Historical archive

Leadership is Key to Sustainable Development

Historical archive

Published under: Bondevik's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of the Environment

Speech by H.E. Mr. Børge Brende, Minister of Environment, Norway. Chair of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2004, New Delhi, India, February 7, 2004

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Leadership is Key to Sustainable Development

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

Let me begin by telling you a story – a story of a young boy's enthusiasm, his perception of global justice - but above all, a story of leadership:

In January 1998, a young Canadian, Ryan, was six years old.

At school, he had just learned that children all over the world, unlike those in his hometown in Canada, were dying from lack of clean water, even though one could easily build a well for as little as 70 dollars.

Young Ryan didn’t feel right about that. In fact, he got very upset. After school, he went home and asked his Mum and Dad for money. They suggested he do extra chores around the house to earn it. So he did.

When Ryan had earned the seventy dollars, he headed down to the Canadian non-profit organization WaterCan, only to find out that it would take at least 2,000 dollars to build a well.

But young Ryan was not a quitter and did not give up his goal. So he began fund raising and making speeches to raise the money.

Three years later, Ryan, with the help of his family, was able to found the Ryan’s Well Foundation.

Since then, the Foundation has raised nearly 800,000 dollars and built 70 wells that provide fresh water in several African countries!

As appreciation for his efforts, young Ryan, now 12 years old, was recently awarded the Founder’s Award at UNICEF headquarters in New York by Mrs. Nane Annan.


Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

It is leadership like Ryan's that we should all applaud and learn from.

This story reminds us that even the smallest effort, by even the smallest of us, can in the long run have a vital impact.

With its fourth consecutive conference devoted to sustainable development, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude for the work that the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has put into the realisation of these conferences.

It is my impression that TERI demonstrates the kind of leadership and enthusiasm that can make a real impact.

The title of this year's Summit, Partnerships for Sustainable Development: addressing the WEHAB agenda, couldn't be more timely.

Before the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), the UN Secretary General pinpointed the areas Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity (WEHAB) as the most crucial ones, and highlighted them as areas where we should strive to make significant achievements.

As Chairman of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), I see the transformation of words into action and a focus on implementation as our main challenge.

We know we had a successful Rio Earth summit in 1992. But we also know that it was too much of an end of a process, and not a start of a process.

This time, we will not allow it to happen. This time we will keep up the political momentum. This time we will focus on implementation. This time we will concentrate our efforts on a limited number of issues.

At the two forthcoming sessions we have put water, sanitation and human settlements on top of the agenda. This time we will make sure that the commitments and time bound targets are met.

Challenging targets have been set. We have promised to:

  • reduce by half the proportion of people who do not have sustainable access to safe drinking water, and reduce by half the number of people without access to improved sanitation by 2015, and;
  • achieve significant improvements in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

To ensure a more successful follow up, the Commission aims to display what we are doing, and how we are doing. Our job is to review the process, to take a hard honest look at the obstacles and possibilities and prepare the ground for the policy needed.


Review is also the main focus of today's discussions. The title of this session is: Taking Stock. Have we achieved anything since the WSSD?

Although it might be premature to pass judgement on our efforts, I think that the overall picture is a mixed one.

As highlighted by the UNDP, India, with more than one billion people, is on track to meet the MDG on poverty reduction.

China, with 1.3 billion people, will probably achieve most of the Millennium Goals. In South Africa, free access to basic water supply is well within reach.

At the same time, let us not forget that Sub-Saharan Africa, with 600 million people, is lagging far behind.

This requires a strengthened effort by all of us.

The point of departure for our efforts on water, sanitation and human settlements presents us with a daunting challenge. Globally;

  • 1.2 billion, or one out of five, lack access to safe drinking water;
  • 2.4 billion, or two out of five, lack access to proper sanitation; and
  • 1 billion people live in what can be described as slum areas. Unless action is taken, this figure is expected to double in twenty years time.

However, although we are currently not on track to meet the targets globally, it is still doable! But it takes political leadership and more action.

In the eighties, we were committed to the Water Decade. During that Decade, approximately 350,000 people gained access to clean drinking water and another 200,000 access to sanitation services – each and every day.

We did it then. We can do it again - but only if we are willing to learn from our mistakes.

Much of what was achieved on water in the 80's was unfortunately spoilt due to mismanagement.

Too often, we can see examples of dry pipelines and abandoned water pumps.

In Africa, 30 percent of the rural water supplies are not functioning at any one time. Due to lack of training in operation and maintenance, even the most elementary technology like hand-pumps are not operated.

