To the Editor:
David Victor is half right in his assertions that there are many difficulties with implementing sustainable development and that the international community has failed to give adequate attention to poverty reduction ("Recovering Sustainable Development," January/February 2006). But his criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are largely misplaced, and the alternatives he outlines are inadequate.
Victor correctly faults the United States for failing to devise a credible plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Yet he also says that the Bush administration was right to abandon the Kyoto Protocol, even though by doing so the White House undercut the incentives for businesses to invest in clean-energy technology in poor countries. True, China and other developing countries are taking steps to develop cleaner sources of energy. But it is unreasonable to expect them to be more aggressive on this score if the United States remains unwilling either to address global warming at home or to accept international obligations to reduce emissions.
Victor complains that the MDGs reflect a misguided devotion to wish lists and universal principles rather than practicalities. Actually, the MDGs deal with the most practical prerequisites for addressing poverty, including providing the poor with education, health care, and clean water, by focusing international efforts to overcome what Victor calls the incoherence of global initiatives. The impact of the MDGs is real: the U.S. Congress recently enacted bipartisan legislation strengthening efforts to meet the MDGs for water and sanitation and calling on the administration to explain how it intends to help meet those goals.
Victor's emphasis on addressing world poverty and his endorsement of practical bottom-up initiatives are all to the good. But he should recognize that undertakings such as Kyoto and the MDGs are part of the solution.
PAUL L. JOFFE
Senior Director, International Affairs, National Wildlife Federation
To the Editor:
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) supports David Victor's notion that sustainable development must be grounded in a world in which the poor are enabled to help themselves while living healthy lives. In fact, the GEF's mandate is to help developing countries address environmental issues by financing their work toward achieving the objectives set by global environmental treaties, thus helping countries make the connection between global needs and local realities. We do that in precisely the ways Victor proposes -- by supporting local actions, ensuring technology transfer, helping countries adapt to climate change, and creating markets for environmental services.
Since 1991, the GEF has invested over $6.1 billion in grants to support additional costs imposed on developing countries as they work to address climate change, land degradation, persistent organic pollutants, and the loss of biodiversity. These funds, which have in turn leveraged more than $20 billion in co-financing from partners, have produced results such as new agreements for the management of international waters and marine resources, the creation of more than 100 million hectares of new protected areas, the introduction of new technologies to increase energy efficiency and combat climate change, and the cleanup of stockpiles of polluting chemicals.
Growing collaboration among governments, the private sector, and civil society makes sustainable development much more than a "fashionable notion," as Victor calls it.
CEO and Chair, Global Environment Facility