Rio +10 under the microscope

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On his return from the World Summit for Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg last year from August 24 – September 4, Dr Chris Brown, Executive Director of the Namibia Nature Foundation, said that while there had been little direct progress since the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992, the Summit had nevertheless, in the bigger scheme of things, been worthwhile. Comparing the findings of WSSD with the practical implications of the original Rio Earth Summit, Dr Brown makes the following critical upraisal.

The main objective of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 was to demonstrate how sustainable development issues could be integrated into planning and implementation. To do this, and help guide countries in the process, a 40-chapter, 800-page Agenda 21 document was developed and adopted. This is a non-binding document, which details how sustainable approaches can be built into all facets of life, all sectors of society, at all levels, for all habitats and ecosystems and be part of all current and important issues and challenges. It essentially called for a paradigm shift – a new way of approaching and managing things, and one in which money issues, people issues and ecological issues are all carefully considered with their mutual long-term best interests in mind.

Commitment to this approach was obtained from over 100 heads of state, who attended and committed their countries to this new pathway of development. In addition many other countries, then and subsequently, made a commitment to Sustainable Development so that, today, the vast majority of countries are talking the same general language.

There are a number of challenges facing the implementation of Agenda 21. The first is one of scale. Sustainable development implies “acting locally” as well as “acting globally”. Creating the enabling environment for local initiatives involves a real commitment to devolution – not just decentralisation, in which bureaucracy is created at each level (and as a result, progress is grid-locked), but actually handing over authority, responsibility and accountability to appropriate local levels. Fortunately, Namibia has a good framework for this approach in its “conservancy” model – but there is still a way to go before this model has achieved its full potential. One of the greatest constraints is that middle-level government officials don’t understand devolution and think that they, sitting in their offices in Windhoek, can manage resources and other issues better than people immediately on the ground can.

Then there are the local authorities, consisting of city, towns and villages. The Local Agenda 21 process is well under way in Namibia, with Walvis Bay and Windhoek having started programmes to address their issues of sustainable urban development. In essence, conservancies are nothing more than rural Agenda 21 programmes or, alternatively, Local Agenda 21 initiatives are nothing more than urban conservancies. Some of the issues might be a bit different, but the principles are the same. The next levels are those of Region and Nation. At this stage, the working arrangements between these different levels are not adequately established, and so we tend to suffer from conflicting authorities, excess bureaucracy, and lack of efficiency. This is not a situation peculiar to Namibia – virtually all countries are grappling with this challenge. The principles are easy: the smallest appropriate level on the ground is empowered to manage and, where appropriate, this level allows authority to flow up to higher levels depending on the management issues and resources. The higher levels exercise accountability, which flows downwards.

Similar challenges of scale face nations and the global community, with bilateral arrangements, sub-regional blocks (e.g. SADC), continents (e.g. Africa), power blocks (e.g. G77 & China) and then the entire UN membership. There are so many different interest groups, and so few countries are really prepared to put global interests ahead of their own, that real progress is very difficult and exceedingly slow.

The second challenge is that of how to do sustainable development. There was no roadmap provided with Agenda 21, and there were no targets. There were no indicators to help people, organisations and countries evaluate whether they were being successful or not. As a result, some people and organisations (and even countries) did nothing at all. Fortunately, others were more motivated and original, and a host of different ideas and approaches were initiated in different parts of the world.

Namibia’s performance since Rio

Namibia was amongst those countries that embarked on a vigorous and original programme of action to move towards a sustainable development approach. And arguably, Namibia is one of the more successful countries in this regard. A review of Namibia’s National Assessment report to the WSSD (GRN/UNDP/ Capacity 21, 2002) highlights the many areas of progress, a few of which are listed below:

• Establishment of institutions – DEA and Ministry of Environment & Tourism;

• Development of new policies and legislation, as well as a common vision for the environmental sector;

• Planning and implementation of a rich portfolio of relevant environmental programmes;

• Devolution of authority, rights and responsibilities to local level;

• Building of partnerships between sectors and institutions;

• Raising awareness, building capacity and democratising environmental issues;

• Mainstreaming sustainable development into national planning and long-term visioning.

These bullet points cover a huge investment in time and funds to set Namibia on the pathway to sustainable development, and we are only now really starting the journey. The important point, however, is that Namibia took the initiative created by Rio to plan and implement its own action programmes. We used the momentum and the awareness created by Rio to move a national process forward.

