New report urges global focus on water, fisheries and agricultural genetic diversity

The report by the World Humanity Action Trust (WHAT) calls for a ‘People’s Assembly’ to guarantee the sustainability of major resources it says is impossible under current UN and national governance.


At the simultaneous launch of the WHAT 196-page report Governance for a Sustainable Future in London, New York and Brussels on 6 September, experts on world resources and politicians demanded global action to sustain shared yet ‘threatened’ resources.

The UK-based organisation, an independent think-tank ‘seeking to generate practical solutions to global problems’ which has ex-UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar as its patron, has established three commissions comprised of academic and industry experts to address the sustainable use of water, fisheries and agricultural genetic diversity.

At the launch, WHAT Chair Jack Jeffrey, Chairman of North Surrey Water, said that the report was the first step in trying to persuade people worldwide that the three resources are too important to be left to governments because they are seen as being inexhaustable and free to be exploited by all.

The UN and nation states were criticised for failing to guarantee or even address the sustainability of the resources. “The moves towards collective action by governments seem unlikely to be effective…too often their decisions represent the lowest common denominator of national interests and deliver too little too late,” Jeffrey said.

Among WHAT’s most ambitious targets are the establishment of a ‘People’s Assembly’ made up of international heads of state or senior politicians, business leaders and representatives from NGOs to address issues of sustainability, which would work alongside the UN.

Part of the assembly’s work would be the establishment of a Global Economic Council to ensure basic health, housing, employment and education worldwide. “That is what security means for three-quarters of the world’s population and there is no mechanism in the UN for it,” Sir Sridath Ramphal, himself chairman of a UN commission, said.

WHAT also calls for an end to “perverse subsidies which promote unsustainable exploitation of resources” by establishing “viable market pricing systems which better reflect the true value of resources and cost discovery”, Jeffrey said.

A large part of the report is devoted to the findings and recommendations of the three commissions, which since 1998, have compiled information and carried out studies worldwide.

The WHAT Water Commission found that more than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water and up to four million die annually, prematurely from water-borne diseases. It says that the amount of water made unusuable by pollution “is almost as great as the amount used to meet human needs.” The danger of stress on the water system caused by growing populations and ever increasing use are underlined. Recommendations include:

  • special attention must be paid to managing water at catchment level;
  • ecosystems must be respected and government’s must work together to safeguard shared water resources;
  • governments must educate their populations make sustainable use of water;
  • nobody should be allowed to extract from, or discharge into a body of water, with public authority permits guaranteeing time, volume and quality;

The Fisheries Commissions Report warns focuses on depleted stocks worldwide and the threat to people that depend on them for food and livelihoods. The commission states that in 12 out of 16 global fishing areas “between about 70% and 90% of stocks are fully exploited or more than fully exploited.”

The commission calls for “rights-based management systems and a global summit on fisheries and their dependent populations to forge a global action plan, effectively reshaping the governance of fisheries”. This would be implemented by governments, NGOs, the fishing industry and international donor associations such as the World Bank.

The Genetic Diversity Commission found that agricultural subsidies have had ‘perverse effects on farmer’s choices’, encouraging them to ignore the environmental consequences of crop choices. It describes genetic conservation for agriculture as ‘a public good’ and says that “fostering food security and protecting natural resources are essential goals of sustainable development and this includes more focus on small-scale farmers”.

The commission proposals include: a multilateral framework facilitating access to genetic resources of main crops, national agricultural strategies encouraging diversity and a special focus on women as in many countries they are “the primary selectors and savers of genetic diversity”.

Copies of Governance for a Sustainable Future are available for £15 by telephoning 020 8789 5555.

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