NEWSLETTER - Green Cross Italia
State of the World 2005
by Mikhail S. Gorbachev

This text has been written by the Green Cross International Chairman for the introduction to the State of the World 2005 and it has been publish by World Watch Institute.

Five years ago, all 191 United Nations member states pledged to meet eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015, including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability. These critical challenges were reaffirmed by health officials from across the globe in October 2004 at the tenth anniversary of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo.

The overarching conclusion from this 2004 meeting was that while considerable, albeit erratic, progress was indeed being made in many areas, any optimism must be tempered with the realization that gains in overall global socioeconomic development, security, and sustainability do not reflect the reality on the ground in many parts of the world. Poverty continues to undermine progress in many areas. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS are on the rise, creating public health time bombs in numerous countries. In the last five years, some 20 million children have died of preventable waterborne diseases, and hundreds of millions of people continue to live with the daily misery and squalor associated with the lack of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.

We must recognize these shameful global disparities and begin to address them seriously. I am delighted that the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Wangari Maathai, a woman whose personal efforts, leadership, and practical community work in Kenya and Africa inspire us all by demonstrating the real progress that can be made in addressing environmental security and sustainable development challenges where people have the courage to make a difference.

Humankind has a unique opportunity to make the twenty-first century one of peace and security. Yet the many possibilities opened up to us by the end of the cold war appear to have been partially squandered already. Where has the "peace dividend" gone that we worked so hard for? Why have regional conflict and terrorism become so dominant in today's world? And why have we not made more progress on the Millennium Development Goals?

The terrible tragedies of September 11, 2001, the 2004 terrorist attacks in Beslan in Russia, and the many other terrorist incidents over the past decade in Japan, Indonesia, the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere have all driven home the fact that we are not adequately prepared to deal with new threats. But better preparation means thinking more holistically, not just in traditional cold war terms.

I believe that today the world faces three interrelated challenges: the challenge of security, including the risks associated with weapons of mass destruction and terrorism; the challenge of poverty and underdevelopment; and the challenge of environmental sustainability.

The challenge of security must be addressed by first securing and destroying the world's arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. Both Russia and the United States have taken numerous positive steps in this direction. But we must accelerate these nonproliferation and demilitarization efforts and establish threat-reduction programs around the world if we are to be truly successful.

The world's industrial nations must also commit greater resources to the poorest countries and regions of the globe. Official development assistance from the top industrial countries still represents but a tiny percentage of their gross national products and does not come close to the pledges made over a decade ago at the Rio Earth Summit. The growing disparity between the rich and the poor on our planet and the gross misallocation of limited resources to consumerism and war cannot be allowed to continue. If they do, we can expect even greater challenges and threats ahead.

Regarding the environment, we need to recognize that Earth's resources are finite. To waste our limited resources is to lose them in the foreseeable future, with potentially dire consequences for all regions and the world. Forests, for example, are increasingly being destroyed in the poorest countries. Even in Kenya, where Wangari Maathai has helped plant over 30 million trees, forested acreage has decreased. The global water crisis is also one of the single biggest threats facing humankind. Four out of 10 people in the world live in river basins shared by two or more countries, and the lack of cooperation between those sharing these precious water resources is reducing living standards, causing devastating environmental problems, and even contributing to violent conflict. Most important of all, we must wake up to the dangers of climate change and devote more resources to the crucial search for energy alternatives.

It is for reasons such as these that I founded Green Cross International 12 years ago and continue to advocate for a global value shift on how we handle Earth, a new sense of global interdependence, and a shared responsibility in humanity's relationship with nature. It is also for these reasons that I helped draft the Earth Charter, a code of ethical principles now endorsed by over 8,000 organizations representing more than 100 million people around the world. And it is for these reasons that Maurice Strong, Chair of the Earth Council, and I have initiated the Earth Dialogues, a series of public forums on ethics and sustainable development.

We need a Global Glasnost-openness, transparency, and public dialogue-on the part of nations, governments, and citizens today to build consensus around these challenges. And we need a policy of "preventive engagement": international and individual solidarity and action to meet the challenges of poverty, disease, environmental degradation, and conflict in a sustainable and nonviolent way.

We are the guests, not the masters, of nature and must develop a new paradigm for development and conflict resolution, based on the costs and benefits to all peoples and bound by the limits of nature herself rather than by the limits of technology and consumerism. I am delighted that the Worldwatch Institute continues to address these important challenges and goals in its annual State of the World report. I urge all readers to seriously consider their personal commitments to action after finishing this volume. Only with the active and dedicated participation of civil society will we be successful in building a sustainable, just, and peaceful world for the twenty-first century and beyond.

Mikhail S. Gorbachev


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