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WSSD process: Wither global environmental negotiations ?

21. July 2002

By S.Faizi

Can global issues be addressed through multilateral negotiations in the new unipolar world? The recently concluded Bali meeting of nations to formulate the final draft of action plan to be agreed by the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) raises new doubts about the usefulness of such multilateral negotiations in the new global political ambience.
No country now questions the conclusion that the twin crises of environment and development is reaching the stage of a civilizational crisis. It was the recognition of this reality that prompted the community of nations to gather themselves in Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit in 1992 to agree on a comprehensive program of action to reverse the global environmental crisis. This blue print for action, called Agenda 21, generated high expectations, but its implementation was hamstrung by lack of financial resources as well as political will and the frightening immutability of the international economic order.
The Johannesburg Summit is meant to rescue the Agenda 21 from the implementation crisis. However, the proceedings of the ministerial level preparatory conference marked a definite backward journey from the Rio commitments. At this rate, Rio will be mostly undone at Johannesburg. On the eve of the Bali ministerial, Kofi Annan, sensing the trend of the Summit process inverting its objective, urged the governments, in a lecture, to focus on five key areas, namely, water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity as they relate to the world´s poor. But his call went largely unheeded by the negotiating committee.
While the Johannesburg Summit process ought to have moved forward by agreeing on workable plans to realize the goals set by Agenda 21, the Millennium Declaration of the General Assembly and the Monterry Consensus, the US and its …‘yes´ states have been using the process to reopen issues that have already been settled through negotiations. The US challenges the very premise of the Summit by arguing that poverty eradication is a function of the market and not a responsibility of the governments.
A decade ago the community of nations identified that the unsustainable pattern of resource consumption pursued by the industrial societies as the most important reason for the environmental crisis – by both depleting the natural resource base and by exhausting the resilience of the environment to absorb polluting wastes. However, the US still arrogantly proclaims their ancient argument that their life style cannot be negotiated. The US also violently refuses the common but differentiated responsibility of nations to address the global environmental issues. They even had the adroity to argue that the UN Regional Commissions cannot pursue regionally formulated strategies for sustainable development as the funds used come from sources outside the region as well, which represents a new challenge to the fundamental principle guiding UN operations.
The US seeks to use the WSSD process to bring forth the globalization agenda to the UN arena, which has been the only forum left for the global South to shield itself from the tyranny of globalization of Western capital. They use every opportunity to underline the role of the market, while at the same time protecting the multinational companies from the requirement of accountability. The Bali meet witnessed the emergence of capitalist fundamentalism as a well-formulated doctrine.
The word …‘partnership´ has suddenly gained sex appeal. A provision for voluntary partnerships for sustainable development between stakeholders in different countries was being argued as the magical solution to the environment and development maladies. This was a clever design to pre-empt the need for binding commitments by governments on the one hand and on the other hand provide a short-cut to the multinationals to control the UN sustainable development agenda. The representatives of the corporate sector participating the multi-stakeholder dialogue, that was part of the Bali meeting proceedings, were obviously excited about “partnerships” while all other representatives of the civil society groups explicitly or implicitly rejected it. The “partnerships” syndrome has come here to stay and is likely to spread like an epidemic to other areas of UN endeavors. It was amusing to see the champions of mutually excluding competition talking down to the developing countries the virtues of partnership as though cooperation among various players in the society is a new invention!
The US treated the almost universally agreed environmental treaties as taboo. The Biodiversity Convention and its Biosafety Protocol and the Climate Change Convention and its Kyoto Protocol were not even permitted to be referred to. The US had worked overtime in making these legal instruments as weak as possible while negotiating them and thereafter promptly refuses to ratify even the weakened treaties (except the innocuous Climate Change Convention.).
The performance of the G-77, not surprisingly, has been pathetic. They remain reactive, lack political will, have little technical support, and have far less concern for the peoples they represent than the Western countries have for their multinationals. On many an occasion Norway argued more effectively for the South than many G-77 delegations did. My expectation to see a difference in the G-77 leadership of the politically firm Venezuela was in vain. In my extensive interactions with G-77 delegations I could see their hidden fear mixed with frustration. As for India, when was that we had a significant role in a multilateral negotiation last.
The G-77 have not asked themselves why they should have undue concern for concluding a Summit which will have nothing to offer in addressing the twin global crises. Not only that the text of the implementation plan remains heavily bracketed, but a negotiation draft for the political declaration is non-existent even as the Summit is set to commence in the last week of August (In contrast, the final draft of the Rio Declaration of 92 was agreed by the last night of the final meeting of the Summit´s Preparatory Committee). Unless radical initiatives from the G-77 spring up the Jburg Summit would prove to be a costly loss for the developing world. Jburg would demonstrate that imperialism is not simply a threat but a living reality. Robert Cooper, that dwarf Rasputin advising foreign policy to the imperial nanny´s prime minister, who argued for new colonization, will have reason to celebrate. Norwegian foreign minister Hilde Johnson had the courage to express her doubt if the Jburg process would not turn out to be a waste of time and resources and her concern was well placed.
As neo-imperialism removes the option to resolve global issues through democratic negotiations, long and sustained struggle remains the only option available to the people. And there is no assurance that such struggles would always be peaceful. Ends.

Author: Ecologist specializing in international environmental policy, based at Thiruvananthapuram.