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World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), Johannesburg, South Africa, 26 August - 4 September 2002

04 September 2002

"Seeking Sustainable Communities in a Globalizing World," statement of the Ecumenical Team to the 8th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, 1 May 2000.

Ethical Context

     The challenge before us is to reverse the impact of a growth-driven development model that has brought about the worst environmental crisis and world poverty that we have ever witnessed and experienced.

The enormity of the task and the urgency of the situation call upon us to challenge our prevailing notion of development that puts more value on material wealth than people. We believe that the relentless pursuit of this type of development is not sustainable, and that ecological sustainability without social justice has no meaning. Rather, the focus should be that of ensuring a good quality of life for all people within a healthy environment.

The Ecumenical Team proposes that we work toward the building of sustainable communities. Our concept of sustainable communities requires a just and moral economy where people are empowered to participate in decisions affecting their lives, where public and private institutions are held accountable for the social and environmental consequences of their operations, and where the earth is nurtured rather than exploited and degraded. We speak increasingly of sustainable communities because it implies the nurturing of equitable relationships both within the human family and also between humans and the rest of the ecological community. We speak of justice within the whole of God's creation.

Our focus on sustainable communities necessarily leads us to a serious critique of the current trends toward economic globalization, including a concentration of power in the hands of a minority, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, regional and global threats to the environment, and a weakening of political institutions and their legitimacy at the national and international level. We are particularly concerned about the impacts of economic globalization on the most vulnerable, including Indigenous Peoples, women and children.

Within this ethical context, we would like to address issues related to CSD8 agenda items on Finance, Trade and Investment.


     On Debt Cancellation: The CSD should encourage the cancellation of 100% of the debts (both bilateral and multilateral) of Africa and the least developed countries without Structural Adjustment conditions attached, along with a process for the comprehensive write-down of middle-income country debts.

The CSD must call for deeper, faster, broader debt relief and cancellation processes that encompass:

  • an effective, equitable, development-oriented, and durable debt relief and management strategy;
  • breaking the link between debt cancellation and conditionalities;
  • developing an international lending-borrowing mechanism which involves civil society in the process of debt relief and the prevention of future debt crises.

     On Official Development Assistance:  We reiterate the NGO caucus' call for the CSD to require governments to reaffirm commitments to 0.7% GNP or a substantially higher percentage for ODA, and to agree on target dates. There is also a need to ensure that ODA will go to the financing of sustainable development efforts and activities, and that a proper monitoring system is in place to track ODA financing for sustainable development.


     We call on the CSD to help correct the imbalances and inequities in the world trading system. Because of these historic inequities, special and differential treatment needs to be accorded to developing countries with regard to agricultural subsidies. Subsidies for agricultural products need to be reduced in developed countries, in order to increase market access for products from developing countries. Conversely, developing countries may need to implement or increase agricultural subsidies in order to offset low commodity prices and dumping of developed country products in their countries. Developing countries should not be pressured to further open their markets to import food products, and should be encouraged to implement policies which support food production for the local market, with particular focus on small farmers.


     On Foreign Direct Investments: Not all Foreign Direct Investments contribute to sustainable communities. In many cases, activities and operations of transnational corporations in developing countries have contributed to the degradation of the environment, and have resulted in the displacement of local communities and Indigenous Peoples. We therefore call for a shift from voluntary initiatives to binding codes of conduct in order for Transnational Corporations (TNCs) and Financial Investment Institutions to effectively fulfill their social responsibilities.

On Portfolio Investments and Currency Transaction Tax: Unfettered capital flows and excessive financial speculation are directly linked to the impoverishment, unemployment and social exclusion of millions of innocent people. We call on the CSD to work toward the establishment of a new global financial architecture, which will effectively curb excessive financial speculation and make resources available for poverty eradication and supporting sustainable communities.

Specifically, we urge the CSD to call for a Currency Transaction Tax, or a tax on international currency trades, that would discourage excessive speculation on world money markets, promote greater financial stability and could raise much needed revenue for our communities.

Alternative Models

     In our search for alternatives, we only need to learn from the experiences of Indigenous Peoples to realize that there are in fact existing models of sustainable communities. Unfortunately, economic globalization is seriously undermining the ability of indigenous peoples to continue living their sustainable practices and lifestyles, just as colonization has, in the past, jeopardized these same practices and lifestyles. Perhaps the best proof of their sustainability, despite colonization and re-colonization, is that they have survived and persisted until now.

Change of Heart

     We reiterate our vision for an alternative global community whose interdependence is not reduced to trade and markets. We call for a change of heart which recognizes that real value cannot be expressed in monetary terms; that life - and all that is essential to sustain it - cannot be commodified. The role of the economy is to serve people and communities, and to preserve the health of the earth. We affirm our common destiny as co-inhabitants of the one earth for which we all share responsibility and from which we should all equitably benefit. A moral vision calls for the full participation of diverse communities of poor and powerless people in the economic, social and political decisions which affect them. The aim of economic life should be to nurture sustainable, just and participatory communities. Building such communities will require nothing less than profound moral courage and the willingness to be open to new ways of living and working together.

"Justice - the Heart of Sustainability," contribution of the Ecumenical Team to the Political Declaration, at the Ministerial Preparatory Committee meeting, Bali, Indonesia, June 2002

Written submissions issued by the Ecumenical Team at the World Summit:

  • "Water for Life -- Streams of Justice"
  • "North Owes South Huge Ecological Debt"
  • "Corporate Accountability -- A Matter of Sustainable Justice"
  • "New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)"
  • "Sustainable Communities -- People and Their Livelihoods"

 "Justice - The Heart of Sustainability," written contribution by the Ecumenical Team for 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)

Our grounding vision

     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 seek a future in which sustainable communities can flourish.