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Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, sustainable development has provided a conceptual framework for decision-making in the area of environment policy. Experience has shown the degree of difficulty in translating this concept into concrete and operational terms, especially since what is at stake here is the whole future direction of both social and economic policy.

Moreover, the challenge is further complicated by the fact that most ecological problems cannot be contained within national boundaries. Environment policy is therefore, in most cases, a matter for the international community. Climate policy is an important example in this regard. For many years, it has been a central topic at international conferences, in international agreements and political declarations. The commitments made at Rio five years ago are still very much on the political agenda today. But the intervening years have shown that the problem of climate change has not substantially improved on a global scale.

In the run-up to the third Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation has commissioned a study by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, to assess the current state-of-play in German, European and international climate policy and to develop recommendations for a future climate protection strategy.

For the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, this analysis is a central part of our efforts to stimulate the public debate with new ideas and practical advice for the design of a political strategy for sustainability, in the form of studies, thematic conferences and dialogue fora. For we all have an interest in giving meaning and concrete shape to the term „sustainability" – politically, economically, ecologically and socially. The abstract terminology used in international agreements must have relevance to the concrete realities of everyday life if we are really serious about our responsibility for the state of the world and for our future generations.

We are therefore grateful to the authors of this study for responding to some of the key contentious points in the sustainability debate.

First, ecological problems and sustainability policy are cross-sectoral in nature. They not only require interdisciplinary research and the exchange of experience, they also rely on broad-based political decisions and a general consensus amongst all sectors of society. The worlds of economics and politics, science and administration, the trade unions and professional associations, the media – in short the whole of society is affected and must take a stand on these issues. The political decisions must be clear in order to provide a coherent framework for action. Moreover, these decisions must also be sufficiently flexible to be able to integrate new information and developments. But above all, it is essential to consider the interdependencies and synergistic effects of the prerequisites and consequences of the problems to be solved.

Second, most ecological problems are, as mentioned, global in nature. But this does not mean that national action is either superfluous or ineffective. On the contrary, this study demonstrates that in international negotiations, progressive national governments are the real agents for success. The old maxim „the first one to move is dead" – so often used as a basis for states in evading their responsibilities for taking initiative, no longer applies. The opposite is now very much the case – „Only those who

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move will survive". This new maxim is increasingly reflected in environmental and climate policy-making processes.

In the face of the globalization and internationalization of economic competition, a resolute climate policy can help to improve the overall competitiveness of a country’s own national economy. Climate protection and sustainable development are one key to a modernization strategy. Cost savings as a result of improvements in energy and resource productivity and technical innovations are indispensable prerequisites for success in the world markets of the future. The modernization measures required within a climate protection policy framework benefit regional economies, avoid future costs and offer considerable opportunities in the labor market. Environment policy, and in this connection especially a strong climate protection policy, thus constitute one lever in the modernization of the ecological and social market economy and in the securing the future health of the economy.

In numerous fora and analyses, the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation has endeavored to demonstrate the close connection between economics and ecology. These are two sides of the same coin and must not be disaggregated, much less played off against each other, precisely in the difficult times of structural change. The thesis put forward in this study is that climate protection is in itself, a modernization strategy and, as an instrument for successful structural change, it can help to demonstrate the extent to which sound environmental policy can actually generate concrete economic opportunities.

Juergen Burckhardt
Secretary General

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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Februar 2000

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