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image European Research News Centre > Environment > Johannesburg, capital of the Earth
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image image image Date published: 28/08/02
  image Johannesburg, capital of the Earth
RTD info 34
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Thirty years ago, a number of high-ranking political and economic decision-makers set up a small, informal group which they decided to call the Club of Rome. Headed by Sicco Mansholt, who had just completed a notable term of office as European Agriculture Commissioner, the newly formed Club published a report, the title of which sparked immediate controversy: An end to growth. The message was certainly Utopian, in many ways impractical and was severely criticised by its many opponents at the time. Over the intervening years as the global economy has developed at breakneck speed this somewhat naive slogan has become a thing of the past.

Yet the furore over this Mansholt Report proved to be extremely useful. For the first time, threats to the global environment become a matter of public debate. Policy-makers and public opinion started to become aware of the problem, giving rise to an increasing research effort by the scientific community as a whole.
In 1987, on the instructions of the United Nations, the World Commission on Environment and Development, headed by Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Bruntland, developed a political concept which would quickly be adopted as an absolute priority: sustainable development. Bruntland’s genius lies in the simplicity and realism of the stated goal: to meet the needs of present generations without compromising the capacity of future generations to satisfy their own.

The concept soon met with worldwide approval and, in 1992, formed the basis of one of the most important international summits in history. More than 120 heads of state and government and thousands of delegates from all over the world met in Rio de Janiero to give shape to sustainable development, in particular by adopting Agenda 21. Rio also marked the start of negotiations which led to the Convention on Biological Diversity and, most significantly, the Convention on Climate Change, otherwise known as the Kyoto Protocol.

A new world summit will be held in Johannesburg (South Africa) at the end of the summer. Some 60 000 delegates, representing governments, NGOs, companies, associations and young people from all over the world are expected to attend. Ten years after Rio (the summit will also be known as Rio + 10), it is time to take stock of progress made and to recognise that the past decade has been marked more by statements of principle than by action programmes.

At the same time, environmental sciences and technologies have progressed considerably, making it possible to confirm the all too real nature of the assault on the environment, to strengthen the foundations - social as well as scientific - for implementing sustainable development, and to propose an integrated approach to the operational measures which are needed. The European Union is playing a very major role in permitting the advance of knowledge and practice in this field, in particular through the support of its RTD framework programmes and the coordination of the European Research Area. Equipped with this essential competence, will it be able to relaunch - as it did in Rio and subsequently in laboriously implementing the Kyoto undertakings - a global dynamic for sustainable development?

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Lake Mhrira (Central Tunisia).

Lake Mhrira (Central Tunisia).
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