August 22nd, 2012 | Beijing Review Green Way, the Only Way
The Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, a 20-year follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit, provided a historic opportunity to define pathways to a sustainable future—a future with more jobs, more clean energy, greater security and a decent standard of living for all. It aimed to carry forward the established agenda and forge ahead into the future.
“Rio+20 will be one of the most important global meetings on sustainable development in our time,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said ahead of the conference.
A UN initiative
The concept of “sustainable development” first appeared in the 1980s. It was based on both the self-reflection of the international community on the history of human development and its comprehensive appraisal of practical problems in economic development and environmental protection.
The UN made an important contribution to global sustainable development in November 1983, when the World Commission on Environment and Development was established within the UN framework. In 1987, the commission, headed by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, submitted a report titled Our Common Future to the UN General Assembly after four years of research. The report put forward the definition and model of sustainable development.
The UN-initiated concept was widely acknowledged by countries of different development levels and different cultural backgrounds. It laid the theoretical basis for the adoption of Agenda 21, a wide-ranging blueprint of action to achieve sustainable development worldwide, at the 1992 Earth Summit. It has since become a guiding principle for long-term global development.
The UN and its member states have put the principle into practice. In the last two decades, the international community has not only made progress in implementing the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21, and the Plan of Implementation of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, but also promoted international and regional cooperation on the environment and development.
Developing countries have made huge efforts in this regard. They have made much progress in reducing poverty and meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—eight international development goals that all UN member states have agreed to achieve by 2015. More than 100 countries have devised national strategies on sustainable development involving governments at all levels, businesses, NGOs and the public.
Take China for instance. It has not only incorporated sustainable development into its national development strategy but also taken an active part in international cooperation to achieve their goals. The concept is one of the most important components of the Scientific Outlook on Development, a new vision advocated by the Chinese Government for comprehensive, balanced and sustainable growth. China’s progress, in turn, has contributed to global sustainable development efforts.
China has been a firm supporter of global sustainable development. In recent decades, the country has taken a series of steps to promote economic, social and environmental sustainability. It tries to explore new paths to economic development. Efforts have been made to shift the mode of economic development by adjusting the industrial structure, promoting the development of emerging industries including clean energy and upgrading traditional industries. Efforts have also been made to beef up poverty alleviation in poverty-stricken areas and enhance the self-development capacity of the poor.
Also, China is committed to the pursuit of social harmony. Top priority has been given to coordinated urban and rural development in a bid to narrow the urban-rural divide. Great importance has been attached to the improvement of the urban and rural environment. China has realized the MDG target of “halving the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water” six years ahead of schedule. More importantly, as education levels improve, China has built a huge pool of qualified human resources that can support sustainable development.
Substantive results have been achieved in resource conservation and environmental protection in China. Over the past decade, the energy self-sufficiency rate has remained over 90 percent, and China ranks first worldwide in terms of hydropower and wind power installed capacities as well as the use of solar water heaters. China implements strict arable land and water resource protection systems. With less than 10 percent of the world’s arable land and merely 28 percent of world average per-capita water resources, China feeds about one fifth of the world population.
As a developing country, China faces many challenges in sustainable development. The nation is under great pressure to develop as most areas in the country are still in the early or medium stages of industrialization and urbanization. There are 122 million people living under the poverty line in China. Moreover, China is the only country in the world with more than 100 million senior citizens.
The fragility of the natural ecological environment exerts tremendous pressure on sustainable development in the country. Arid and semi-arid regions account for 52 percent of the country’s total land area. About 90 percent of natural grasslands in China suffer varying degrees of degradation.
Resource constraints are another major challenge for sustainable development in China. The per-capita recoverable reserves of oil, iron ore and copper are 7.7 percent, 17 percent and 17 percent of the world average, respectively. Since heavy and chemical industries make up a high proportion of the Chinese economy, economic development will remain dependent on resources in the short term. Economic development and social progress face enormous challenges in complying with stringent requirements of saving resources, protecting the environment, conserving energy, cutting emissions, achieving technological progress and realizing management innovation.
Currently, structural economic and social problems are still prominent in China, whose urbanization has lagged far behind its industrialization. Population migration has put huge pressure on social management. Uneven urban and rural development can be seen in the fact that rural production, living conditions and public services are far below urban levels. Also, there are flaws in the structure of different industries. A balance has yet to be struck between domestic and external demand as well as between investment and consumption. Economic growth is too dependent on investment and exports, and domestic consumer demand is insufficient. All this makes it an arduous task to restructure China’s economy.
Continuing to promote sustainable development is an inevitable strategic choice for China. The nation will further shift its development strategy, promote innovation on development modes and try to upgrade its ability for sustainable development.
On a global scale, pervasive poverty and environmental degradation continue to pose daunting challenges to sustainable development. UN statistics show that one fifth of the total world population of 7 billion live on less than $1.25 per day, more than 1.5 billion people lack access to electricity, 2.5 billion do not have toilets, and about 1 billion suffer from hunger. In the meantime, greenhouse gas emissions keep rising. If we cannot properly address the problems resulting from climate change, more than one third of the existing species will face the risk of extinction.
Moreover, the poor execution of sustainable development programs, the imbalance of regional economic and social development and the failure to reverse the trend of ecological deterioration have made global fulfillment of the MDGs extremely difficult. Many developing countries are facing problems such as the lack of funds and technology as well as weak sustainable development capacity. The international financial crisis, climate change, food and energy crises and natural disasters have further increased the burden for developing countries to develop sustainably.
Establishing a green economy is no doubt an important measure for sustainable development. But given the limitation on funds, technology and capacity building, developing countries are facing many difficulties in shaping a green economy. Moreover, most developing countries are in the rapid development stage of industrialization and urbanization. While undertaking the tasks of poverty eradication and economic restructuring for a green economy, they are restricted by energy and resource shortages and environmental problems. In this context, the Rio+20 Conference gave a much-needed boost to the world’s morale.
One fifth of the total world population of 7 billion live on less than $1.25 per day, more than 1.5 billion people lack access to electricity, 2.5 billion do not have toilets, and about 1 billion suffer from hunger.
There are 122 million people living under the poverty line in China. China is the only country in the world with more than 100 million senior citizens. Arid and semi-arid regions account for 52 percent of China’s total land area. About 90 percent of natural grasslands in China suffer varying degrees of degradation.