Since we are in Germany, and since this year we are celebrating the 250th
anniversary of the birth of Goethe, we might begin our discussions today by that
quote from the young genius: "Our souls are too long for this short
The issues of the relationship between humankind and planet earth exist
because our souls are too long for this short life. As far as we know, we are
the only species that has the capacity to look beyond ourselves - to care about
our posterity - to think in inter-generational terms. We have probably had this
capacity for thousands of years.
Millions of fellow human beings face a much more cruel choice than do we who
are present here today. That choice is between surviving in our lifetime alone,
and disregarding the future, knowing that we limit future choices.
It is human under such unfortunate conditions to choose life. But few would
be comfortable with such a situation. We do feel an obligation which goes beyond
I know that this is the inspiration of the World Business Council for
Sustainable Development. The responsible manager has the desire to look ahead
with a perspective going beyond your present individual tenures. I welcome this
approach and I appreciate the invitation to be with you today.
What is new to our generation is that we also have the knowledge and
technical capacity - for the first time - to choose to leave for posterity an
Our challenge today is to organize our knowledge, our tremendous scientific
and technological potential, and address the survival issues of our times.
The planet and its environment are complex mechanisms. But our knowledge is
sufficient to realize a lot of what is needed and what must be avoided. The
question mark remains if we have the political ability to organize and to change
what we need to change.
Before looking ahead let us look briefly to the past. The urgency of the
situation became apparent in the decades that lie behind us.
The sixties, seventies and eighties brought immense volumes of new knowledge
about pollution and over-use of natural resources.
Political movements, particularly in western countries, focussed on
environmental issues and became formidable green forces to be reckoned with.
They where able to articulate what many of the established political parties had
We remember the disasters of the seventies. Seveso, shipwrecks, shores and
seabirds smeared with crude oil - all over the evening news.
Then came the disasters of the eighties. Bhopal killing thousands. Sandoz
sending its lethal injection into the artery of Europe, the Rhine. Three Mile
Island and Chernobyl.
Chernobyl happened in May 1986. Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavik five
months later, where they almost agreed to scrap all nuclear weapons. But what
really made the wealthy segments of western populations listen was the threats
to the ozone layer and the prospects of cancer. Then we truly knew that money
could offer little refuge, and that we were all in the same boat. These threats
were truly democratic ones.
But there was more. Concerned people pointed to less explosive issues.
"Do not forget," they said, "life that might perish - not with a
bang - but with a whimper," - the loss of species, of topsoil, groundwater,
the gradual change of the climate.
And while we all over the world reacted to this new knowledge, the World
Commission on Environment and Development was working - studying causes and
effects, scientific reports, voluntary groups and NGOs submissions -
listening, studying, deliberating and producing a report known as "Our
Environment and Development. The one with the other inextricably linked
as they are. "Poverty is the greatest polluter", said Indira Ghandi.
She did not blame the poor. She pointed to the obvious: As long as people are
poor the immediate issue is survival. Caring for the future is a luxury.
Climate change, biodiversity, desertification, water depletion - are such
cancerous threats to the future, which can be ignored one day at a time without
The Commission made a difference. Although I am not totally unbiased, having
chaired that Commission at the request of the UN Secretary General, I believe it
did move the world more than an inch forward.
It proposed Rio, and Rio the Earth Summit - happened. The Commission
proposed in 1987 that an international conference be held five years after the
launch of its report to review progress made and promote follow-up arrangements,
to set benchmarks and maintain human progress.
The biggest international conference ever took place in Rio in June 1992.
There was much hyperbole around the Earth Summit, and in the end phase of
preparations, most countries poured in their experts to ensure that there was a
minimum rocking of boats at ones own expense.
Responding to popular demands at the time, a number of countries seemed to
favour environmental protection measures that would not disrupt domestic
production lines or established patterns of employment.
Saving the rainforests is a good example. While in itself important, saving
the forests as a carbon dioxide sink could have the effect of diverting
attention from the burning of fossil fuels in OECD countries.
Norway introduced new carbon taxes ahead of Rio. I experienced during these
years that political leaders in other oil-producing countries plainly could not
Did they hear correctly? Had Norway in fact introduced a special tax on CO2,
and did we in fact recommend such measures to other countries? Yes we did
and our experiences have been positive.
