable. Economic prosperity in East Asia has, in most cities, not been accompanied by an increase in the environmental quality of life of their citizens.
Eight, progress has been made in elucidating the relationship between trade and environment. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has a standing committee on trade and environment. Although the committee was unable to recommend specific actions for adoption by the WTO’s Ministerial Conference in December 1996, a lot of valuable work has been accomplished.
I am confident that by 1998, at the second WTO’s .