By Steve Painter
Third World nations and non-government organisations (NGOs) are gloomy about prospects for the United Nations' Earth Summit following an unproductive five-week preparatory meeting (Prepcom Four), which finished in New York on April 3.
The delegates, from 175 countries, left without agreement on major issues to be included in the Earth Charter and Agenda 21. These are the main documents to presented to heads of government for signature at the summit, which is scheduled for June 3-14 in Rio de Janeiro.
Delegates from Third World countries and NGOs were frustrated by the refusal of developed countries, led by the United States and Japan, to agree on targets for carbon dioxide emissions, non-commercial arrangements for environmentally sound technology transfers to underdeveloped countries and around $125 billion annual funding for necessary development assistance in the Third World.
Barring big changes in attitude in the next six weeks, it seems the Earth Charter will be a patchwork of platitudes stitched together with a few agreements on secondary issues.
"By its actions, this preparatory conference is denying the concept of sustainable development that everyone without exception talks about", said Marin Kohr, a Malaysian delegate for the Third World Network, as the meeting headed towards its conclusion.
"What's the point of discussing whether the North should provide $5000 or $125,000 million to the South, if each year the flow of Third World resources to the North, through foreign debt and an unfair trade balance, is $300,000 million", Kohr added.
Third World and NGO delegates to the gathering were also angered by the role of Australia, which sided closely with the US bloc in its role as representative of the OECD group.
On April 1, as the gathering — based on two years of previous discussions — headed for deadlock, 26 NGOs issued a "10-point plan to save the summit". This included proposals for a coherent strategy on climate change, consumption patterns, economic reform, the global environment, transnational corporations, hazardous wastes, forests, nuclear weapons and power, biotechnology and trade.
"The governments of the world are fiddling while the earth burns, and George Bush, with his failure to compromise on any of the most important issues, is conducting the orchestra", said Greenpeace's Josh Karliner.
"In our view this process is moving backwards and threatens to have a negative environmental impact", added Roberto Smeraldi of Friends of the Earth International. "The problem is that the link between environment and development, considered to be the great achievement of the decade, is only present in the speeches and not in the negotiations", said another NGO representative.
Preparations now move on to an eminent persons' forum on financial questions, scheduled for Tokyo later this month, and a ministerial gathering of 45 members of the 128-member Group of 77 Third World nations.
Third World delegates charge that the US-led bloc used the New York gathering to attempt to change the terms of reference set out for the summit in UN General Assembly resolution 44/228, which was adopted by consensus.
Third World delegates complained that the US bloc was quick to push what it regarded as appropriate methods of government in the Third World, but would not accept democratic control and decision making in institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which are heavily influenced by transnational corporations.
The issue of transnationals quietly disappeared from Agenda 21 programs and discussions, and Sweden and Norway sheepishly dropped their proposal for a section on full-cost environmental accounting for TNCs.
Many Third World delegates now say they have no alternative but to use the summit to push the unfulfilled international development agenda of the 1980s, which got sidetracked by multilateral talks such as the Uruguay Round of (GATT) and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The NGOs' 10-point plan includes:
l) Climate change: UNCED must agree to legally binding targets and timetables for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, in particular C02. Industrialised nations must be the first to act on this.
2) Consumption patterns: UNCED must call for a cut in the North's consumption of resources and an immediate transformation of technology to create ecological sustainability in the North.
3) Economic reform: UNCED should initiate a process of global economic reform that will reverse the South-North flow of resources, improve the South's terms of trade and reduce its debt burden.
4) Global environment facility: While UNCED must generate new and additional resources to solve global environmental problems, it must also call for an end to World Bank control of the Global Environment Facility. The World Bank has a disastrous record of promoting environmental destruction, as well as Third World poverty.
5) Transnational corporations: UNCED must call for strong national and international regulation of transnational corporations rather than the unacceptable self-regulation currently proposed. The Earth Summit must also call for restoration and strengthening of the UN Centre On Transnational Corporations, rather than allowing the Business Council for Sustainable Development to go unopposed in the UNCED process.
6) Hazardous wastes: UNCED must call for a ban on the export of hazardous wastes and dirty industries worldwide. It must also pressure the North to solve its own toxic and nuclear waste problems. Proposals to this effect have either been rejected or watered down to insignificance by the OECD countries.
7) Forests: UNCED must address the real causes of forest destruction and promote equitable international principles. In addition, UNCED must recognise and support land and cultural rights of indigenous peoples and traditional forest dwellers. Planting new trees, as UNCED proposes, cannot be a substitute for saving existing natural forests and the cultures that live in them.
8) Nuclear weapons and power: UNCED must call for an end to all nuclear weapons testing, and the rapid phase-out of all nuclear power plants and a rapid transition to renewable energy. In the midst of nuclear disasters, weapons tests and near-accidents, these issues have inexplicably been excluded from the Earth Summit agenda.
9) Biotechnology: UNCED must take urgent and binding safety measures (including, at the very least, an international code of conduct on safety in biotechnology) to control the health and environmental risks of biotechnology research and application.
10) Trade: UNCED must not endorse free trade as the key to achieving "sustainable development". Social, political and environmental concerns must form the framework within which trade takes place, not vice versa.
The plan was initially sponsored by Greenpeace International, Friends of the Earth International, the Forum of Brazilian NGOs (representing 1200 groups), the Third World Network, the American Indian Law Alliance, the Pan African Movement, and other groups and individuals from the USA, Germany, Canada, Spain, Tunisia, Senegal, Mexico, Columbia, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand, UNCED Earth Summit Committee, New Zealand, the Philippines, Paraguay and Pakistan.
[More on UNCED: page 9.]