In the final analysis, international forums cannot themselves implement action plans, they can simply help create the right operational environment – an awareness and a conducive set of frame conditions – to assist countries, organisations and individuals to implement appropriate projects and programmes. It is far easier to promote local and national change and introduce new ideas within the framework of a global movement than it is if working in isolation. Therein lies the greatest value of environmental mega-conferences. After that, it is up to the individuals, organisation and countries to get things going.


The objectives of the WSSD were (a) to share experiences between individuals, institutions, countries and regions on what works and what does not. In a sense, to look at a whole series of road-maps that have been tested in different areas and under different circumstances, and to see which ones are effective; and (b) to set some targets on real priority issues such as poverty, biodiversity, water supply, fisheries, climate change, etc and to work as a global community to try and reach these targets.

How well did this work? Well, for the first objective it worked exremely well. There was a range of different venues (in addition to the main government negotiations taking place at Sandton City). These included the following:

• water and wetland issues at the Water Dome;

• national and institution stands at Ubuntu Village and at the IUCN Conference Centre;

• individual and institution stands at the Nasrec Conference Centre;

• business and private-sector forum in Sandton; and

• a plethora of other smaller venues and events.

In addition, at all of these venues there were full programmes of parallel meetings, panel discussions, workshops, presentations, theatre, debates, demonstrations etc, each addressing some aspect of sustainable development – new ideas, new innovative technologies, different projects and programmes, new information, monitoring, educating, awareness-raising, etc. In essence, lots of new thinking, new ideas and new approaches to feed into the design of a roadmap for sustainable development.

The second objective, of setting some vital targets, worked less well. For example:

Energy: Gave up demands for targets and timetable on increased use of renewable energy.

Biodiversity: To “significantly reduce” the loss of species by 2015. No specifics could be agreed upon.

Poverty: A solidarity fund to wipe out poverty – no amount, no timetable laid down.

Climate change: Urges ratification of Kyoto protocol – no targets, nothing new agreed upon.

Trade: Reaffirms phasing out of subsidies, though not to end those important to the US & EU!

Good governance: Wording stressed the need to fight corruption, boost democracy and the rule of law, but not as a condition to aid.

Targets were set in two important areas. For water and sanitation it was agreed that the number of people without clean water and sanitation (currently two billion) would be halved by 2015. This is an ambitious target, because in 15 years, the world population will have almost doubled. In Namibia, the implications of achieving these targets are set out in the table below.

Urban, rural &total









Number of people per year


Urban population %




Urban water %




37 580

Urban sanitation %




39 470

Rural population %




Rural: water %




20 370

Rural sanitation %




39 480

Total population x106




The second target area was that of fisheries in which it was agreed to restore depleted fish stocks by 2015. This is an extremely ambitious target for most of the world’s fisheries, and one which, I am prepared to bet good money, has not a hope of being achieved in most areas.

In the case of Namibia, however, where our marine fish resources are in considerably better shape that most, there is a fairly optimistic scenario that fish stocks could recover (through careful quota setting, monitoring and good management) to levels that support maximum sustained yields by 2016.

On the basis of this scenario, the fisheries sector could grow at 6-9% per year.

As can be seen from the table below, the main challenge is to restore pilchard, anchovy and rock lobster populations, and not to deplete those of orange roughy and a number of line-fish species.

Unfortunately, the situation is not as simple as restricting quotas, because environmental factors play a large role in determining the population dynamics of different fish species. In the case of Namibia, with good environmental luck and continued good management, the fisheries target agreed at WSSD could be achieved.

Fishery Species

Current state

Pelagic PilchardAnchovy

Severely  overexploited

Low abundance

No fishing until stock recoversAdverse environmental conditions – low quotas
Midwater Horse mackerel


Favourable conditions
Demersal HakeMonkfish








Rock lobster


Uncertain – but good recruitment

Stock growing



Slow consistent increase since 1992

Recovering from over fishingStatus will improve with TAC and management


Not a directed catch


Mostly in shallows protected by 200 m trawler restriction


TAC’s conservative to allow for recovery

Deep sea Orange roughy 

Red crab

Decrease in availability – cause uncertain



Long-lived, low production. VERY conservative quotas neededCo-managed with Angola
Line fishing SnoekKob






Seems to be on increase





Restrictions on angling needed


Restrictions on angling needed



More restricted bag limit

This article appeared in the 2003/4 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.



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Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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