A new paradigm of cooperative global governance which motivates and mobilises the skills and resources of civil society, is the only feasible basis on which we can manage basic risks to society and realise the immense potential for progress and peace for the entire human family which is within our reach.


Message to the Aichi forum

by Maurice Strong

Today we are concerned with peace. We continue to see the horrific effects of conflict and war, and of course the main focus these days is the war against terrorism led by the United States, but in which all countries, in one way or other, are engaged and participating, because terrorism is indeed a threat to everyone.

But even more important in the long run are the threats to the peace and security of this planet that will be addressed by this Aichi Forum, and hopefully will also be the subject of the Appeal for Peace in which I am delighted and privileged also to participate. It is of course correct to be preoccupied in the immediate sense with the threat from terrorism. But that is not enough. What we must do is to cooperate not just in stopping terrorists and punishing them, but in denying them the capacity to mount future attacks.

None of the grievances to which the terrorists have ascribed their rationale for such attacks could in any way justify this conduct which affects the lives of and inflicts suffering and death on so many innocent people. Nevertheless, we must ask ourselves why it is that so many people, particularly in developing countries with significant Islamic populations, while deploring these attacks as we all do, nevertheless also understand that there is an underlying basis for them in the grievances of the terrorists, and that they resent a purely military response to that which makes innocent civilians the main victims. If there is any good that can come out of this war against terrorism, it would surely be that it has shocked us into realizing the profound gaps in understanding, in knowledge, and mutual trust, which exists between peoples of different cultures, races and religions.

These differences are in many cases reinforced or exacerbated by economic disparities, historic enmities, territorial rivalries, and the perception by many countries that the current global power structure and the processes of globalisation disproportionately benefit the more industrialized countries to the detriment of developing countries’ interests.

The first priority must always be to prevent these enmities from erupting into violence, and to contain them before they spread. But surely experience tells us that such conflicts invariably persist and erupt into violence again and again if the underlying conditions which give rise to them are not addressed. This takes time, patience, and concerted measures to bridge the differences that divide people, through education and training which can give them the knowledge and the skills required to understand and establish relationships of trust and respect with each other.

To identify areas of common interest and to cooperate in addressing these, the conditions conducive to permanent peace must have their foundations in what the United Nations has called the “culture of peace.” Much of my time these days is spent in my role as Chairman of the University for Peace established by the United Nations to help foster the knowledge and to develop the skills that will enable people to put peace into practice. Now, we cooperate closely with a very important United Nations institution headquartered in Japan, the United Nations University, which also carries on significant programmes in this area.

So basically this and my environmental interest go hand in hand, and I’m very pleased that this Aichi Forum is recognising that peace and sustainable development, and protection of the environment are very intimately related. In my own activities both in the United Nations, and in my own NGO capacity as founding chairman of the Earth Council and the Earth Council Alliance, really in my own life, I’ve been trying to demonstrate the linkages between peace and sustainable development. The environmental movement has indeed made a fundamentally important contribution to the intellectual basis for public policy in helping us to understand the complex nature of the issues through which human activity is shaping human future.

The evolution of the environment and sustainable development movements has been accompanied and illuminated by impressive advances in the science of ecology which deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings. I did an article some years ago for Foreign Affairs in 1973, in fact, reflecting on the lessons of the Stockholm Conference, one year after that conference, I stressed that for me, the principal insight was the need for an ecological approach to the management of the issues through which we impact our own future. I would submit that the ecological or sustainability approach is essential to the understanding and management of the broader complex of issues and processes which we now generally refer to as “globalisation.” So it is in that context that peace, the environment and economic development, and indeed sustainable economic development are intimately related.

Now, this insight of globalisation is not entirely new even though the term globalisation is a new one. The Greek historian Polybius, in the first century before Christ, wrote, “Now, in earlier times, the world’s history has consisted, so to speak, of a series of isolated episodes, the origins and the results of each being as widely separated as their localities. From now onwards, history becomes an organic whole. The affairs of Italy and Africa are connected with those of Asia and Greece, and all events bear a relationship and contribute to a single end.”

