United Nations

Urgent wake-up call

Ahead of the world summit Rio+20 in Rio de Janeiro, an international panel of experts has published a new report on global sustainability. At the end of February, János Pásztor, a climate expert, elaborated on its conclusions in Berlin.

By Eleonore von Bothmer

Economic affairs, climate protection and social justice are closely inter-related, and therefore have to be considered holistically. That is what the UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability argues in its recent report “Resilient people, resilient planet: a future worth choosing”. The document assesses the results of 25 years of environmental policymaking at the global level. Pásztor, the head of the panel, does not deny that there are other excellent studies, published by the World Bank, for instance. But he insists that, in political practice, there is still a lack of coherent and holistic thinking that would take into account all relevant facts.

Pásztor states, moreover, that sustainability strategies must not only focus on specific challenges in developing countries, as was the case for the UN Millen­nium Development Goals. The issue, he says, concerns all nations and all fields of policymaking. The report’s six chapters list 56 recommendations, spelling out what national governments and the international community can do to promote sustainable development.

Involve women

Sustainable development, according to Pásztor, will require “a new global architecture”. He is in favour of establishing a global council on sustainable development, because different kinds of parties need to be involved. He demands that policymakers and business leaders think long term. Moreover, he argues that women must be involved in decision ­making since their marginalisation in economic life thwarts progress.

Speaking in Berlin as a guest of Germany’s bilateral development bank KfW and the German Development Institute (GDI), Pásztor emphasised that Earth’s resources are finite, so unlimited growth is im­possible (please note essays on growth scep­ticism in our Tribune section on pages 164 f. and 166 f.). Norbert Kloppenburg, board member of the KfW Banking Group, considers the panel’s work a “wake-up call” because it demands that everybody should reconsider attitudes: “This is not about tightening ­other people’s belts, but one’s own too.” Nonetheless, Imme Scholz of the GDI complains that the report’s sense of urgency is still not strong enough.

The summit in Rio in June will show whether the new study will have the kind of lasting impact an earlier global report had. In 1987, the Brundtland Commission published “Our common future”. This document established the principle of sustainable development, which, at the time, was defined as satisfying the needs of today’s generation without putting at risk future generation’s capacity for doing so in equal measure. In August 2010, more than 20 years after the Brundtland report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, South African President Jacob Zuma and Finnish President Tarja Halonen appointed the 22-member High-Level Panel to draft a sequel on sustainable development.

Eleonore von Bothmer

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The UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to transform economies in an environmentally sound manner, leaving no one behind.