The Environment and Sustainable Development: Priorities for Action

XIX Congress of the Socialist International, Berlin, 15-17 September 1992

Sustainable and equitable development is a major challenge of our time.

Increasing inequity in development between the South and the North; the excessive spending on arms; the uneven distribution of resources between the rich and the poor; the debt crisis; the climate change; ozone depletion; loss of species, desertification, and unbalanced growth of population are major threats to the Earth and humankind.

The Rio Summit has focused attention on the plight of tens of millions of people in developing countries who suffer from the effects of unsustainable development and extreme poverty. It also highlighted the responsibilities of the richest 20 percent of the world who consume 80 percent of the world's resources.

As democratic socialists we must continue to work for a framework for international, regional and local action to bring about sustainable development and equity in the world.

The Rio Conference on the Environment and Development was a continuation of the process from the Stockholm Conference, albeit still insufficient. Increased aid flows, social and family planning policies for reducing debt, and improved trade opportunities must still be important and essential goals.

The responsibility rests especially on the industrialised countries. They are the worst polluters, some more culpable than others. One-fifth of the world's population is responsible for four-fifths of the environmental damage. The greatest damage to the global environment is caused by wasteful production and technologies, opulent consumption patterns in the developed countries, and brutal exploitation of the manpower and resources of the Third World.

But there are opportunities for improving the situation for individuals and nations, and for reversing the trend. The ending of the Cold War has created the possibility of transforming resources previously devoted to armaments into development. It also opens new avenues for democratic socialism. Our belief in the concepts of freedom, justice and democratic decision-making is essential in the struggle against the threat to humanity and nature.

The Rio Conference must be the starting point of concerted and vigorous action by governments and the United Nations. Global negotiations must continue in order to secure commitments at a level which corresponds to the needs of human health and sustainable development.

The implementation of the results of the Rio Conference is a challenge to the entire world community. How well the recommendations adopted and the agreements entered into can be translated into practical action will depend partly on us democratic socialists, either because we are governing parties or because, as parties in opposition, we can motivate or implement that action.

We are convinced that the follow-up of those results must be kept under continuous scrutiny. The various commitments must be set through new patterns of regional cooperation on rivers, inland seas and heavily damaged regions, or within a variety of international associations. As parties we must act in concert within the fora to accelerate developments.

Democracy is a precondition for sustainable development. It must be voiced through public participation and regular consultation between governments, environmental organisations, trade unions and the public.

Preventing environmental degradation, encouraging environmental protection and the management of natural resources on the basis of sustainable development have to constitute the foundations of social and economic progress. The principles of prevention and restoration are substantial for environmental protection. Clean and efficient solutions have to be chosen when designing products and infrastructures. The principle of "the polluter pays" must be applied more vigorously as an instrument for internalisation of environmental costs.

We must enthuse men and women, our children, our countries, to meet the challenge. In order to protect the environment, attitudes and behaviour must change. Education, initiatives and information are fundamental to achieving lasting changes of values and standards in a society.
Women's perspective and participation on the environment and development is also fundamental for achieving these goals. Women and children have, in particular, been the victims of poverty and a degraded environment.

Crucial for the success or failure of the implementation of the results of the Rio Conference will be how the burden and the challenge of our common efforts to beat global threats is shared among the rich and the poor.

Poor countries must be assured of healthy development. Often this is frustrated by subsidies or trade barriers perverting the course of trade. We must help to abolish such impediments. World trade relations must be changed for the Third World countries. Access to new and environmentally friendly technologies must be improved. Within the GATT, environmental questions have to be properly considered in a more efficient way. This could be achieved by introducing different positions for sustainable and non-sustainable goods produced within the code of practice as a basis for different treatment by export and import regulations.

Financial and technical resources released in the global process of reductions of military expenditure must be allocated to active support for sustainable development, i.e. to increase the flow of new and additional financial resources in support of sustainable development in the developing countries and to facilitate global sharing of environmental data.

Work on international and coordinated actions for reducing or writing off debts - both official and commercial - of the poor countries must continue. The fora already established must be activated, and the parties obstructing this kind of development must be prevailed upon to honour these aims.

The rich countries must adopt their own timetables for achieving, before the year 2000, the UN target of at least 0.7 percent of the developed countries' GNP being devoted to development cooperation. In addition, these countries must contribute to an immediate and substantial replenishment of existing financial institutions like IDA and IFAD, the GEF and regional banks. A transparent and democratic management of these funds must also be assured.

We need ideas and institutions to handle the great challenges of a sustainable world, at national and international level. This includes the reform of the UN system and the functioning of existing institutions, like the World Bank and the IMF, and building up transparent democratic financial institutions. This will also require a change in lifestyles and in the way we produce and consume goods.