Of course in our times the scale and the speed of these interactions have accelerated exponentially, and now we refer to them as globalisation. Sustainable development which calls for a positive synthesis between the economic, environmental and social dimensions of the development process is a central component of this complex of interacting issues. Indeed I contend that it must be the primary driver if globalisation is to produce benefits for the entire human community rather than deepening the dichotomies, imbalances and differences which divide it and lead to conflict and threats to peace.

This underscores the need for new dimensions of international cooperation to deal with the whole complex of issues that are integral to the globalisation process. These range from environmental protection and particularly the risks of climate change, to meeting the development and security needs of developing countries, and redressing the gross and growing imbalances which divide rich and poor, and nourish the enmities and the frustrations that produce conflict.

Of course the war against terrorism is interrelated to these other issues, and they are going to all be addressed at the very historic millennium summit conference to be held on the 60th anniversary of the United Nations this autumn in New York. We are very ambitious. A very necessary programme of reform instigated by the Secretary General, and backed up by a distinguished panel of world experts which he commissioned, is going to be examined by the leaders of the world.

Hopefully, out of this will come agreement on reform and strengthening of the United Nations, which will continue to make it the indispensable centrepiece of the multilateral system which is so essential to the international cooperation on which peace and security depend.

The relationship between sustainable development and sustainable peace and security is now receiving much greater attention. The most obvious, of course, are the impacts of conflict on development itself and on the environment. Conflicts, most of them internal, that have afflicted so many countries in the developing world, particularly in Africa, have crippled their own economic and social development, and exacted a heavy cost in human, economic, and environmental terms. In my own work in Africa during the great famine of 1984 to 1986, I saw how conflicts in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan exacerbated severely the effects of the drought in those regions, converting it into a famine which took the lives of so many, and imposed suffering on literally millions of people. Unfortunately this tragic condition continues to exist.

At the same time, these conflicts impeded the process of providing the people who are suffering from them with relief supplies and humanitarian assistance. There is growing evidence, too, that the scarcities of critical resources arising from environmental degradation, especially of available land, fresh water and forests, contribute to the potential for conflict in many parts of the world, even when they are not perhaps the main causes of such conflicts.

They also give rise to pressures for migration both within countries and to neighbouring and other countries. Yet, the borders of the world are closing, except to the rich and the skilled, and it is getting harder and harder for people who are displaced by famine, by war or conflict, to find homes in other places, so the refugee population continues to grow.

Environmental degradation and resource scarcities result from a number of interacting factors. Population growth is clearly one of the most important of these. Increases in population place greater pressures on the environment and resource base, intensifying the competition for land and resources as well as the intensity of their exploitation, leading to unsustainable practices sacrificing the future to meet today’s immediate needs. This produces a vicious circle of cause and effect in which poor people are driven in meeting their immediate needs for food, water and firewood to overexploit those precious resources, undermining the foundations of their future livelihoods and development prospects. As competition for these resources escalates, the potential for conflicts arises on an increasing scale.

The World Resources Institute estimated that in the late 1980s, erosion in upland Indonesia cost the country’s agricultural economy nearly half a billion dollars a year in discounted future income. Depletion of fish stocks as a result of subsidised over-fishing is producing increased competition and tension even between traditional friends, as evidenced by the recent disputes over fisheries between Canada, the European Union, and the United States. These conflicts are not confined to the developing world.

Perhaps the principal example of resource-related conflict in recent times is undoubtedly the war in Iraq, or the two wars: the first one, and the existing one which unfortunately continues. Clearly a motivation for the United States and its allies was the protection of the vital oil supplies of the Gulf Region, in addition to very serious concerns regarding the aggressive attentions of the then government of Iraq. An underlying, though unspoken, motivation was to establish a strong western presence and a centre of influence in this region on which so many countries of the more developing world depend heavily, and increasingly for their oil supply.

But that is not the only commodity that gives rise to competitive conflict. Water, one of the most ancient causes of competition and conflict, is now emerging as one of the most important sources of potential conflict in the period ahead, as articulated by the recent report by the World Commission of Water in the 21st Century. Already tensions are rising at the local and regional levels throughout the world over access to water, and responsibility for maintaining its quality and availability.

