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The Rio + 10 interviews

Achim Steiner
The consolation of Johannesburg


What do you think about about the progress or lack of progress since Rio?

How do you feel about the European Union's response to all these challenges?

What about the trade and corporate aspects? The corporations want voluntary standards and agreements. Do you think that would work, or do you think legislation is required?

How can we address the huge challenge of making our cities more sustainable? Half the world now lives in cities, and mega-cities like Berlin, Mexico City or Sao Paolo have huge ecological footprints and are very unsustainable. Is there real hope that we can contract that footprint?

We're still spending astronomical levels of money on defence, and the military people in the United States and other countries don't seem to understand the real eco-social threats to our security. We - the global taxpayers - are making the weapons industry extremely wealthy when a fraction of that money would solve most of the underlying environmental, economic and social threats that lead to wars in the first place. How do you think we can address this problem? Do you see any signs that military people are beginning to re-define security?

What about the Hydrogen transition? Amory Lovins said that the stone age didn't end because the world ran out of stones, it ended because we discovered metal. Many people now see hydrogen fuel cells as the feasible alternative to petroleum and the combustion engine. Do you think that will happen?

Climate change, and the rate of change of climate change: there is some possibility that the melting Arctic icecap may divert the Gulf stream away from Northern Europe, making Ireland and the UK snowbound for most of the year. What do IUCN scientists feel about this? How urgent is the threat? Do we know anything much about it?

What about corporate social and environmental responsibility? Most of the big corporations are doing very visible things on this front. In your view, how much of that is greenwash and how much is sincere? And also, to what extent can individual corporations or industries make the changes unless everybody in the same industry goes along?

To come back to the security issue: we are now seeing the biggest migration in human history, from the countryside to the cities. In many countries, the economic conditions set by the WTO and other groups are making it more and more difficult for people to subsist on the land. If this trend continues, don't you think it will exacerbate the social unrest, fundamentalist reactions and terrorist backlash? Is there a way to reverse the urbanising trend, realistically?

In the last ten to fifteen years we've seen the very successful ability of the Neo-liberal market ideas to propagate themselves and become accepted by every government, pretty much, in the world. I look at the sustainability challenge in terms of communication: we have incredible opportunities - new technologies, ideas, solutions, networks, organisations - and yet we don't seem to have been able get our message across. How can we do it? What are we not doing yet that we need to do to communicate that vision?

Do you think that the environmental and sustainable development organisations can take steps to communicate their message more effectively than we are doing at the moment?