State of the World: More Connected, Less Stable


State of the World 2002: Special World Summit Edition
Thursday, 10 January 2002

Washington, DC - The world needs a global war on poverty and environmental degradation that is as aggressive and well funded as the war on terrorism, reports State of the World 2002, which was released today by the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington D.C.-based research organization.

“Ten years after the Rio Earth Summit, we are still far from ending the economic and environmental marginalization that afflict billions of people,” says Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin. “Despite the prosperity of the 1990s, the divide between rich and poor is widening in many countries, undermining social and economic stability. And pressures on the world’s natural systems, from global warming to the depletion and degradation of resources such as fisheries and fresh water, have further destabilized societies.”

This special edition of State of the World focuses on issues central to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in August/September 2002. The Summit provides world’s leaders a historic chance to strike a new deal for an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable world—a chance they cannot afford to miss. In the book’s Foreword, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan notes that “all of us should understand not only that we face common threats, but also that there are common opportunities to be seized if we respond to this challenge as a single human community.”

The report highlights a number of social and environmental advances since Rio, including declining deaths from pneumonia, diarrhea, and tuberculosis and the phasing out of production of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in industrial countries.

But many other important trends continue to worsen. Deaths from AIDS increased more than six-fold over the 1990s; global emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide climbed more than nine percent; and twenty-seven percent of the world’s coral reefs are now severely damaged, up from 10 percent at the time of the Rio Earth Summit.

State of the World 2002 points to several significant impediments that have slowed progress towards building a sustainable world over the last decade:

  • Environmental policies remain a low priority: The growing number of international environmental treaties and other initiatives suffer from weak commitments and inadequate funding. The U.N. Environment Programme has struggled to maintain its annual budget of roughly $100 million. At the same time, military expenditures by the world’s governments are running at more than $2 billion a day.

  • Foreign aid spending is stagnating: Despite a more than 30 percent expansion in global economic output in the years since Rio, aid spending has declined substantially, falling from $69 billion in 1992 to $53 billion in 2000.

  • Third world indebtedness is getting worse: Despite pledges at Rio to reduce indebtedness, the total debt burden in developing and transition countries has climbed 34 percent since the Earth Summit, reaching $2.5 trillion in 2000.

Increased financial and political support for international social and environmental programs is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success in the transition to a sustainable world. The authors argue that the active involvement of other powerful international actors, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the business community, will also be essential.

In the years since Rio, NGOs have become adept at using the new tools of the information age to organize effective cross-border alliances. More than 24,000 NGOs are now active at the international level. NGOs activated millions of people in a series of important campaigns in the 1990s, including the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the ban on antipersonnel landmines, and the International Criminal Court.

“South Africa is living proof of the power of people all over the world working together to bring about change,” says Director of Research Gary Gardner. “The demise of apartheid is an inspiring example of a rapid transformation that was almost unimaginable beforehand.”

The authors of State of the World 2002 lay out the technical and political changes needed to forge a sustainable economy. “Getting the world onto a more environmentally and socially durable course is a daunting task,” says State of the World 2002 Project Director Hilary French. “But history shows that cooperation can overcome even seemingly intractable obstacles. Johannesburg will help to determine whether the nations of the world can jointly address pressing problems, or whether we will remain on a destructive path that leads to poverty, environmental decline, terrorism, and war.”

Purchasing Information:State of the World 2002 is US$15.95 plus $4 shipping and handling in the U.S. and $5 outside, and can be purchased through the Worldwatch website: or by calling 1-888-544-2303 (in U.S.) and 01-570-320-2076 (from overseas)