The Progress and the Promise of the World Summit

Report Trade

The Progress and the Promise of the World Summit

November 4, 2002 7 min read
The Paula J. Dobriansky
Policy Analyst

Delivered October 4, 2002

One month ago today, the World Summit on Sustainable Development concluded in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Summit marked a vital step forward in redefining the concept of sustainable development. Developed and developing countries have long agreed that sustainable development requires durable growth, sound investments in people, and effective environmental stewardship. However, before Johannesburg, responsibility for achieving this goal was seen as resting primarily with governments alone. There was also the sense that the principal means of development was the transfer of more and more official development assistance from donors to recipient nations. These longstanding dogmas have been effectively challenged. As Secretary Powell put it, "This Summit has cemented a new vision of sustainable development." That new vision recognizes that sustainable growth is a joint responsibility of developing as well as developed countries, draws elements of civil society and of the private economic sector into the effort, and demands concrete outcomes for the world's poor.

This vision developed over the course of the last year in three critical international meetings: the launching of the new World Trade Organization round in Doha, Qatar; the Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico; and the Johannesburg Summit. At these meetings, the United States promoted President Bush's core belief that sustainable development begins with every nation taking responsibility for creating a climate conducive to growth. Only countries that adopt and implement sound domestic policies which feature good governance, investment in people, and economic freedom are capable of developing in a sustainable manner. At Monterrey, President Bush outlined his "New Compact for Development," and world leaders agreed that the international community will support efforts by developing countries to create the policy and governance conditions needed to unlock new resources, opportunities, and human talents. The United States and the European Union committed substantial new resources in support of that consensus.

In Johannesburg, these principles were embraced by nations around the world, and in particular by the developing world. In this regard, the Summit made significant progress, including the adoption of an ambitious yet realistic Plan of Implementation. In my view, the emphasis on good domestic governance--on real actions to ensure rule of law, to fight corruption, to invest in health and education, to promote free markets, and to create good climates for private investment--was one of the most important outcomes of the summit.

The success at Johannesburg was grounded in decades of experience showing that development assistance not accompanied by legal and economic reform often goes to waste in nations beset by corruption, lacking the protections of private property and private contracts, with flawed fiscal policies and unfree markets. As President Bush stated, "To make progress, we must encourage nations and leaders to walk the hard road of political, legal and economic reform, so all their people can benefit."

Under this new paradigm, the United States will seek to reward those nations which take responsibility for setting in place a positive political, legal, and economic environment that provides the basis for development. In this context, President Bush has announced his intention to work with Congress to create the Millennium Challenge Account. Under this program, the United States will increase its development assistance by $5 billion over the next three years, a 50 percent increase over existing assistance levels. These new funds will be targeted toward countries that are committed to good governance, investment in people, and open economic systems. As the Heritage Foundation's Brett Schaeffer recognized, the Millennium Challenge Account presents an opportunity to advance development in poor nations where we have previously failed to achieve our objectives.

The United States went to Johannesburg to affirm this new approach and to expand its reach beyond just governments to include civil society, international organizations, and the private sector. By and large, I believe that we succeeded in achieving these goals. The outcome of the Johannesburg Summit--with its ringing endorsement of shared responsibility, concrete actions, and public-private partnerships--to a great degree reflects and validates the vision laid out by the President.

Public-Private Partnerships

A key consequence of the Summit was the emergence of a wide range of public-private partnerships that will promote sustainable development on the ground, where it counts. When we began promoting these principles two years ago, that discussion of practical, concrete partnerships was absent. But we maintained our position, born of sixty years of experience in development assistance programs that showed that the most successful projects are those undertaken in partnership with all elements of civil society. The resources, energy, and creativity of all actors will be needed if we are to meet internationally agreed development goals.

Consequently, more than 220 partnerships were identified in advance of the Summit, and another 60 partnerships were announced during the Summit by a variety of countries. These partnerships bring together private and public actors including governments, business, non-governmental organizations, and international institutions into voluntary associations. We emphasized these partnerships because they produce results, not rhetoric. More than any political declaration, these partnerships offer tangible hope for improving the daily lives of millions around the world who have no access to sufficient food, clean water, or reliable energy.

As Secretary Powell told the Summit: "Plans are good; actions are better. Only actions can put a drop of clean water on the tongue of a thirsty child, prevent the transmission of a deadly virus from mother to child, and preserve the biodiversity of a fragile African ecosystem."

