To the Editor:
Yale had a significant presence at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Dean Gus Speth arrived with some 20 students from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and was joined by an additional 20 participants brought by the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS), headquartered at Yale within the Yale Center for International and Area Studies (YCIAS). At a press conference held during the Summit last week, ACUNS presented its “Plan of Action” which emphasized the nexus between environmental protection and sustainable development with particular attention to water, energy, poverty alleviation, and governance.
At the meeting, there were constant complaints that the Americans were dragging their heels. The final document reveals that the United States was unwilling to give in on target dates, despite making some other minor concessions. The discussions were always cordial on the surface, but tensions underlay the superficial diplomatic coating of niceties. And unfortunately, there is no global mechanism to enforce the agreement, so the world’s people will be left to themselves to figure out a response.
Putting skepticism aside, the Summit brings world attention to the need to preserve environmental resources for future generations and find solutions to poverty eradication and economic development that are sustainable. But civic groups should use the summit declaration to pressure governments and other funding sources to facilitate sustainable development and push to achieve the ambitious, but necessary, goals of the summit.
September 4, 2002
The writer is the executive director of Yale’s Academic Council on the United Nations System.