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World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD)

Sustainable Development (SD)

By the 1970s it had become apparent that environmental destruction would limit development and economic growth in the countries of the South and reverse the gains made by countries in the North.

The 1972 Stockholm Conference looked at environmental destruction in the North, mainly due to acid rain. The Stockholm Conference was followed, in 1983, by the World Commission on Environment and Development, which was chaired by Gro Brundtland. 

The Brundtland Report (1987) stressed that critically and globally threatening environmental problems were emerging as a result of poverty in the South and excessive consumption in the North.

The Report defined for the first time, two concepts of sustainable development:

  • The concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given…
  • The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organisation on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

The Report called for strategies to integrate environment and development.  In 1989 the United Nations General Assembly decided to host a conference to develop these strategies based on the findings of the Brundtland Report.

The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992, defined sustainable development as follows: “Integrating and balancing economic, social and environmental concerns in meeting our needs is a must to continue human life on this planet.”

Achieving this kind of integration and balance between economic, social and environmental dimensions would require “new ways of looking at how we produce and we consume, how we work, how we get along with each other, or how we make decisions.”

The Earth Summit – or United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)- produced Agenda 21, a blueprint for sustainable development in the 21st  century, aimed at providing a high quality environment and healthy economy for all the peoples of the world.

Agenda 21 is one of five documents agreed to in Rio, the others being the Conventions on Climate Change, Desertification and Biodiversity and the Rio Principles.

Agenda 21 is a guide for individuals, businesses and governments in making choices for less environmentally destructive developments… – and ultimately a challenge to translate understanding into action in developing lifestyles.  The alternative to this action is unacceptable levels of human suffering and environmental damage.

The Rio Summit was characterised by differences between developed countries and developing countries. One of the compromises reached was that developed countries would contribute 0.7% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) for the implementation of Agenda 21

At ‘Rio+5’ in New York in 1997, held to review implementation of Agenda 21, it emerged that most ODA commitments had not been fulfilled. Rio+5 was seen as an inadequate process, and did not address the development needs of the South.

In 2000 the United Nations announced that the WSSD, a 10-year review of Rio 1992, would be held in Johannesburg.

Since then, governments and civil society, have been involved in various preparatory processes in South African and in the international arena.

The South African government has delegated the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Environmental Affairs & Tourism as the lead departments.  Government’s preparations include reporting on its implementation of Agenda 21, and developing a National Strategy on Sustainable Development. Government has set up a Multi Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of Civil Society and other interest groups, e.g. business.

The Civil Society Secretariat is made up of NGOs, women’s groups, faith-based organisations, trade unions, traditional leaders and civic associations.  The Secretariat was established by the South African NGO Coalition (SANGOCO).  An International Steering Committee will oversee the participation of international civil society groups.

A Section 21 (not for profit) company, the Johannesburg World Summit Company (JOWSCO) has been developed to coordinate the logistics, e.g. transport, media, and volunteers, etc., associated with the Summit.

The government (UN) process has not finalised its agenda. The overarching theme of the summit is the eradication of poverty as a means to sustainable development.

The Global NGO Forum has identified 3 crosscutting issues:

  • Governance and self-determination
  • Globalisation
  • Building Social Movement

Seven daily themes have been identified for the Global NGO Forum:

  • Human security
  • Environment
  • Financing Development
  • Trade & Economics
  • Science & Technology
  • Health & Education
  • Food Security

Most of these issues are inextricably interlinked and reflect wider global debates. In most cases, governments and civil society differ on how these issues should be addressed.

Islam and SD

SD should not be a new concept to Muslims. In fact, SD is not really a new concept. Governments and civil society may have recently adopted it but the principles, which underpin it, have existed for centuries.

The Qur’an and the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) provide the framework for the spiritual and physical well being of humanity.  There are over 500 verses in the Qur’an giving us guidance on matters relating to the environment and how to deal with it. In addition, there are numerous examples from the Prophet’s life and his sayings, which provide a model for justice and equity.

According to Islamic law, the elements of nature- such as land, water, air fire, water, forests- were considered to be the common property of all, not only of all human beings, but of all creatures. For example, the Qur’an states:

Ask then: ‘To whom does the earth and all that it contains belong, if you know’.

(Qur’an 23:84)

Surely the earth belongs to God, and He bequeaths it to such of His servants as He pleases…

(Qur’an 7:129)

The Qur’an instructs us on how to use these resources:

Eat and drink, but waste not by indulging in excesses; surely, God does not approve of the intemperate.

(Qur’an 7:31)

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) became ruler of Makkah and Madina, he laid down decrees covering water, land, forests, animals and human transactions. Early Muslims understood and respected these decrees. In later years, Muslim lawmakers based the Islamic legal system on such decrees and formulated similar

laws covering conservation of physical resources.

Sadly, most of us are not aware of this rich legacy of environmental consciousness in Islam and how these relate to contemporary issues.

WSSD presents an occasion to reflect on how the issues and debates that will feature at the Summit relate to Islam and to Muslims. We should use the opportunity to strengthen our commitment and build networks and partnerships to achieve common objectives. And most importantly, we should see this as a chance to conscientise the Muslim ummah about local and international struggles, and the need for them to get involved.

Opportunities for engagement:

1) Logistical support to government and NGO process: halaal food, salaah facilities, transport, accommodation, translation, funding, cultural activities, etc.

2) Participation in interfaith committee: this is an opportunity to meet other faith organisations and promote a more ethical approach to development. This committee is coordinating the prayers at the opening ceremony (ies), the formulation of an interfaith policy document, and an international interfaith caucus at the NGO Forum.

3) NGO: this will entail attending and participating in the proceedings and contributing to the resolutions and commitments, preparing exhibitions, and arranging special events and activities

4) Government: this will entail liaison with the Department of Foreign Affairs, embassies and diplomatic missions,  representatives from Muslim countries or government delegates who are Muslim, networking with intergovernmental agencies, e.g. World Health Organisations, Food and Agriculture Organisations, etc., lobbying and advocacy, and arranging special events.

5) Parallel event: Muslims for SD and global justice: we are having an open seminar on 1 September 2002, on the theme of Islam, SD and global justice.  Local and international Muslim organisations, individuals, media, government, and other interested people of all persuasions are invited.

6) Media & PR: a comprehensive media strategy involving print, radio, TV and electronic media (Muslim as well as mainstream) must be devised and implemented.  Promotional material in the form of brochures and pamphlets, video’s, CD-ROMs, etc. must be developed and distributed.

7) Policy & Academic: Opportunity for ulama, academics, etc for  research, preparation.  sourcing, and publishing of academic articles on Islamic perspectives of SD;  developing a Muslim Charter on SD etc. 

The Muslim community of South Africa has a unique opportunity to play host to international Muslim organisations and individuals, and to demonstrate to the world that Islam and Muslims are committed to sustainable development, global justice and equity, both in faith and practice.

Asma Hassan

Awqaf SA – WSSD Project Convenor

Speaker Abstracts:

  • Sustainable Development: S.Dangor
  • Sustainable Development and Environmwental Collapse
  • Public Goods in Islam: Saliem Fakir
  • Poverty Eradication: S.B Sayed
  • Islam & Sustainable Development Y Dadoo

WSSD Civil Society Secretariat website www.worldsummit.org.za ;Fazlun Khalid, Islam and Ecology, World Wildlife Fund; Awqaf SA-WSSD Project Secretariat

Other useful websites:

United Nations WSSD website: www.johannesburgsummit.org

JOWSCO: www.joburgsummit2002.com

Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Science: www.ifees.org