As parties, we will give priority to programmes aimed at achieving permanently sustainable development. This will affect virtually all policy fields and departments of government. Programmes and plans must be analysed for their compatibility with sustainable development. Institutional barriers, taxes, etc, standing in the way of such development must be systematically removed.

We have to establish an annual report in each country on environment and development concerning the commitments made in Rio. This should include specific targets and timetables.

Our national book-keeping should be performed by means of formulating sustainable national income so as to take environmental damage into account. Taxation systems should include energy and environmental tax, without losing the idea of redistribution of wealth.

We have to immediately begin the implementation of the Climate Convention, and start work to strengthen commitments in countries, groups of countries and globally, so that per capita levels of "greenhouse" gases that are sustainable and equitable in the long term can be reached. It is not acceptable to have solutions whereby affluent countries buy themselves free of measures within their own borders, eg through promises of so-called carbon sinks.

A coordinated energy and traffic strategy will reduce local, regional and global pollutants at the same time.

Decisive changes are necessary in the traffic sector, including the reduction of transport where needed. All types of traffic and all vehicles have to bear their own costs. Investments in public transport and infrastructure, especially in urban areas, have to be increased. The role of active social planning must be increased in order to minimise transport work. New stricter requirements on cars and fuels must be introduced regionally and globally.

Energy saving should be at the top of the agenda. More efficient use of energy and use of renewables have to be promoted. These activities have to be properly resourced and supported. A UN institution must be established with responsibility for conservation, renewables and clean infrastructure in the fields of transport and energy.
The industrial nations must not weaken their efforts to advance the development of sustainable technologies and to make them available worldwide. Environmentally sound techniques, implementing energy-saving and resource-reducing production processes and products, and integrating environmental protection in all fields of policies must be developed and applied. Emissions from industrial processes must be reduced to harmless levels in the foreseeable future.

The role of multinational or transnational companies in their policies toward developing countries must be reviewed. Too often exports of products which are considered harmful in industrialised countries are promoted within developing countries. Policies which protect people in industrialised countries must equally apply worldwide. An international commission or agency must monitor and arbitrate on these matters.

Far-reaching harmonisation of goods, flowing across national borders, with strict environmental standards, is essential. Action plans for phasing out the use of hazardous substances have to be implemented nationally, regionally and globally. Separation of waste at source must be stimulated by local investment and activities.

Viewed within the North-South relationship, the export of waste, especially hazardous and toxic waste, to poor countries which are in urgent need of hard currency must be banned.

The handling of all fissile material from military and civilian use should be put under strict international control on a global level. This must include safe storage of nuclear waste.

The agreements for the protection of biological diversity must be accompanied by concrete follow-ups at country and regional level, along with additional resources for conservation, research etc.

In most industrialised nations, agricultural policy has been dependent on an extensive price subsidy system. This has increased surplus production and the threats to biological diversity. The variety of the cultivated landscape, virgin areas and biological diversity has to be maintained. Export subsidies must be significantly lowered and use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers must be reduced, i.e. by economic incentives. Such policies must be accompanied by measures to secure adequate rural incomes.

Extensive farming has to be made more attractive. Farmers should be involved in programmes for sustainable use of soils.
Human activity has radically reduced forests and wooded areas, replacing them with excessive pastoral zones. Increased animal husbandry and inadequate management of farming areas has led to soil erosion. The main consequences are this soil erosion and desertification of large areas of the earth. One of the main issues in a strategy for sustainable development must be to protect the soil so that it can be used in a long-term perspective.

Long-term forestry policy implies that forestry must be carried out in ways compatible with natural prerequisites. This means using forestry methods that suit the natural conditions in a forest area. Forestry methods must be adjusted in order to protect biological diversity.

Scarcity of water is the main environmental and development problem for many areas on earth. The question of the supply and management of water, within and across borders, must be based on discussions between water users, planners and those entrusted with decision-making at all levels.

One of the greatest priorities for the preservation of the environment is the improvement of people's living and working conditions, especially in the outskirts of big towns and in rural areas. Adequate measures have to be taken to eradicate poverty and to stimulate rural and urban development.

A more equitable relationship between rich countries and poor countries is urgently called for. The positive feelings that everyone has towards keeping the Earth healthy and sustainable for us now and for future generations must go hand in hand with the attitude that the huge gap between rich and poor must be shortened progressively, year by year. There is no hope for Earth if there is not an ending to inequality among people and between nations. Twenty years from now, we all want to share a new reality in which the Earth is preserved and the people of all nations feel closer together.