World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Justice the heart of sustainability

07 June 2002

World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)
4th PrepCom, May 27-June 7, 2002
Contribution of the Ecumenical Team to the Political Declaration

"We share a common future...The neglect of longer-term concerns today will sow the seeds of future suffering, conflict and poverty."


UN Secretary General's Report: Implementing Agenda 21

The members of the Ecumenical Team base their engagement in the WSSD process on recognition of the sacred nature of Creation and the spiritual interrelationship among all its parts. Inspired by this vision, we advocate a life-centred, life-defending and life-fulfilling ethic. Such an ethic involves respect for the integrity of the cosmos and commitment to respecting the dignity and promoting the wellbeing of all members of the Earth community.

Our hopes for the outcome of the WSSD process are linked to our commitment to building, just and sustainable communities. This notion embodies the vision of an economic system based on equitable sharing of resources; a decent quality of life for all in a healthy environment; people's empowerment to participate at every level in decisions affecting their lives; accountability by public and private institutions for the social and environmental consequences of their operations; and a harmonious and just relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world. From this standpoint, we insist that an ethical approach to the WSSD process requires the integration of social justice and ecological sustainability, and includes:

  • Respect for Diversity - recognizing and embracing the complementarity of, for example, cultures, species, religious traditions;
  • Equity - sharing both the benefits of and responsibility for preserving the global Commons for future generations;
  • Full and meaningful participation - acknowledging and making space in decision-making for all stakeholders, especially the vulnerable and those most affected;
  • Mutual accountability - ensuring full disclosure, monitoring, verification and compliance;
  • Solidarity - rebuilding relationships and standing in particular with those who have been disempowered, marginalized and made voiceless;
  • Sufficiency - meeting needs before wants and not allowing greed and abuse to outstrip the availability of resources;
  • Subsidiarity - appropriately assessing roles and responsibilities at the level closest to where they are required, from local to global.

Our fundamental global concerns

In light of the above vision and ethical principles, we consider the following aspects of the state of global affairs to be of critical concern to the WSSD process and its outcomes:

  • a globalization characterized by unprecedented and uncontrolled growth in the size, reach and scope of corporate actors and of their economic and political power, with a simultaneous erosion of the capacity of governments to guarantee the basic rights of all;
  • the violence and alienation inflicted on people by the negative political, socio-economic, cultural and environmental impacts of globalization;
  • the scandal of extreme poverty in the face of unprecedented wealth, especially over the last decade, enjoyed by a small minority of countries and privileged elites;
  • constantly expanding over-consumption of Earth's non-renewable resources by the same minority, and the growing potential for conflict over scare resources;
  • the development of a pattern worldwide whereby the pursuit of short-term political and economic gains undermines and destroys locally sustainable livelihoods;
  • the threat and early warning of major environmental disasters linked to human activity, and their inevitable incommensurate impact on people already suffering impoverishment and marginalization;
  • the devastating effects of war, militarism and escalating military activities on communities and the environment;
  • a growing power imbalance in multilateral political and economic interactions, whereby the actions of certain member States undermine the United Nations Charter itself and the capacity of other States to exercise their sovereign rights;
  • the ecological debts due to the peoples and countries of the South, not only in terms of money or political economy, but also in terms of the degradation and destruction of the sources of life and sustenance of affected communities.

Will Johannesburg make a difference?

To this question we answer: only if people in the townships of Alexandra and Soweto, and in townships and villages around the world, have their rights acknowledged and have access to the means for a sustainable future; only if it provides the opportunity for meaningful participation by the growing networks of people worldwide committed to working for a common sustainable future; and only if political leaders demonstrate their collective willingness to subscribe to a new set of values for shaping international relations in order to overcome the paralysis caused by the dynamics of domination. Blocks set in place by powerful self-interests and utilitarian compromise must be replaced by a culture of respect, solidarity and meaningful reciprocity. A culture of truth-telling and transparency must replace the tendency to cloak the issues or minimize the urgency of the decisions that must be made.

If the road to Johannesburg is not to be littered with more unfulfilled hopes, political leaders must demonstrate an unwavering determination to take concrete and timely steps to address the collective concerns vital to the future of the global community and its earthly home. No emphasis on ‘partnerships' can substitute for political responsibility. Any model of partnerships which does not address huge inequalities in power and wealth between prospective partners and widely divergent value systems will make no significant contribution towards the building and on-going viability of a sustainable earth community.

As members of the Ecumenical Team, we recommit ourselves to on-going mobilization of our own constituencies in the final preparatory stage towards Johannesburg, joining our efforts with others who week a future in which sustainable communities can flourish.