Some countries have done more than just listening but many more should
take this challenge seriously. Such taxes are among the tools we have to conduct
public policies to respond to very public needs to get the market to
function well and channel the impressive imaginative potential of industry. But
for these measures to work we need a broader framework than the national scene.
We need a level playing field one which pushes towards a higher standard of
performance not to a lower level of environmental excellence.
So what came out of Rio?
First of all, a global learning process which cannot be undone. Rio was a
giant leap for mankind, measured in the knowledge increase and the number of
What more came out of Rio?
Agenda 21, which is a giant programme of work; the Rio Declaration on
legal principles for sustainable development; and two framework conventions on
climate and biodiversity. People got involved. Civil society. Parliaments and
business. This gathering would probably not have happened without Rio. None of
that can be undone.
Some results from Rio were good but not optimal. The Climate Convention and
the Biodiversity Conventions are useful tools which we are fortunate to have.
They are reluctant steps in a necessary direction. They came to be that way
watered down - because in a world run by consensus, those who want the least
change have a stronger say than those who want more.
There are volumes of environmental law being developed, building on the Rio
Declaration. We are getting equipped to react against industrial practices which
cause immediate damage. But we still lack the long-term approach to addressing
the inter-generational problems generated by parallel activities of large
numbers of peoples and industries.
What did not come out of Rio?
Concrete measurable commitments in areas in need of action, nor additional
resources for development with a few honourable exceptions.
Since Rio the rich countries have been through a steady process of growth.
The Uruguay Round created WTO.
We got NAFTA.
The European Union expanded in size and mandate.
Countries in Central and Eastern Europe hunger to join the prospering western
Perhaps the greatest environmental achievement was in Europe with the closing
down of outdated industries in former communist countries.
Vaclav Havel said it aptly in his famous New Years address ten years ago:
"You have not elected me to this office so that I should lie to
you" Havel said. "Our country is not blooming".
But today, Poland, the Czech Republic, are more important to the economy of
this country than Russia, than Sweden - than Norway.
This is part of globalization. And not all of that is detrimental to the
environment. Effective production and distribution is definitely not
detrimental, if we get more out of less.
To companies like many of yours, the global market is like a local market.
While so much happened in the wake of the fall of the Wall, the industrial
countries gradually turned their backs to the very modest commitment of
allocating 0.7 per cent of GDP for development assistance.
Only four countries - Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden live up to
that pledge, while the OECD average is stumbling around 0.2 per cent.
This shameful state of affairs contradicts important values within each of
our home countries, such as equity and justice. And, I would add, common sense.
There is a lack of good development projects, some say - and thus prove that
their eyes and ears have fatal errors. I see that so very clearly from the
position of world health, where we can list so many concrete interventions which
would make a huge difference for the lives and perspectives of billions
ranging from immunizing half the children of Africa who don't get the vaccines
to providing bednets to the millions of children who are living in acute
danger from the malaria mosquito. If we do this poverty will go down.
Societies will develop. And ultimately new markets will open.
What have we learned since Rio?
I came into the environment and development agenda from a background of
public health. The World Commission's work was human centred. Health was of
course central to our work
Some antagonists believed that the environment and development agenda was too
focussed on reducing population growth - which was not true. We all know that on
average a person in a rich country consumes about 100 times the amount of
non-renewable resources than a person in a very poor country.
We also know that there are very rich people in very poor countries, and very
poor people in very rich countries, and that this poses enormous challenges. The
health statistics provide the most telling evidence.
Implementing the sustainable development agenda means investing in people.
Giving them the opportunity to grow up, to get an education especially
giving young girls that opportunity. To give all an opportunity to pursue
happiness - and giving them a life expectancy and a surplus of hope is the
only way to ensure that people all over the world will have the opportunity to
realize how their "souls are too long for this short life".
It is basically an organizational problem. We seem to be too confined in our
thinking and too restrained in our imagination to be guided by phenomena we
cannot see quite close to our own lives.
What amount of crisis do we need to understand? How close must people be, for
most of us to react and to understand?
Recent disasters like Hurricane Mitch and Hurricane George are ruining entire
health systems and the economies needed to support them.
Honduras and neighbouring Nicaragua are now rife with cholera, malaria,
dengue fever and respiratory diseases.
