Moving Beyond North-South Divide: An Effective Approach to Sustainable Development

(Contributed to the Financial Times on June 26, 2002)

By Ms. Yoriko Kawaguchi
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), to be held in August in Johannesburg, marks the tenth anniversary of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The Rio Summit enshrined the concept of "sustainable development", which proclaimed that the environment should and can be cherished without sacrificing economic growth, particularly, in developing countries. Now after ten years, the WSSD gives the world a precious opportunity to take stock of a decade of progress in sustainable development.

The report card on the past decade is mixed. Endeavors to preserve the global environment are just beginning to materialize. The Kyoto Protocol, which stipulates numerical targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, has not yet taken effect despite the recent increase in the number of countries that have ratified it, including Japan. Some experts point out that despite intensified efforts to stem the trend, environmental degradation, in such forms as forest reduction and desertification, still continue.

On the economic growth front, the powerful waves of the IT revolution and globalization, which were not fully anticipated at the time of the Rio Summit, have swept over the world, leaving in their wake a division between those countries who have managed to ride them and those who have not.

Given this situation, we are compelled to come up with a new approach to the problems we face. Here, I would like to propose a new concept, which I call "Global Sharing". So far, global environmental negotiations have tended to play out along the traditional North-South divide, particularly in U.N. settings. While such a divide almost inevitably poses the danger of turning negotiations into quasi-collective bargaining, diversification among developing countries caused by, above all, the emergence of rising economies, has made such an approach increasingly obsolete and irrelevant.

Global Sharing does not presuppose North-South confrontation. Rather, it encourages the sharing of strategies, responsibilities, experiences and information. Not only is the sharing to be done between governments, but with civil society including private business and NGOs. In fact, the Japanese Government will have NGO representatives in its delegation to the Johannesburg Summit.

Japan is no stranger to the challenge of sustainable development. Having overcome the pollution that sullied our beautiful nation in the 1960s and 1970s, we now see fish and migratory birds coming back to rivers in Tokyo. The quality of water in Minamata Bay, and the air in Yokkaichi, where petro-chemical emission used to cause asthma, have shown vast improvement. We feel that it is our duty as members of the community of humanity, to share such experiences and lessons as we promote the Global Sharing concept.

Science and technology hold one of the keys to transcend the inherent tension between the economy and the environment. Environmentally friendly automobiles are only one such example. Mind you, here lie promising business opportunities as well.

The international community agreed on fine development goals at the U.N. Millennium Summit in 2000, including the goal of cutting the ratio of starving people by half, and the goal of giving primary education to all children in the world, boys and girls alike. The time has come to take action. The time has come to put into practice the promises that have been extended.

Japan is resolved to do its utmost to preserve and improve the global environment for all humanity and future generations. Let us reconfirm our common resolve at the Johannesburg Summit to achieve sustainable development for the Earth, which, after all, is our only home.

A decade after the Rio Summit, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, formerly Environment Minister, stresses the need to take stock of the achievements made and ensure that they are solidified into real gains in the coming decade.

(Printed in Financial Times)

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