Alternative forum at environment conference


By Stephen O'Brien

NEWCASTLE — Community activists are organising an alternative to the "Pathways to Sustainability" conference, which will be held here on June 1-5.

The official event, one of a series of international follow-ups to the Rio de Janeiro environmental conference of 1992, will discuss "local initiatives for cities and towns". With endorsement from United Nations agencies and local government associations, it is expected to feature keynote speakers such as the prominent author Edward de Bono, the mayors of Dublin and Rio and the head of the World Bank's environment department. Up to 1000 people, including at least 40 delegates from the Third World, are expected to attend.

Liz Rene, a Newcastle councillor for the Greens, told Green Left Weekly that even if the official event turned out to be conservative, many of its participants are likely to wish to discuss more radical and grassroots-based ideas and approaches to urban problems. Not all people involved in local government are associated with "developer" councils, she explained.

During the official proceedings in Newcastle City Hall, the "Actions for Sustainability Community Forum and Festival" will set up tents just across the road in Civic Park. The organisers of this forum expect many of the delegates to the official event to participate in the alternative activities.

These will include workshops and discussions covering four broad areas — Food, Shelter, Democracy and Economics. It is hoped that they will provide community and non-government organisations, as well as individuals, with a platform to explore and expand on social issues.

The first two days at the alternative event will be devoted to global issues such as peace, disarmament and the environmental impact of militarism. On World Environment Day, June 5, the Wilderness Society is planning a march against pollution, which will provide an opportunity to link up with people who are directly affected by urban environmental degradation, such as asthma sufferers.

On the final two days, the focus will be on local and community workshops and the exchange of information. An exhibition space in the main auditorium has been allotted for displays.

Rene said that interest in the alternative event was growing: there are plans to set up a web site, and ABC Radio may provide daily coverage.

"This is a chance for people who identify with the grassroots to be made aware of real alternatives and genuine initiatives ... in different areas at the local level", she noted. "We expect to have a direct input into the outcome of the official event, but in any case we will be releasing a statement drawn up by the participants in the Community Forum and Festival."

For further information, contact Liz Rene on (049) 555 505.