Floods in China and Bangladesh have had devastating effects on the health of
millions and millions. I saw with my own eyes the extensive burden put on China
in protecting against emerging diseases and epidemics following the floods -
weeks after the water had receded.
This city has seen more drama during this century than any other. Not only
did irreconcilable political systems live here and die here. Different schools
of technology lived here - and died here.
I recall my visit here in January 1987, when driving a car was forbidden in
West Berlin, amidst a vast ocean of lignite stoves and industrial chimneys in
the former DDR.
Today we breathe more freely in Berlin. The peaceful revolution shows also in
the emission charts. Emissions of air pollutants from German territory as a
whole have gone down.
But what does it take to change the wider global trends? Since Rio, the
number of people living in absolute poverty has increased. They number today
some 1300 million people, living on less than US$1 per day. If we go up to US$2
a day, the number rises to half of the world population to 3 billion fellow
So far the war on poverty has failed. This degrades us and threatens us. It
looms as a threat to the environment not only that of the poor but of
all of us.
Since Rio we have had frequent lessons of global interdependence. A changing
climate is one. Global contamination is another. Disease spreads with people on
the move, be they the 1% of the world population 50 million who are
uprooted and forced to move, heavily exposed to disease - or be they the 1.4
billion yearly air passengers up from 2 million 50 years ago.
Two weeks ago a Norwegian died of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in
Trondheim. In August a German photographer died of yellow fever here in
Berlin the first such case in this country since 1946. We count malaria
incidents in Geneva and Brussels. The growth of tuberculosis cases in the former
Soviet Union is stronger than in Africa.
The message is as with the environment the poverty trap is fatal. Poverty
breeds ill-health. But it also works the other way, ill health breeds poverty.
What more can we qualify as new knowledge since Rio?
Let me mention just a few examples.
Did you know that arsenic contaminates water not only in Bangladesh, but also
The occurrence of arsenic in drinking water has recently caught the headlines
because of the severe exposure and escalating consequences amongst the
population of Bangladesh. It has been called the largest mass-contamination in
history. It was an unintentional side-effect of a programme originally intended
to assist in providing safe drinking water.
The problem is readily solved in large centralised water supply systems. But
this is of little help at the village well. There are 4 million such wells in
Bangladesh. The surprise is that the problem also occurs in Finland. We didn't
know that in Rio.
You will have noted that foodborne diseases have emerged as a major public
health issue, also in the industrialized countries.
Foodborne diseases are annually affecting up to 10% of the population. The
mishandling of food during its preparation by domestic food handlers, including
care-givers of small children, is prevalent. We can all be affected.
We saw 4 billion cases of diarrhoea last year from food. Foodborne diseases
travel on trade and tourism. And the use of credit cards will not exempt us!
Did you know that one of the most damaging environmental hazards is indoor
The woman bending over her oven, inhaling hazardous smoke from the wood she
is burning her child suffering as she sits on her mother's back. Its impact
in developing countries is much greater than that of ambient air pollution. And
imagine how little it would take to change all of this by cheap improvements in
cleaner forms of cooking and heating.
Did you know that work-related injuries and diseases are responsible for the
death of over 1 million people every year? 250 million accidents and 160 million
new cases of work-related disease occur every year. The cost to the economy has
been estimated at 4% of the world's gross national product.
Did you know that the spread of chemicals, such as dioxins and PCBs, impairs
the intellectual development of children, reducing their level of IQ?
Before Rio, we used to read about the discovery of such substances in polar
bears and other forms of Arctic life. Interesting, but possibly a red herring
considering the close-up problems of modern society.
We have learnt at least in theory that the world would be better off
if the developing world did not have to commit the same errors as the developed
countries did. There is no way the rich world can say: Sorry, we filled up the
waste baskets, there is no more space left for you. What it can say is: Learn
from our experience, use our technology, leapfrog the polluting steps on the
This needs to be said. A child in the developed world consumes and pollutes
30 to 50 times as much as a child in the developing world. Just imagine the
trend as the poor countries prosper.
It needs to be said and acted upon, but we see how hard it is. If the poor
countries are to grow, they need to export. And if they are to succeed they need
markets. But what they often experience such as Bangladesh with its textiles
- or South Africa with its wine production -
is that the rich world closes the gates.
