The theme of this year's World Environment Day, Give Earth a Chance, is meant to convey a message of urgency - about the state of the earth and the broader quest for sustainable development.
Sustainable development rests on three pillars: economic growth, social progress and protection of our environment and natural resources. When the idea first burst onto the scene in 1987 with the publication of Our Common Future, it was meant to go beyond the ecosystem approaches of the past, which put environmental issues on the political map but did not take fully into account these other key concerns.
In 1992, at Rio de Janeiro, the international community achieved a conceptual breakthrough. No longer, it was hoped, would environmental issues be regarded as a luxury or afterthought. Rather, they would become a central part of the policy-making process, integrated with economic and social development. Developing countries would be helped to pursue a more environmentally sound path to modernization than that followed by the developed countries. The big picture -- a positive vision of long-term growth, equity, justice and environmental protection -- seemed firmly in view.
Despite this advance, and despite considerable efforts and significant achievements since the "Earth Summit", the latest readings reveal a planet still in need of intensive care. Poverty, pollution and population growth; rural poverty and rapid urbanization; wasteful consumption habits and growing demands for water, land and energy continue to place intense pressures on the planet's life support systems, threatening our ability to achieve sustainable development.
There is little chance of protecting the environment without a greater sense of mutual responsibility, especially in an age of interdependence, and especially since the environmental "footprint" left by some societies is so much larger than that left by others. I hope that all states and all stakeholders will come together at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa later this year, and that the breakthrough this time, ten years along the path from Rio, will be real and tangible.