Greens Wilt

Chastened Environmentalists Leave Joburg Summit Empty-handed

Johannesburg—"It's clear that we've suffered a number of major defeats in the last 10 days," declared Andrew Hewett, a spokesperson for Oxfam. Hewett was not the only ideological environmentalist to express dismay over the results of negotiations at World Summit on Sustainable Development. The Plan of Implementation negotiated by the summiteers in Johannesburg is like "putting a Band-Aid over a gaping wound," maintained a glum Melanie Steiner from the World Wildlife Federation. Greenpeace climate director Steve Sawyer commented with regard to setting goals and timetables for the global deployment of renewable energy, "What we've come up with is absolute zero, absolutely nothing." Peter van der Gaag, speaking for ANPED, an alliance of European green groups, proclaimed that the World Summit on Sustainable Development was "a damage control summit" and that "we barely kept our heads above water."

In retrospect, from the point of view of political environmentalists, the Summit was probably doomed to failure because it was trying to force two totally incompatible goals together—eradicating poverty and limiting economic growth. Environmental improvement is simply impossible without economic growth, yet economic growth is anathema to green summiteers. "The summit failed to set the necessary economic and ecological limits to globalization," declared Daniel Mittler from Friends of the Earth.

When the greens arrived in Johannesburg, they were demanding that the nations of world commit to:

(1) cutting in half the number of people who don't have access to clean safe drinking water, and cut in half the number of those without adequate sanitation by 2015;

(2) requiring that 15 percent of the world's primary energy be supplied by new renewables like solar, wind and small hydropower by 2010;

(3) setting a global framework for holding multinational corporations accountable for their actions;

(4) requiring that products be labeled for alleged ecological friendliness, especially foods produced using genetically modified crops;

(5) developing a 10-year framework aimed at establishing sustainable patterns of consumption and production;

(6) ending agricultural subsidies and subsidies on conventional fuels;

(7) strengthening the precautionary principle as an international regulatory tool;

(8) obtaining commitments from rich countries to raise the proportion of their GDP they devote to overseas aid to 0.7 percent of their gross domestic products annually.

(9) subordinating agreements reached by World Trade Organization to multilateral environmental agreements.

Of above list, the greens essentially managed to get only the first one adopted by the summit negotiators. "The only new real target is halving the number of people without access to good sanitation by 2015," said WWF's Melanie Steiner. She added, "We did not come to the Summit to agree just to a sanitation target." In any case, it is arguable that only the sanitation target and the proposal to end farm subsidies are really aimed at the Summit's professed goal of eradicating poverty. After 10 days of hard negotiating behind closed doors, there are no global renewable energy targets, no 10-year sustainable consumption and production project, no global eco-labeling scheme outside of the Biosafety Protocol, no end to agricultural subsidies, no strengthening of the precautionary principle, no subordinating of the WTO's trade agenda to the United Nations' green agenda and no 0.7 percent aid increases. Why? Largely because all of these proposals ran into the alliance of Japan, the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, commonly known as JUSCANZ.

Ideological environmentalists, looking for what cheer they could find, did point to some language on corporate accountability in the draft political statement, which is supposed to be issued unanimously in the name of all the nations that participated in the Summit. According to Steve Sawyer, nearly everyone at the summit acknowledges "there is something wrong with unbridled neoliberal capitalism." The draft political statement kicks the issue of corporate responsibility upstairs to the United Nations' General Assembly. The idea is that the General Assembly will select a UN agency to convene an international meeting aimed at devising a global Protocol on Corporate Responsibility and Behavior. Of course, corporations should be held responsible for any malfeasance; they already are held responsible by national governments. Just ask executives at Arthur Andersen, Enron and WorldCom. What the green lobbyists are aiming at with their corporate responsibility protocol is to set up global environmental and labor standards to which all companies must adhere. One effect of this type of one-size-fits-all global regulation would be to reduce overall investment in developing nations.

The greens were also cheered by the announcement during the Summit that China, Canada, and Russia have ratified or will soon ratify the Kyoto Protocol which is aimed at limiting the use of fossil fuels so as to prevent alleged man-made global warming. This will increase pressure on the United States to reconsider its withdrawal from the Protocol in April 2001.

Finally, on one point, free marketers and greens can wholeheartedly agree—that economically and ecologically damaging global agricultural subsidies should be eliminated. However, the rogue states of subsidies, the U.S. and the European Union nations, refused to budge on this issue. They claim that the subsidy issue will be taken up and resolved in the WTO negotiations over the next three years.

"Johannesburg is not the end of the line," declared WWF's Melanie Steiner. This is the moral equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger's line in The Terminator, "I'll be back."

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