And as a Millennium round of trade talks opens in Seattle in a few weeks,
health and environment risk becoming bouncing balls in a struggle to protect -
not necessarily health or environment but market shares.
There is a global market. Industry can reap some tremendous benefits from
that market. And gradually people see that this global market needs rules and
some order. Beyond that the interdependence of people and the environment
requires that we are more ready to invest in the development of others.
It will not just happen. And I believe it cannot simply be forced. It is a
process which needs to be driven by new awareness, the hard way by growing
consensus and by mechanisms which also enable companies like your own to make
investments in what I would call global public goods: Health, environment and
Since Rio we have seen it happen in some areas where Government and the
private sector have charted courses together with due respect for complementary
A range of service industries contribute extensively and positively to public
health. Effective water supply and sanitation services underpin long-established
health gains in the industrialised countries, and are proven interventions with
large scale health benefits when deployed in the developing world.
Since the publication of "Our Common Future," there has been a
radical reappraisal of the role of the public and private sectors in provision
of these services. A radical change in management is continuing with the role
and profile of both domestic and international companies developing rapidly.
But what we often see is that critical private sector management skills and
investment are drawn into the perfection of established supplies to the wealthy
neighbourhoods, rather than to extending supply to the poor. We tend to end up
with 'all for some' rather than 'some for all'.
We have heard it said that the market is always right. Of course it is not.
The Prime Minister of India said a couple of years ago that he saw no
multinational companies willing to invest in educating the children of India, or
immunizing them and helping them grow up. They who are dependent upon
tomorrows consumers - the multinationals - are betting on governments
providing healthy enough and wealthy enough populations.
Now to the role of the business sector in the context of current and future
The very theme of the World Business Council has been to reconcile the
ethically desirable - from a sustainable development perspective - with sound
Of course the stock market as such, which has the ability to
"react" or to be "sensible" to certain trends will have
a hard time perceiving ethical dimensions.
The individual human being operating within certain confines, such as the
stock market will not. But the experience of ethical perceptions, as a
motivating factor, may not always point in the same direction as other
motivating factors such as career perspectives, prestige and personal profit.
The best thing we can do is to explore where several of these factors can be
made to work together for health and sustainable development.
People are generally not insensitive to ethical dilemmas. Companies may adopt
an ethical code or its equivalent. And such a code may or may not comprise
sustainable development. We have seen many such examples in recent years.
Business will have an important role and responsibility in helping to:
- curb the use of non-renewable fuels
- in promoting a reduction of the generation of wastes
- in reducing transboundary pollution, and helping to minimize global
Business in fact does many of these things. The construction and engineering
sector, for example, has an enormous impact on upgrading the human environment,
through environmental engineering for health risk reduction and management.
Many of the achievements in a broader common understanding of sustainable
development cannot be rolled back. They need to be built upon further .
Looking ahead, I believe we need a focus on incentives for investments in
global public goods. Health and the environment are such goods.
The public sector needs to innovate. Beyond paying national taxes, there is
little likelihood that industry will pour profits into unspecified funds for
We need to be concrete and we can be concrete. With the mining industry,
WHO has developed a cooperative scheme where we draw up programmes for community
health development in areas where industry engages. Industry has a self interest
of investing in these programmes and communities at large benefit.
We have gone several steps further and invited the private sector to join in
supporting a major effort to provide vaccination to all children. The Global
Alliance for Vaccinations and Immunizations brings together WHO, UNICEF the
World Bank, industry and foundations.
The purpose is simple: to support development of new vaccines and help spread
new and existing ones to countries who can hardly afford to buy them.
Bill Gates has decided to support this initiative with 150 million dollars a
year for the next five years. Others are invited to follow not only the aid
agencies but also industries like your own.
Or take malaria on the rise because environmental changes provide new
breeding grounds for mosquitoes, making malaria the leading killer in
sub-Saharan Africa, killing 3000 children every day, ravaging societies and
There are no vaccines and medication is poor. Industry says: There is no
market and no incentive to develop these drugs.
So we have to say: Can these incentives be developed? Yesterday, WHO and the
pharmaceutical industry launched the Medicines for Malaria Venture. It is a new
A venture fund financed by aid agencies and other donors will invite ideas
for research proposals and fund the best ones. The interest has been
overwhelming and our target is to produce a new viable medicine every 5 years.
