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On the Level: Sustainable Development in the Next Millennium

April 20, 2000
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Sustainable development may be defined simply as the utilization of the world's resources in order to meet our needs without inhibiting future generations from meeting their needs. But what has that got to do with surveyors and surveying?

Consider what we know-or believe we know-about the current condition of our earth and its occupants:
  • The world's population has doubled in the last 40 years and passed the 6 billion mark a few months ago. It is predicted to reach 8.5 billion by the year 2030, a population level thought by many scientists to be the maximum number of people supportable by the world's resources and capacity for food production.
  • Less than half the world's population has secure access to land. Women, who comprise roughly half the world's population, and 70 percent of whom live in poverty, own less than 1 percent of the world's wealth.
  • The world's tropical rain forests are crucial to the global climate and give living space to half of all living species, but were being destroyed at a rate of 20 million hectares a year by 1990 according to the World Resources Institute.
  • The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that global warming due to the suspected greenhouse effect of industrial air pollution may cause a significant rise in sea levels by the year 2090 due to melting of the polar ice caps. Vast coastal areas could be inundated, from the harbors of the world's industrial nations to the desert areas of North Africa. Other sources predict that 80 percent of the world's population will be living within 50 km of the coastal zones by mid-century. The combination of massive coastal flooding and the tendency of populations to settle in coastal areas suggest enormous social hardship and dislocation in the near future. It is an irony, on the other hand, that two-thirds of the world's population will live in water-stressed conditions by the year 2025, according to current forecasts.

The last half of the 20th century saw an increasing concern within the scientific community over the state of our earth. The objective that has been put forth in response to this concern is the concept of sustainable development. Over 50 definitions of "sustainable development" were compiled at a 1997 conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, but the term may be defined simply as the utilization of the world's resources in order to meet our needs without inhibiting future generations from meeting their needs. But what has that got to do with surveyors and surveying?

The International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) in cooperation with the United Nations hosted the "Bathurst Workshop on Land Tenure and Cadastral Infrastructures for Sustainable Development" in Australia in October, 1999. Attending the workshop, along with several UN agencies, were nearly two dozen institutions from the Agricultural University of Norway to the China State Bureau of Surveying & Mapping to the World Bank. The product of the workshop is a document titled "The Bathurst Declaration on Land Administration for Sustainable Development" (FIG Publication No. 21). Surveyors everywhere can take pride in knowing their profession is held in high esteem by the institutions that have engaged in these issues of critical importance to our world's future. But, what is the role for surveying in the effort to achieve sustainable development?

Key words in the Bathurst Declaration, from our point of view, are land administration. Land administration is defined in the Declaration as "the process of determining, recording and disseminating information about the tenure, value and use of land when implementing land management policies." These are activities requiring surveying services, especially as the term is defined by FIG. (Valuation is not ordinarily considered surveying in the United States, but it is a major component of surveying in the FIG definition. In fact, the American Appraisal Institute is a member organization of FIG along with the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping.)

The recommendations are ambitious and will require a nearly unanimous international commitment to their objectives. The question for us is, how shall the surveying community participate in their worthy goals? I suggest four general ways in which we may participate:
1. We are the data-gathering experts. Our members are the professionals who will assemble and quantify data as to the world's land and resources, their value and their current distribution.
2. Our members are the professionals who will plan the cadastral and land registration systems to enable markets to deal equitably in the distribution of land and its resources; others of our members will provide crucial urban and rural land use planning.
3. Security of land tenure has political, economic and legal dimensions. But there can be no security of land tenure without secure boundaries, clearly described in permanent public records and clearly delineated on the ground. Creating, describing and memorializing secure land boundaries can only be accomplished by the expertise of the land surveying profession.
4. The greatest difficulty in achieving sustainable development may prove to be the political problem of convincing all nations to concentrate on the development of resources and distribution of land in order to meet people's needs while the richer nations continue to spend resources meeting people's less vital wants and desires. Such political problems can only be overcome by effective public education, an effort in which all our members can participate.

The surveying profession stands at the center of a major world issue. We should recognize the responsibility we carry and broaden our own view of our profession and its value. For too long, we in the United States have had a myopic view of our contribution to society, while institutions like the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization have identified the surveying profession as a key player in the effort to achieve sustainable development in the years ahead.

The Bathurst Declaration recommends a global commitment to:

1) Providing effective legal security of tenure and access to property for all men and women, including indigenous peoples, those living in poverty and other disadvantaged groups;
2) Providing the land administration reforms essential for sustainable development and facilitating full and equal access for men and women to land-related economic opportunities, such as credit and natural resources;
3) Investing in the necessary land administration infrastructure and in the dissemination of land information required to achieve these reforms; and
4) Halving the number of people around the world who do not have effective access to secure property rights in land by the year 2010.

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