European Affairs

U.S. Wants Concrete Action at Johannesburg Summit     Print Email

Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, U.S. Department of State

At the World Trade Organization meeting in Doha at the end of last year, the world's trade ministers reaffirmed their countries' commitment to an inclusive trading system that promotes sustainable development. They agreed that an open and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system and protection of the environment "can and must be mutually supportive."

At the financial conference in Monterrey, Mexico, this spring, it was agreed that "each country has primary responsibility for its own economic and social development," and that "national development efforts need to be supported by an enabling international economic environment."

The international community also recognized in Monterrey that trade, investment and domestic savings offer substantial resources for development that must be unlocked and used effectively along with official development aid. The concept was one of "total funding." Sound policies and strong, accountable national institutions are critical to success.

We now carry to the Johannesburg Summit meeting on sustainable development a broad message from Doha and Monterrey: the globalized economy is a powerful engine for development, and each country must take on the responsibility to harness it by practicing good governance, adhering to the rule of law, investing in its people and encouraging political and economic freedom.

As the United States prepares for Johannesburg, we see that the meeting can be a critical opportunity to translate this message into concrete results that will help to promote sustainable development. In Johannesburg, we should focus on goals rather than negotiating texts. We shall focus on three areas of sustainable development - economic development, social development and environmental stewardship. These areas are all interrelated.

Our focus should be on how to move toward concrete action. Implementation is not just a question of money. Funds are a component of implementation, to be sure, but they are not the primary driving force, nor is the lack of official development assistance the primary impediment to implementing agreements.

We must recognize that, despite the increasingly globalized nature of our world and its economy, sustainable development must begin at home. Poverty alleviation, improved health and environmental stewardship all require good domestic governance, democratic societies, free markets and accountable public and private sectors.

In developing our approach to Johannesburg, therefore, we have identified broad fundamentals that must be addressed if we want to achieve concrete results from the treaties and agreements already negotiated: strengthening good domestic governance, investing in people and capturing the power of partnerships. By good domestic governance, we are talking about how to, among other things:


  • Encourage effective democratic institutions, including an independent and fair judiciary;
  • Promulgate sound monetary, fiscal and trade policies that promote economic growth while encouraging social development and environmental protection;
  • Ensure a participatory role for all members of civil society who are affected by decision-makers; and Develop sound policies, including through science and the scientific method.

Recognizing the essential role of partnerships to effect change is the other key element - partnerships among governments and, more importantly, between governments and civil society, particularly the private sector.

For this reason, we are hoping that the dialogue leading up to Johannesburg opens channels of communication and fosters creative thinking among national and local governments, non-governmental organizations, women's groups, scientists, business and industry, farmers, foresters and fishermen, so that they may identify their common interests and create a plan to advance them together.

By addressing the fundamentals and by creating active partnerships that can deliver concrete results, Johannesburg can set the world on the road to achieving the internationally agreed development goals in the Millennium Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 18, 2000, in addition to the targets in Agenda 21 - the Program of Action for Sustainable Development adopted at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, commonly known as the Rio Earth Summit. It can shape a new approach to some of the most challenging sustainable development issues facing developed and developing countries alike. To name just a few goals, we must aim to:

  • Reduce the number of people living without safe drinking water and provide integrated, watershed approaches to managing water and land resources;
  • Enhance access to clean energy, including renewable sources, from village to metropolis;
  • Stem the global pandemic of AIDS, and drastically reduce tuberculosis and malaria;
  • Ensure universal access to basic education, and eliminate gender disparities;
  • Reduce hunger and increase sustainable agricultural productivity in the developing world without further degradation of forests and fragile lands; and
  • Manage and conserve our forests and the vital resources of our oceans.

We have been working on concrete proposals in these areas, sharing thoughts with civil society, the private sector and other governments. In all these exchanges it is clear that we share similar goals.

We do not come to the realization of what is required to effect positive change in sustainable development lightly. The United States has decades of experience at federal, state and local levels concerning the mix of policies, programs and cooperation with civil society that is necessary to undertake dramatic change.

We have also drawn on five decades of experience in international development assistance programs since World War II, which have known successes as well as failures. We have learned that throwing money at a problem is not a solution.

Writing a new agreement that talks about a problem does not solve it either. But addressing the underlying fundamentals and encouraging the players who have the most to gain from success to play an active role in new partnerships does have an impact.

As we develop concrete partnerships to address sustainable development, there are clearly a number of specific areas in which the United States and Europe can fruitfully cooperate.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number III in the Summer of 2002.

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