These are some examples. We need similar schemes to engage key stakeholders
in the struggle to halt and combat the AIDS pandemic.
The idea is clear: we need private-public interaction. We need to address the
challenges and tailor the solutions into projects that can be funded
technologies that can be developed and local capacities that can respond.
For decades WHO has led the campaign to eradicate polio as we did away
with smallpox 20 years ago. Our leading ally during these years has been Rotary
International, many of you will know that. We may be only 14 months away from
succeeding wiping another disease off the face of the earth saving
billions in vaccination costs and not least saving future generations from
this crippling disease.
I know this can be a motivating contribution in a company to say that we
make a contribution to saving lives and developing the economies of Africa by
giving every child an impregnated bednet against malaria.
They cost US$4 a piece. But our studies tell us that the average family in
Africa cannot afford to pay more than half that price. So let us mobilize to
fund the missing 2 dollars.
And let us be very clear when industry behaviour runs against health, the
environment and ethics. There are such cases and in some of these WHO has no
choice but to speak out.
One such area is tobacco. Let me share the crude figures with you. This year
4 million people will die from smoking. People you know are probably going to be
These numbers are expected to rise to 10 million into the next century, with
all the growth coming in the developing world adding yet another burden onto
the shoulders of health systems which are already overstretched.
Tobacco is about to climb to the very top of the podium of leading causes of
premature death and disease. So we need to act.
Last week WHO and its Member States started to work on the first
international public health convention on tobacco control, inspired and modelled
on the conventions coming out of Rio. It will provide basic global standards for
tobacco control and will address trans-national issues like global advertising
and promotion bans, smuggling, product regulation and trade.
As we do this the tobacco industry is not happy. They talk about
"freedom of choice". But look at the facts: Globally between 82,000
and 99,000 young people start smoking every day. It is no surprise, knowing that
the tobacco industry target their huge commercial machine precisely on
adolescents. They know what they do, because habits start in youth. Eight out of
ten smokers say they started before they were 18. When they got addicted, they
were often 14, 15, or 16 years old.
That is no freedom of choice! Civilized nations protect their people under 18
they don't let them play around with a product which statistically kills one
out of two of its permanent users.
Tobacco is bad for health. But what about the economy? We let the World Bank
answer on the basis of a major study. The answer is clear: Tobacco costs huge
sums for any economy. And it is bad for the environment because it is bad for
the soil, and because what the world needs is food growing on those fields
not killing leaves turning tobacco plants into killing fields.
It is a sad legacy, how an industry has been able to work relatively
unchecked for decades, passing on the costs of health and lives to taxpayers and
to social insurance.
The lawyers of the tobacco industry are known. Their practices at hiding
facts and diverting science is now public knowledge available on the
worldwide web after the US court trials. It is not pretty reading. Governments
should act, and more and more governments do. WHO has decided to act. And you
representing the broad industrial core of development - should also speak
out, and at least not be protective of an abusive industry.
I believe it is a matter of time in OECD countries. The battleground will be
in the new emerging economies and developing countries.
Industrial history is replete with examples of political struggles over
health and environmental impacts of industry. Imperial Germany favoured improved
working conditions to improve the standard of their young soldiers. Women were
the victims of the match industry and the struggle to outlaw white sulphur.
Also in this sense, a dramatic century is closing, which gave so much at such
a high cost.
The world population passed 6 billion a few weeks ago up a billion since
1987. It may reach 9 billion in 2050. That is in fact not too bad news it is
perceived to be manageable compared to what was feared a few years ago. But
management cannot wait. It has to start now.
We have the evidence.
We have the technology.
But is the will there?
We know that future generations will watch carefully how we acted when we had
all that knowledge at hand. Most of us will not be around when the first half of
the next century passes. But think about it. Roughly half of the people alive
today will be alive in 2050. Many of the children of todays decision makers
will be around to see how we cope with an extra 3 billion.
So although attention may temporarily be swinging away from the survival
issues away from Rio and onto the latest from the DOW industrial or the
Euro versus the Dollar let us not lose the vision. There is a lot to do for
many including the World Business Council and I urge you to move ahead.
George Bernard Shaw said that the only thing we learn from experience is that
we do not learn anything from experience. He was an author, not a scientist. We
have learnt much from experience. I believe we can learn even more, and move on
to prove George Bernard Shaw wrong.