Earth Summit 2002

The findings of a survey carried out by YouGov in the wake of the recent Earth Summit and published in the Observer (8/9/02) revealed that “Seven out of ten people think that the Johannesburg Earth Summit has made almost no difference to the future of the planet. And only one in 500 believes that the controversial £40 million meeting attended by leaders from more than 100 countries, with 60,000 participants, will make the world ‘a lot better’.” This, of course, came as no surprise. In the run up to the Summit, activists the world over had expressed little or no confidence that the Summit would be noted for achieving anything tangible. And if developments since the 1992 Rio Summit were anything to go by, few were holding out for anything worth celebrating.

As the Summit closed, The UN, the British government and many worldwide delegations articulated their surprise that non-governmental groups had come away from the Summit feeling angered and cheated. Oxfam, for instance, had commented that the Summit had been “a triumph for greed and a tragedy for people.” Friends of the Earth remarked: “Do not believe government spin doctors who claim success for this Summit. It is by any objective test a failure.” And Christian Aid said: “The overall winner of this Summit has been big business. It has triumphed in its bid to avoid any legally-binding regulation on its behaviour.”

The final text of the Programme of Implementation agreed upon at Johannesburg after 9 days of deliberations contained but two new and explicit targets. The summit agreed to halve the number of people without sanitation (about 1.2 billion) by 2015 and agreed to plans to provide clean water for half of those without it (Para. 7). And Paragraph. 31(c) considers over-fishing, and thus the depletion of a main protein source for many living in coastal areas. In this regards the Summit agreed to restore, where possible, the world’s fish stocks by 2015 and to urge attention on marine pollution and the establishment of protected areas by 2010.

With growing concern now about the destruction wrought on of the earth’s life support system, the bumbling negotiations were supposed to map out a plan for reducing poverty and protecting bio-diversity. All they could agree on was an aim to reduce the loss of biodiversity by 2010 and to increase funding and technical resources to developing countries as well as to strengthen forest law and to reduce illegal logging The Summit acknowledged that poverty and environmental degradation are linked and further adopted the aim of halving the 1.2 billion who exist on less that $1 per day.

Back in 1992 at the Rio Summit, the world’s wealthier countries pledged to greatly increase their development aid to poorer countries to 0.7% of GNP. This was never achieved. Indeed, prior to the Summit, across the industrialised world it stood at 0.22%. What did the Johannesburg Summit promise? We need only turn to Paragraph 5(a) to find the Summit promising “to urge the developed countries…to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7% of GNP as official development assistance.” This would appear a step back. - a ‘promise’ is suddenly demoted to a ‘promise to urge’ – and is perhaps an admission by the promise makers, and the ‘urgers’, that promises are there to be broken.

Arising out of negotiations on sustainable consumption - the “Holy Grail” of the summit - there only was agreement to develop an action programme within 10 years, to publish indicators that evaluate progress and to give shoppers instructive eco labels.

The Summit Failed in its mission to set definite targets and a timetable for increasing the use of renewable energies. Paragraph 19(e) betrays the Kyoto Protocol to combat climatic change by promoting “clean” fossil fuels. This said, the Kyoto Protocol was given a little more legitimacy with Russia and Canada promising to ratify it.

There was littler or nothing to applaud at this Summit. The world’s Leaders, and there were many on show, simply recommitted themselves to agreements they have already and elsewhere committed themselves. If anything, this was an affirmation by the global executive of capitalism that the Programme of Implementation should have carried the subtitle: “Sorry, but there’s profits to be had.”

In the past ten years, the real change has been in giving a more prominent role in negotiations to business, predominantly multinational corporations. As never before, companies are centre stage in sustainable development, yet by and large the Summit has proved futile in providing a sufficiently strong regulatory framework to guarantee that their activities really serve the interests of those in greatest need. At Johannesburg the US delegation blocked all proposal involving regulating multinational corporations or dedicating significant new funds to sustainable development.

With the blessing of the UN, multi-nationals negotiated a number of “partnership agreements” – quite simply voluntary commitments obliging corporations to respect the environment and protect human rights. There is nothing really positive in “partnership agreements” – it is basically big business saying that rather than creating international laws that compel us to respect human rights and the environment, we will instead promise to do so. But in an increasingly globalised world, where there are mega profits to be made, and wherever these profits will come into conflict with environmental and human rights issues, any directors not seen to have profits forefront in their minds will be shown the door pretty damned quick. Thus, such promises are in truth not worth the paper they are written on. Insane? Yes. But this is actually capitalism functioning efficiently.

The importance of the meeting was perhaps best revealed by the absence of George W Bush who, despite massive international lobbying for him to attend, decided that a ‘war’ with Iraq was more important – this was understandable considering the numerous oil giants and weapons manufacturers he is indebted to, and not least because his advisors were all too aware he would have been heading for the mother of all heckling bouts and would undoubtedly have proved an embarrassment to the US delegation. Moreover, as US Capitalism plc was aware, they were going to get their way anyway at Johannesburg, so why send Dubya who was more valuable at home promoting the case for US oil companies?

The debating aside, this was a meeting at which US Sec of State Colin Powell was booed and jeered by US environmental campaigners and by many delegates and at which Tony Blair was lambasted from the speaker’s platform by Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and the Namibian president Sam Nujoma as an interfering ‘colonialist’

Were he not such an arrogant, murderous, hypocritical and corrupt agent of capital, Mugabe’s five minute bluster could have been applauded as sound socialist criticism. Apart from his much publicised anti-Blair broadside he angrily declared: “The programme of action we set for ourselves at Rio has not only been unfulfilled but it has also been ignored, sidelined and replaced by a half-baked unilateral agenda of globalisation in the service of big corporate interests. The focus here is profit, not the poor; the process is globalisation, not sustainable development, while the objective is exploitation, not liberation.”

And Mugabe was, for once, right!

Bearing in mind that previous world summits, and there have been several in recent years – and analysed in this journal – called to address the problems of the planet, have been subordinated to the interests of big business and have consequently proved to be a waste of time in so far as addressing the problems they were called to address, is it any wonder that not only NGOs, but the wider public have little faith in them? Furthermore, with corporate accountability high on the agenda at Johannesburg and the Enron and WorldCom scandals still finding column space in the broadsheets, what can be envisaged but despair in companies who can not even keep their own books tidy, let alone take care of the planet in a responsible manner.

We can perhaps salvage one thing from Johannesburg that will serve the interests of humanity, and that is the fact – reinforced at this Summit - that capitalism can not be trusted to run he world in the interests of humanity; that governments serve the interests of profit first and that if we are ever to take control of this planet and run it in the real interests of its inhabitants, then we must do so ourselves, without leaders and with a view to establishing a global system of society in which production is freed from the constraints of profit and in which each person will have free access to the benefits of civilisation.

No comments: