Earth Summit notes

Issue 

Earth Summit notes

Earth Summit secretary general Maurice Strong told a May 11 meeting organised by the US Senate that he hopes there will be a variety of mechanisms to raise and administer the estimated $125 billion needed annually to fund proposals coming out of the summit. Most of these proposals are grouped in an action program called Agenda 21.

"If the conference is unsuccessful, we could face a new confrontation between rich and poor", he warned. "Already, a new iron curtain that excludes people from the south and east is descending over Europe", said the Canadian diplomat.

Strong predicted that Japan would take an important leadership role at the Earth Summit. "Japan has been harshly criticised for not having done much in terms of international environmental protection, but within Japan, they have made major strides in eliminating industrial pollution", he said.

  • US President George Bush is treating the Earth Summit as a photo opportunity, charged Environmental Defence Fund lawyer Scott Hajost after the president's May 12 announcement that he will attend the summit. The US used the issue of Bush's attendance as a negotiating tool in discussions on the proposed world climate accord and other matters. "A fairly heavy price has been extracted to get his attendance", added Hajost, who formerly worked for the US State Department.

Bush's long-awaited announcement came during a photo opportunity at the White House with Maurice Strong and UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. "I won't be able to stay long", Bush said. While around 112 heads of government or heads of state will attend the summit, most will do so only towards the end. Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating will not attend.

US astronomer Carl Sagan said Bush's record on environmental issues, particularly on global warming, is "pathetically shallow and weak", and his attendance at the summit is "an attempt to give the shell of reform without an ounce of substance".

  • The G-77 group of 128 developing nations decided in mid-May not to press for renegotiation of the six-page Rio Declaration, which replaced the proposed Earth Charter when negotiations broke down over the contents of the main statement projected to come out of the Earth Summit.

The declaration is supposed to outline the basic principles to govern the economic and environmental behaviour of peoples and nations through the 21st century. Although 20 of the 27 principles in the declaration were originally proposed by China or the G-77, most have been watered down. The forum of developing nations decided that the existing document should not be jeopardised because it marks important steps forward, despite its compromise nature. It is said to contain the first recognition in an international document that countries have a right to development.

Principle one of the declaration says: "human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature." Other principles make it clear that protection of the environment must be an integral part of development, that all states and peoples should cooperate towards the elimination of poverty, that states should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, that warfare is incompatible with sustainable development and that peace, development and environmental protection are interdependent and indivisible.

VALLETTA, Malta — Representatives of people overlooked in Earth Summit processes met here in April. They included rubber tappers, fisherfolk, shantytown residents, factory workers and peasants displaced by large dams. Delegates to the conference were unanimous that in the absence of strong and binding commitments coming from the Earth Summit, collective action by ordinary men and women is vital to ensure that governments act to protect and rehabilitate forests, lakes, rivers, soil and other natural resources.

The conference was informed of the development of mass-based environmental movements in Brazil, India and elsewhere. "It is clear that participation on a wide scale is needed to confront problems of environmental degradation in rural areas", said Jessica Vivian, of the UN Research Institute for Social Development. Such problems include "overexploitation or contamination of natural resources resulting in gradual deforestation, degradation of soils and depletion of marine resources".

Developments in many parts of the Third World gave reason to expect strong protest action by communities of forest dwellers, pastoralists, workers and peasants, particularly in response to threats to natural resources they depend on for their livelihoods.

Brazilian researcher Eduardo Viola said the burning of the Amazon forests "represents perhaps the most intensive destruction of biomass in world history", but it had spawned important environmental movements. The number of activist groups grew from around 400 in 1985 to around 1300 in 1991. These groups no longer have "the restricted goal of creating public awareness, but instead a broad goal of reasserting an alternative for the preservation and restoration of the degraded environment".

BONN — Representatives of the German Federation for Environment and Nature Protection (BUND) and the Nature Protection Circle (DNR), have criticised the failure of wealthy countries to make stronger commitments on environmental and development issues. They had not even taken the short-term step of writing off Third World debts, said Barbara Unmuessig, who added that s are running a big "overdraft on their environmental account".

A study by BUND/DNR had found that 1000 people in Germany consume eight times the energy used by the same number of Egyptians, and 1000 Germans emit 13,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide yearly compared to 1300 tonnes by the same number of Egyptians. Germans emit 450 kg of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons per 1000, while Filipinos release only 16 kg.

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