Actions based on well-conceived strategies and undertaken in true partnership are the best--indeed the only--way to make lasting progress on development. I want to highlight three key partnerships that were cemented at Johannesburg. In the area of water, the international community has committed to halve the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and to improved sanitation by 2015. To address this goal, the United States announced $970 million in investments over the next three years on water and sanitation projects that will leverage a total of $1.6 billion from other partners. This "Water for the Poor" initiative will expand access around the world to clean water and sanitation, improve watershed management, and increase the productivity of water in industry and agriculture.

In the area of energy, the United States demonstrated its commitment to increased energy services in all forms through its "Clean Energy Initiative: Powering Sustainable Development from Village to Metropolis." This initiative is designed to increase access to affordable, reliable, clean, and efficient energy services essential to eradicating the cycle of poverty and achieving sustainable development. Our investment of more than $42 million in 2003 will leverage about $400 million in investments from the U.S. government, the private sector, civil society, other governments and development organizations throughout the world.

One result will be to help families in developing countries replace wood and dung burning with modern energy sources in their indoor cooking, thus helping to eliminate indoor pollution that causes some two million premature deaths each year from respiratory illness.

In the area of agriculture, the "Initiative to Cut Hunger in Africa" involves a two-pronged approach to react to the current famine in South Africa and elsewhere while also building the capacity to avert future famines. Our investments will focus on increasing the agricultural productivity of small farmers through enhancing their access to free markets as well as to science and technology that will improve crop yields. In addition to these three areas, we announced at Johannesburg a number of other initiatives in important sectors, including health, oceans, biodiversity, housing, and education.

Plan of Implementation

To evaluate fully the results of the summit, we must also consider the Plan of Implementation adopted in Johannesburg. From our perspective, the text is groundbreaking, because it presents in a reasonable and balanced manner some of the concepts we believe most critical for sustainable growth--namely a blueprint on good governance, trade liberalization, promotion of opportunities for investment, the flow of technology, and environmental stewardship. On good domestic governance, the Plan of Implementation echoes our sentiments, stating:

Good governance is essential for sustainable development. Sound economic policies, sound democratic institutions responsive to the needs of the people and improved infrastructure are the basis for sustained economic growth, poverty eradication, and employment creation. Freedom, peace and security, domestic stability, respect for human rights, including the right to development, and the rule of law, gender equality, market-oriented policies, and an overall commitment to just and democratic societies are also essential and mutually reinforcing. Significantly, the leaders at the Johannesburg Summit endorsed the importance of trade as an engine for economic development. Open markets are fundamental to poorer nations' growth. Research shows that the per capita income in "globalizing" developing countries grew more than five times faster than it did in "non-globalizing" countries in the 1990s. The Plan of Implementation presents globalization from a balanced perspective. It states:

Globalization offers opportunities and challenges for sustainable development. We recognize that globalization and interdependence are offering new opportunities for trade, investment and capital flows and advances in technology, including information technology, for the growth of the world economy, development and the improvement of living standards around the world. At the same time, there remain serious challenges, including serious financial crises, insecurity, poverty, exclusion and inequality within and among societies. The Plan of Implementation reaffirmed the commitment of the United States and other developed and developing countries to expand all forms of cleaner energies, including renewables. Energy in all forms is essential for the modernization of developing countries' communities.

The bottom line is that, with only a few exceptions, the Plan of Implementation reflects in broad terms the vision of the United States with regard to sustainable development. It gives the right answers to the fundamental question that the United States has asked throughout this process: How should developed and developing countries work together to ensure that all countries become fuller, more vibrant members of the world community with better economies and better governments?

Moving Forward

As we move forward from Doha to Monterrey to Johannesburg to the future, our approach will be directed largely toward building upon and nurturing the partnerships born over the past two years. We will seek new partners in the public and private sectors to widen the circle of support that received such a strong boost in last month. We also plan to review the partnerships that other nations and organizations have initiated to learn where we can lend support.

It is too early to fully assess what fruits our efforts in Johannesburg will bear. I do know, however, that we must and we will move beyond promises and commitments and focus on concrete action. As we go forward, we would do well to keep the words of Benjamin Franklin firmly in mind, "Well done is better than well said."

--The Honorable Paula J. Dobriansky is U.S. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs.


The Paula J. Dobriansky

Policy Analyst

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