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Local is Beautiful? Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Ayelen Amigo, Argentina Aug 27, 2002
Environment , Human Rights   Opinions


Johannesburg, August (GYRP) – Can you imagine a perfect world just an hour away from your home? Just around the corner?

‘Local Action 21’ may be the answer, the Johannesburg Summit was told here this week.

According to the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), empowering local government is the solution to overcoming the barriers often faced when implementing sustainable development.

About 700 mayors and local government representatives from around the world are meeting here during the current World Summit to review action at the local level to speed up implementation of Agenda 21, the targets set by the 1992 Rio Summit.

They will be formally launching ‘Local Action 21’ at the end of their session as a means of encouraging the kind of practical environmental action already practised by over 6,000 local authorities around the world.

But there is a debate about the consequences of local action, even when it is a success. The supporters argue that it ensures specific solutions to specific problems, while others worry about a widening gap between rich and poor municipalities.

Nathaniel von Einsiedel, Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator for the United Nations Center for Human Settlements (UNCHS), told a news conference the necessary measures to make sustainable development a reality vary from place to place. Culture, religion, traditions vary widely between regions, and hence for each one a specific, unique measure is needed.

Local Agenda 21 makes this possible, he said. Regional governments can provide more focused, intensive attention, which in turn enables effective action.

In the words of Alan Lloyd, President of the World Association of Cities and Local Authorities Coordination: “Local government is the spear of government”.

The problem is, some spears are sharper than others. Already we find an uneven degree of sustainable development between countries and continents. If local government becomes responsible for sustainable development action, differences will multiply: regions will become incomparable.

Municipalities that are rich in resources and have substantial budgets will prosper, while neighbouring areas will fall into even further despair without the aid and support of a balancing common organisation: national government.

ICLEI has a total of 442 full members around the world, most of them from Europe, North America and Asia Pacific. Latin America, Africa and the Middle East have a very poor level of participation.

Is this not already increasing differences between regions? Who will help overpopulated regions with limited resources if each region is only interested in its own prosperity? Could this begin as cooperation and end in segregation, going against the trend for globalisation?

Or is this the only way we can guarantee that something will get done somewhere, even if it isn’t everywhere?

So, here we are, faced with a critical dilemma: on the one hand we know that “at a local level things will get done”, as Konrad Otto-Zimmermann, ICLEI Secretary-General, pointed out.

On the other, we have a universal fact: this is not a regional issue, sustainable development must be global.



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