In the Middle East, conflicts over water threaten to undermine further efforts to establish sustainable peace and security in that troubled region. Growing demands on the Jordan River, and Israel’s pre-emption of a disproportionate share of its waters have already contributed significantly to the grievances of Palestinians and to the underlying causes of the continuing conflict between them. Control by Turkey of the two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, on which its neighbours Iraq and Syria are heavily dependent, provides another major source of potential conflict in a region which seems likely to increase. You can imagine how Egypt would respond to attempts by Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda to assert their control over the waters of the Nile which originate and pass through their areas, and which would threaten this vital lifeline on which Egypt is so dependent. These are but a few of the examples of environment and resource-related issues which have the potential to become major sources of conflict in the period ahead.

We cannot simply wait for these conflicts to take place. Planning and cooperation in the management of these resources is absolutely essential to ensure that they contribute to peace rather than conflict. Of course, in the development of our civilisations, human beings have always impacted on the environment and natural resources. Applying our ecological understanding to the interpretation of history leads to the conclusion that the mismanagement and overexploitation of the environment and natural resources led or contributed to the demise of many ancient civilizations.

In the pre-Christian era, flourishing communities existed on the Greek islands, most of which now only support small populations dependent on meagre agriculture and often flourishing tourism. I recall standing on the shore of the Mediterranean, near Alexandria in Egypt with a scientist friend who pointed out that this region which has now become largely a desert was formerly a rich agricultural area and the source of wine exported to Europe before Europe itself became a centre of wine production. The decline and fall of these civilisations were major events in themselves, but their effects were limited to the people and the regions concerned. There were always other places to go. But today, the principal habitable areas in the world are already populated and many of them overly so, and the borders of the world are closing to all but the wealthy and the especially skilled. Yet with populations continuing to grow in the areas most dependent on natural resources and most vulnerable to their degradation, the pressures are mounting.

Achievement of environmental security and peace requires that we manage those pressures to avoid the conflicts to which they give rise. Indeed, I submit that this is one of the greatest challenges to peace and security which we now face. At the global level, there are emerging challenges to peace and security which are rooted in and directly related to environment and natural resource issues. Time doesn’t permit me to go into all of these in detail, but I’m sure that some of our other speakers and panellists will bring these out.

But we know of course that climate change itself is now a source of real conflict. There is more and more evidence that we have to deal with the issue, yet there is reluctance by some of those countries that are most responsible for the CO2 and green house gas emissions that give rise to climate risks. Cooperation is essential. The Kyoto Protocol, which Japan made a difficult but a very important and positive decision to join is under fire. It’s going to be difficult for countries to live up to it, but it’s necessary, and most of all, some in industry who think the targets are just too difficult to achieve must realise that it is only the first step. We must go well beyond Kyoto, and we’ve got to get beyond the narrow thinking and prejudices which threaten Kyoto.

I really believe that we are going to see a new generation of threats to peace arising from environmental considerations. Take for example, the global commons. Some 70% of the earth’s surface that is beyond national jurisdictions is likely to give rise to an increasing number of competing interests over the exploitation and management of marine resources, pollution, and use of the oceans as a repository for toxic and radioactive waste, and exploitation of the petroleum and mineral resources underlying them, not to speak of the tremendous threat to the living marine resources on which the food supply of so many of the world’s people depend. Take the continental Antarctic. It’s now effectively controlled by the Antarctic Treaty powers for purposes they describe as scientific research. I submit that that will be a source of impending tension as other countries stake their claims to share in the internationalisation of this commons area.

Of course the largest commons of all is the atmosphere and outer space, the value of which has been immensely enhanced by the multiplicity of uses to which it is now being put, particularly in accommodating the growing numbers of satellites that orbit the earth. However, the prospect of the militarization of space highlights the potential for differences on this issue, even amongst traditional allies. It seems evident that the militarization of space, however well intentioned as a means to achieve security against missile attacks, could well lead to a new and highly dangerous generation of space-related conflicts and insecurity.

As the world community becomes more and more aware of the importance of environmental security, it is predictable that nations will also become more sensitive to the damage inflicted by them or inflicted on them by the actions of others, as, for example, with the trans-boundary impacts of pollution originating in one country and inflicting important health and economic costs on others. It is not inconceivable that, as concern for the risks and consequences of climate change grows, those countries which contribute disproportionately to the green house gases which give rise to it will be seen as committing environmental aggression against the rest of the world community. A new concept of environmental terrorism may well emerge.