This time, we have to make sure that we do not repeat the mistakes.

Distinguished Delegates,

As politicians, we control instruments that can transform our visions into actions.

We need to make good use of our instruments, and show the world that we are serious about delivering on our commitments.

We know it is needed. We know it is doable.

We know it takes leadership.

To reach the targets, we should address three core challenges:

  • We must focus good governance;
  • We must foster creative solutions to address the financing challenge
  • We must mobilise all relevant actors

Firstly, on good governance:

We will reach the targets if we are successful in developing and implementing good governance.

Good governance, at the national and local levels, is essential in order to achieve improved quality of life for all citizens.

Water shortages, often due to inefficient use by industry and agriculture, occur in far too many countries. Good governance will also correct uneven prices and distribution of water.

In Kenya, the poor have much less access to safe water; and in urban slums, the poor buy water at 10 times the price that better-off households pay through individual connections. Granting property rights and security of tenure to low income households will both stimulate effective demand for water and sanitation, both in informal settlements in urban areas as well as in rural areas.

In Brazil, a National Water Policy has been developed to prevent conflicts between competing users of water such as industry, farmers and individuals. In the North East region, a market for water has now been developed.

Brazilian Farmers, who are increasingly growing water intensive plants (such as rice, wheat, cotton), now have to pay for their extensive use of water. That money is allocated to a special fund, assisting the farmers if they change their crop to less water intensive farming.

Capital from the fund is also allocated to improve irrigation and to support investments in new and more efficient technology.

It is happening. It is doable, when leadership is exercised.

Second point, on financing:

We will reach the targets if we are successful in meeting the financing challenge.

In a global perspective, financial support by donors and international financial institutions should be channelled to the countries in most need. But capital alone will not necessarily solve the problem.

The lack of funding mechanisms designed to reach the poorest is frequently a problem. In order for the poor to get access to financial resources, micro financing has been developed as a promising instrument.

One example of micro financing is the SEWA Bank (Self-Employed Women's Association) here in India. It started in 1974 on the savings of 4.000 women, all very poor members of a labour union. Today, more than 200 000 poor self-employed women workers from Gujarat and six other states in the country has been given the opportunity to own tools and other means of production to earn a higher income and be integrated in the economy.

Lessons learnt from this and similar arrangements demonstrate that secure tenure and ownership rights are crucial elements. When able to decide their own policies and procedures, their own share of the profits and losses of their own organisation, the poor will also be empowered to take control of their own development.

There are many examples – not at least here in India - that the slum dwellers themselves have managed to substantially improve their situation, with a little help from outside, and by learning from other initiatives elsewhere.

Again, it is happening. It is doable, when leadership is exercised.

My third and final point, we will reach the targets if we are successful in mobilizing all actors to push for change.

The goals may be global in character, but they must be implemented locally, where people live and where shelter and services are required.

The urgent needs of billions of poor people mean that we cannot afford to exclude anyone who can help.

We need to look beyond the public sector and involve private companies and community-based organisations.

In India, we have already witnessed important work by civil society groups. In other countries, such efforts have been coupled with private companies participation.

In Dakar, Senegal, and the surrounding areas, a private operator has supplied water and sanitation services to low-income areas, and thus successfully improved the daily life of 60 000 households.

I think it is fair to say that local actors do have a real impact.

Again, it is happening. It is doable, when leadership is exercised.


Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,

With the CSD12 just a little more than two months ahead, the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit serves as a valuable reminder of the commitments made in Johannesburg and at the UN Millennium General Assembly.

As chairman of the CSD, I can assure you that today's issues are placed at the very core of the CSD agenda.

If we can demonstrate that we are on the right track for some of the vital targets, it will also inspire future work, illustrating that it is possible to reach the other targets.

To succeed we should draw on the strengths of the CSD, addressing the crosscutting dimensions of sustainability and mobilising active participation of all relevant stakeholders.

The time-bound targets are specific, practical and realistic.

They are technically feasible. They are financially affordable.

The keywords now are implementation and leadership.

As ministers, leadership is among our most precious and important tasks. If we fail in implementing the commitments, we will not exercise that leadership.

Let us be encouraged and inspired by the determination and enthusiasm demonstrated by young Ryan, and embark on a sustainable course to fight poverty and safeguard the environment.

At CSD12 and in future sessions, ministers have an excellent chance of showing Ryan, and the rest of the international community that we are up to that task.

Thank you for your attention.