By Tendai Msengezi and Mutizwa Mukute 
Poor countries arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development (UNCED) with high hopes for a new world environment order, only to return home with more promises, but little in the way of concrete proposals to alleviate poverty.

Some of the speakers, disillusioned by the poor results of the Summit called it “Riothoric.” The summit “isn’t a turning point for the future. The South will continue to be caught up in discussions while the north devalues its resources,” said Anil Agronevil, of the Science and Environmental Centre.

Third World states, hoping for US$70 billion in new funds to help them develop in an environmentally sound way, were upset when rich nations failed to pledge anything close to this amount. There were, however, a few pledges made by some nations. These amounted to about USS16 billion, but little of the money is new, most of it was simply redirected from other programmes.

Environmental groups believe that all the pledges of new money totalled no more than USS2 billion to USS2.5 billion a year.

According to Mufaro Moyo, Deputy Secretary in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, an estimated USS125 billion is needed to implement resolutions that have been adopted in Agenda 21.

‘The US$2 billion or so pledged is just too little and when allocated to all the countries in the South,
SAD CC countries will not get much.” he said.

Moyo, however, pointed out that there are other ways, to get money. A pledging conference could be held at the next UN session. Those developed countries that pledged little or nothing are expected “to open their cheque books.”

The conference also left room for bilateral agreements between individual countries, and these could be of great benefit to the region.

The United States chose to isolate itself from some important decisions agreed upon by the other countries. As President Robert Mugabe aptly summarized it, U.S President George Bush ” … has an eye to the elections.” Bush made it clear that he would not enter into any binding agreement and would not accept any deadlines concerning the Earth Summit conventions. He summed up his position by saying “…I must as president… keep in mind the need of American families to have jobs.”

Bush believes signing the Biodiversity Convention would have an adverse effect on the American biotechnology industry, and that signing the Climate Change Convention would also negatively impact on American industries and employment.

The Biodiversity convention seeks to protect the world’s biological diversity which consists of both plant and animal life. The main idea is to preserve as much flora and fauna as possible, most of which is found in the developing world.

The Convention on Climate Change sought to address questions of global warming which is a
Phenomenon caused by an increase in temperature due to a trapping of heat by certain gases such as
carbon dioxide. Despite United States’ intransigence and the summit’s failure to meet its goal of USS70 billion for sustainable development, the conference did achieve some successes.

Japan announced it would spend up to US$7,7 billion in aid to environmental programmes over the next five years, an increase of 50 percent over current levels. This was the largest pledge made by any individual country at the summit. Despite the promise of money, many environmentalists, felt that Japan missed a chance to play the leading role that had been envisaged for it.

Developing countries have continually called on the rich nations to commit themselves to raising aid to 0.7 percent of gross national product (GNP) by the year 2000 as proof of their good intentions.
In the eyes of many delegates, the compromise formula’s lack of a firm deadline is a loophole which can be exploited by rich countries that are shying away from any firm commitment.

European Community (EC) countries accepted the treaties. They showed more commitment towards
helping developing countries than the United States. In a follow up to Rio, British Prime Minister John Major, announced that he would ask the European Community (EC) and the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrial nations to adopt an action plan to carry forward the environmental agreements reached in Rio.

Major, however, gave no details of what the action plan might involve. While the convention on forests did not come to pass largely as a result of disagreements between the
north and the south, many countries signed the Convention on Biodiversity and the Convention on Climate Change.

In His speech at the summit, Spanish Premier, Felipe Gonzalez, emphasized the “polluter pays” principle which requires that those nations which produce most of the world’s “greenhouse gases” should pay more for cleaning up the environment. He emphasized that the rich countries which have created environmental problems for their own well-being should not ask poor countries to ensure a low emission of carbon dioxide.

To him, most of the responsibility lies in the hands of the North.

The European countries in turn seem to suggest that the oil producing countries should be the ones to pay a “carbon tax” – a suggestion that was turned down.

The forest convention was fraught with problems. The south refused to commit themselves to anything concrete unless, and until, the developed north made specific commitments on the Convention on Climate Change.

Some of the commitments that the south wants include a scheduled reduction of greenhouse gases and the transfer of environmentally friendly technology to the south at affordable prices.

The other point that the developing countries are concerned about is poverty in relation to deforestation.

They attribute poverty to the unfair terms of trade which have led to debt accumulation, hence their call for debt cancellation.

In the words of Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) director general, Edouard Saouma, “How can hungry people be expected to protect natural resources and the environment … when their immediate survival is at stake?”

Notwithstanding the disagreements and obstacles encountered in Rio, the following were the key achievements of the Earth Summit: –A treaty to reduce emissions of “greenhouse gases· which help trap heat in the atmosphere and arc believed to be the reason for global warming. The United States successfully fought before the conference to remove specific targets for reduction.

–A biodiversity treaty to save the world’s plants and animals. The United States refused to sign.

–A statement of principles to save forests. The United States wanted agreement to work for a binding

–Approval of the Rio Declaration, outlining human responsibility to the earth and developing nations.

–The action of a UN Commission on Sustainable Development, which will monitor the summits

The Earth Summit negotiators agreed on a loosely worded compromise on the issue of funding for environmentally sound development that will not commit industrialized countries to any specific
timetable for increasing overseas aid.

The formula will be inserted into agenda 21, the UN Conference on environment and development’s huge blueprint for environmental change into the next century. It, however, remained a disappointment for developing countries. (SARDC)

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