I don’t see all of these issues as inevitable. They are all threatening peace and security, and the most important element in them is that they can only be resolved through peaceful cooperation. And yet the multilateral system through which peaceful cooperation that is so necessary is under attack today. The United Nations and the various multilateral agencies which are part of or related to it have never been more necessary, and yet have never been more under attack, and we need to rehabilitate and to reform these. We need to widen the Security Council and to broaden the participation of developing countries and the influence of the developing countries on the United Nations, where they have a majority. After all, it is recognised that we in the industrialised world represent a minority. Some 80% of the world’s people are in what we call developing countries.

Now, China is both a developing country and a rapidly industrialising country, as are some of the other developing countries. But the composition of the United Nations itself and other multilateral organisations reflects largely the geopolitical situation that emerged from World War II.

It needs to be made more representative and more inclusive, and much more democratic in the sense that the majority of people and the majority of nations are from the developing world. Developing countries must have a greater and more effective participation in it. This will be one of the things that I hope will emerge from this historic 60th anniversary summit and the programme of reform that is being submitted to it.
Finally, let us reflect that ours is the wealthiest civilisation ever. Yes, we continue to worry about our economic problems, but that cannot deflect us from the fact that we are the wealthiest civilisation ever, and we have a capacity to produce wealth beyond that which has ever been experienced before.

We are yet to demonstrate, however, that we are the wisest. On a global basis, we have the knowledge, the resources, and the capacities to build in this new millennium a civilisation and mode of life in which pollution and poverty are eradicated, and the benefits which knowledge and technology afford made available universally.

Let me just quote a great leader from our recent past, Jawaharlal Nehru of India. He commented on this paradox in an article he called The Strange Behaviour of Money, in which he mentioned, and I quote, “The extraordinary spectacle of abundance and poverty existing side by side,” and that “if capitalism is not advanced enough, some other system must be evolved more in keeping with science.”

In China’s remarkable development, its leaders have committed themselves to a scientific and responsible human approach to development. A recent article in the Economist, hardly a radical publication, stated, and I quote, “If the Marxist prediction of a proletariat plunged into abject misery under capitalism has so far been unfulfilled, the widening gap between haves and have-nots is causing something that Marx might be proved right in this point after all.”

So finally, I would like to simply point out that at the deepest level people and societies are motivated by the fundamental, ethical, and spiritual values in which their beliefs are rooted. After all, we know what we must do, we know more about it than we’ve ever done, and we have the capacity to do it, but we’re not doing it. Motivation is the key. We have the power to implement these measures, but we have not yet got the motivation.

I’ve been pleased to be associated with a global movement to produce an Earth Charter which defines a set of basic, moral, and ethical principals to the conduct of people and nations toward each other and the earth, as a basis for achieving a sustainable and peaceful way of life on our planet. The Earth Charter has now earned the support of millions of people and countless organisations throughout the world. It provides a focal point for establishing a moral, spiritual, and ethical foundation which can motivate the changes in behaviour required to affect a transition to a secure, peaceful future.

Now, I am convinced that the direction of the human future will in fact be set in the first decades of this century. It doesn’t mean to say all will be well or all will be wrong, but the direction and the fate will be set. For all the evidence of environmental degradation, social tension, and inter-communal conflict we have seen today have occurred at levels of population and human activity that are a great deal less than they will be in the period ahead.

Look at the conflicts emerging in this region where we meet. The conflicts between those who are claiming jurisdiction over small islands that weren’t very important before, but now have the potential to be rich in petroleum resources. These conflicts are proliferating not only in this region but everywhere, and the mounting pressures on the environment, resource bases, and the life support systems on which all life on earth depend, clearly threaten the sustainability of life and peace as we know it. This threat will be compounded by the conflict which these pressures will generate.

A new paradigm then, of cooperative global governance which motivates and mobilises the skills and resources of civil society, which means people and industry, is the only feasible basis on which we can manage these basic risks and realise the immense potential for progress and peace for the entire human family which is within our reach.

But government leaders are now beginning more and more to give at least lip service to this. No government leader can move against the will of the people, and that’s why the awareness of people, the commitment of people, and the behaviour of individual people makes a difference. Just as no leader can move without the approval of a large section of their population, nor can any leader ignore the pressures that arise from the insistence of their people that they act on these issues.