“Globalization and the Environment in a Reformed UN: Charting a Sustainable Development Path”
24th Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, Nairobi

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Ladies and gentlemen,

“Gaia” — which means “mother earth” in greek — is traversing a difficult phase: a zone of turbulence. It was as early as 1979 when James Lovelock published his famous work — Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth — that we were warned that living matter is not passive, and that the Earth responds to provocation. We learned that the Earth's air, oceans and land surfaces react in the face of threats to their very existence. They fight to defend themselves. Today, as we face environmental challenges of an unprecedented magnitude, like we do with climate change, there is little doubt that Gaia will indeed react, and that humankind may suffer the consequences.

James Lovelock, for those of you who do not know him, was not only the originator of the Gaia theory, but was also the inventor of the electron detector. The device that made possible the detection of CFCs.

On 4 July 1994, when the United States awarded the Czech President, Vaclav Havel the Liberty Medal, Havel's words were:

According to the Gaia Hypothesis, we are parts of a greater whole (he said). Our destiny is not dependent merely on what we do for ourselves but also what we do for Gaia as a whole. If we endanger her, she will dispense with us in the interests of a higher value — life itself

UNEP's Governing Council meeting could not be more timely. It comes in the wake of many serious warnings that we have received about climate change, and other environmental problems. It suffices to glance through the UNEP Global Environmental Outlook for 2007 to see the full scale of the challenge before us.

In 1987, when the Brundtland Report coined the term “sustainable development”, many of us saw it as one option. The other option was the business-as-usual scenario. Twenty years later no one can argue that sustainable development is a choice anymore. It has become a must.

Sustainable development should be the cornerstone of our approach to globalization and to the global governance architecture that we create. If I have come to this forum, it is to deliver a message: the WTO stands ready to do its part.

When the WTO was established back in 1995, “sustainable development” was placed right at the heart of its founding charter. Governments vetoed the type of trade that is premised on the depletion of natural resources. Rather, they called for their “sustainable” use. They went further in their pledge to pursue a sustainable development path by launching environmental negotiations in the Doha Round. This is the first time in the history multilateral trade talks that such negotiations have been started. The credit for these negotiations must not only go to WTO member governments. The environmental community has, no doubt, played a decisive role in their launch through its repeated calls for greater mutual supportiveness between trade and the environment.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are many different ways to look at globalization. Some see it as an economic phenomenon, driven by a greater flow of goods, services and capital between countries. In this definition, the WTO plays a central part. Others see it as a technological phenomenon, driven by the revolution that we have witnessed in information technology, and so on. The one certain element in all of this, is that the world has become inter-connected to a point, that today it is impossible for a country to live and prosper in isolation of the rest of the world.

Clearly, globalization is a phenomenon that requires careful management. By connecting people from opposite ends of the planet, globalization offers tremendous potential, but it can also have drawbacks. As goods, services and people cross borders, so does pollution for example. The management of globalization would allow us to capture its benefits, while leaving behind its downside. There is no doubt that the world needs more effective “global governance” — governance at a level that transcends national boundaries. Our institutions of global governance must therefore be strengthened. They must also be made to function as a more coherent whole. This applies to the WTO, and to all other international institutions, which should complement each other.

Trade, no doubt, leads to a more efficient allocation of resources on a global scale. However, for this efficient allocation to truly materialize, we all know that resources must be properly priced to start with — that externalities would have to be internalized. In today's world, our policies are not fully synchronized. Greater awareness of the need for this synchronization is, first and foremost, required of governments.

We need to turn the page on the era in which governments would bring conflicting positions to different fora. The right hand of government should not compete with its left hand. The WTO, UNEP, and MEAs — as well as all other international institutions — must be put to work towards a shared sustainable development vision.

The Doha Round of trade negotiations contains a promise for the environment. A promise to allow for a more efficient allocation of resources — including natural ones — on a global scale through a continued reduction of obstacles to trade (tariffs and subsidies). But it also includes a promise to ensure greater harmony between the WTO and MEAs: a promise to tear down the barriers that stand in the way of trade in clean technologies and services; as well as a promise to reduce the environmentally harmful agricultural subsidies that are leading to overproduction and harmful fisheries subsidies which are encouraging over-fishing and depleting the world's fish stock.

The WTO needs the engagement of the environmental community in these negotiations. The engagement of environment ministers, of UNEP, of MEAs, and of civil society. As I said earlier, it is due, in large part, to the efforts of the environmental community that these negotiations have come about. But these efforts must be sustained, especially at this crucial phase of the Doha Round. As imperfect as the WTO may be, it continues to offer the only forum worldwide that is exclusively dedicated to discussing the relationship between trade and the environment. Through Doha Round, decisions on that relationship can finally be made, influencing the way that the relationship is shaped. I call upon the environmental community to support the environmental chapter of the Doha Round, and to provide its much needed contribution.

The world must forge ahead with these negotiations as fast as it possibly can. Not because the negotiations are going to save the world's environment. But because they are the very modest start that the international community has agreed to make to address environmental challenges through the prism of trade. A failure of these negotiations would strengthen the hand of all those who argue that economic growth should proceed unchecked. That economic growth is supreme and need not take account of the environment. Trade, and indeed the WTO, must be made to deliver sustainable development. They are starting to.

This modest first step that governments have taken, would allow them in future to become bolder, addressing issues that have so far been left behind. The proper pricing of resources, the internationalization of externalities, and sound energy policy, are but some of the topics requiring much more serious attention.

The contribution of the Doha Round to the environment is but a drop in the bucket of the solutions required to address the world's environmental problems. But that drop needs to enter the bucket, so that governments are encouraged to begin looking at the bucket as a whole. A sustainable development strategy, linking all international actors, must become our goal. We must not wait for Gaia to react!

Thank you for your attention.

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