Environmentalists See First Signs of Hope on Johannesburg Summit
NGOs Push Governments toward
"Environmentally-Friendly, not Enron-Friendly" Development
A coalition of international and U.S.
environmental and development organizations reacted with cautious
optimism to apparent progress at a series of meetings this week in New
York by governments negotiating for the World Summit on Sustainable
Development [WSSD], in Johannesburg. The meetings were scheduled to
resolve a series of contentious issues, with only five weeks remaining
before the start of the massive and potentially-chaotic Summit of
presidents and prime ministers in August.
At a July 17 'Friends of the Chair'
meeting, environmental ministers and high-level officials from 26 countries, invited by conference chair, South Africa, met in an all-day, closed-door session to attempt to narrow their substantial differences over trade subsidies, de-regulation, and environmental standards.
The meeting which included representatives of the U.S., the E.U., Russia, China, India, Venezuela and Japan saw governments affirm their commitments to the results of 1992 Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, and to recent meetings on trade and development in Doha, Qatar, and Monterrey, Mexico.
Leaders of the environmental organizations [NGOs] expressed approval of the apparent re-affirmation by governments of the priority of governments agreeing to political commitments.
"We welcome the determination of a growing number of countries to agree on a 'Plan of Action' with meaningful targets and measurable timetables for implementing sustainable policies," said Kim Carstensen, director of the World Wide Fund for Nature [WWF] Denmark, and head of the WWF delegation to the Summit. "Such commitments are what is needed to fulfill the promises made in Rio, but they have faced strong resistance, particularly from the U.S."
"The Johannesburg Summit will be judged on its political agreements because this Summit is about what governments will do to implement sustainable development, Mr. Carstensen added. "Once those commitments are decided, then the added value of partnerships with businesses and other stakeholders can start being negotiated."
The NGOs called on the U.S. and the E.U. to specify how the funds they committed at Monterrey were going to be invested. They pointed out that while governments have agreed not to re-negotiate the WTO agreements in Doha, those governments still have not agreed on exactly what it is they negotiated. It is up to the Johannesburg Summit, NGOs said, to help define what that is.
Marcelo Furtado, of Greenpeace International, emphasized the importance of providing additional funding to achieve effective implementation of the Summit's commitments. "One of the differences between Rio, ten years ago, and Johannesburg, is that this Summit in Johannesburg is supposed to be about implementation of sustainable development policies. Those policies should deliver clean air, fresh water, renewable energy and a healthy environment -- not more rhetoric."
NGOs were pleased with the decision by governments at the Friends of the Chair meeting to renew their commitments to the principles of 'common, but differentiated, responsibilities' [establishing different roles for developed and developing countries], and to the 'precautionary principle' [requiring prior assurance of environmental safety]. Those principles, which were cornerstones of Agenda 21 the blueprint for sustainable development, signed by 176 nations, at Rio had also been blocked by the U.S.
Independent policy experts called on governments to clearly define the level of funding they are providing.
"One dramatic way to help illustrate governments' commitments would be to clearly announce the level of 'baseline,' or existing resources that have been invested in development, so the public can then see the additional resources that have been committed," said David Hales, former director of the Global Environmental Center of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"We could then add on the amounts invested by industry and the other partners each year to illustrate the increase in investment, and the growth in results, from these projects."
Washington-based environmental groups watched carefully on the role of the U.S., and emphasized the urgency of developing policies and partnership agreements that included clear criteria for implementation, and mechanisms for effective monitoring and oversight.
"It's very important that all governments, and the U.S. in particular, acknowledge that new funds will be required to achieve the goals of Johannesburg, and then set policies that make sure how that money is spent," said David Waskow, international political analyst for Friends of the Earth International.
"With the scandals at Enron, at Arthur Anderson, and at Global Crossing, we're now starting to see what a no-regulation policy leads to. If governments are going to work with corporations to achieve policy goals, we need to know what those corporations are doing, socially and environmentally. And we need to be able to hold them accountable for their actions.
"We have to decide now Are we trying to export to the rest of the world an environmentally-friendly model of development, or an Enron-friendly model of development?" said Michael Dorsey, a national director of the Sierra Club.
"Free market advocates in the U.S. have tried to privatize regulation by handing over responsibility for enforcing social, environmental and economic standards to the very companies most guilty of violating them. The result has been the enrichment of a few insiders, higher prices for consumers, and the impoverishment of a large group of employees and investors. That is hardly a system the rest of the world is going to want to adopt."
Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, said, "People are looking for policies they can trust. We need to create genuine partnerships that can build healthy economies, help people obtain the food, water and energy they need, and protect the planet we all must share."
The Johannesburg Summit takes place from August 26 to September 4, 2002. More than 50,000 representatives of governments, industries, labor organizations, academic experts and activists are scheduled to attend.
Marcelo Furtado Greenpeace International