The Earth Summit

by Tendai Msengezi
Seen by many as the only chance to save the earth. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), to be held in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil in June, is in danger of turning into a platform for diplomatic street fighting rather than an opportunity for the meeting of minds.

Major problems have developed because of confrontation between the developed North and the developing south, the indifferent attitude of the United States towards the summit and disagreements between the US and the European Community (EC) over the emission of industrial gases.

The Earth Summit, as it has been dubbed, runs from 1-12 June and is expected to bring together more than a 100 heads of state. 6,000 delegates from United Nations member countries as well as more than 40,000 participants from governmental and non-governmental organizations throughout the world.

Top on the list of issues to be discussed will be alarming climate changes mainly global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer, bio-diversity and the ever deteriorating state of the world1s forests.

Bringing together such a large number of nations, participants and environmentalists with different backgrounds, agendas and motives has been riddled with problems. The fourth and final preparatory meeting for the summit held in early April in New York failed to agree on most of the proposed points on the agenda. Delegates argued bitterly over the 27-point draft declaration and several points are still not satisfactorily resolved.

The proposed text of a 900-page draft plan to implement the declaration. Designed to protect the Environment remains contested and will be changed in Brazil to accommodate further suggestions that might arise.

According to analysts, the sheer number of countries and the range of environmental issues ensures that somebody will have an objection to almost every proposition.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the Philippines complaining about a reference to population or southern Africa Worrying about the ban on ivory trade. The objections continue,” says one analyst who sees the Earth Charter as having been hijacked by a gang of environmental lawyers who have riddled it with sub clauses and reservations.

Fundamental differences still exist between the north itself with the US blocking every decision that the European countries come up with. Further divisions exist between the north, which wants agreements on international environmental issues as opposed to the South’s view that development and local environmental problems are a priority for them.

At one preparatory meeting of UNCED, a representative from Jamaica summed up the position of developing countries when he said, ‘the root cause of all the south’s environmental problems is poverty, and yet no one has made mention of that. It is the single most important factor in the environmental degradation of Africa as well as the rest of the developing world.” ·

Developing countries fear that the Earth Summit will fall under the dominance of the industrialized countries who are determined to dictate to them how they should plan to integrate their development projects with the environment.

To try and safeguard against such an eventuality, developing countries have formed united fronts Determined by their geographical position so that their voices can be heard. A good example is the “African Common Position on Environment and Development”, a document that was drafted by representatives of African governments in Cote D’Ivoire in 1991.

The document, which was prepared with the UNCED conference in mind, focuses on “the need to evolve a common African position as its contribution to the major policy decisions which will be adopted by the Rio Earth Summit.”

Sustainable development is emphasized in the document. The major points:

– There should be national political commitment to ensure that development processes do not destroy the resource base on which future development will depend;

– Redefinition of national development priorities to alleviate constraints imposed by current international economic conditions and their debt burden.

In order to meet these goals, the document states that African countries must be prepared to face the challenges of having ·access to science, technology and know-bow as well as having the capacity to overcome the constraints imposed by the worsening terms of trade and debt.

The document bas been endorsed by all African governments represented in Cote D’Ivoire, including the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) countries, as the main African Position in Brazil.

One of the central issues under discussion is how much money the industrialized countries are prepared to put up as an incentive, and bow far they are prepared to allow the developing countries decisions on how to spend it.

The idea of a “Green Fund” to pay for cleaning up Third World environments has been suggested by developing countries, but the North refuses to contribute. They were angered by a suggestion made by Maurice Strong, the Secretary-General of UNCED, that the north contribute US$125 billion, while .failing to tell the South to accept a reciprocal obligation.

“Certain actions by the industrialized countries indicate, however, that developing countries will have problems being taken seriously in Rio.

At the fourth and final preparatory meeting held in New York, Britain refused to accept any follow-up to the UNCED programme that is not dominated by the G7 group of industrialized countries.

Britain led an opposition group from the industrialized countries which refused a proposal made by 40 developing countries for a sustainable development commission to monitor the performances of both the North and the South in implementing decisions that would have been arrived at in Brazil. For once, however, the industrialized countries might be forced to take their counterparts in the South more seriously because most of the endangered plant and animal species which they hope to protect are in the South.

President George Bush of the United States has given little support for the UNCED preparations and proposals.

‘‘The president puts short- term political survival ahead of long-term environmental survival,” noted Carole Collins, a Washington-based writer on various social issues.

Bush does not favour restricting corporate pollution because it might limit economic growth and risk US jobs – a position that the European Community (EC) has strongly criticised.

A more difficult argument is also taking place amongst these industrialized countries. They were expected to meet in Paris in mid-April to try to resolve their differences on the proposed treaty on climate change.

These countries are divided on bow to phrase a pledge to stabilize carbon-dioxide output. The US, which is being influenced by impending elections. Has been reluctant to commit itself to a firm date or target. The EC has agreed to a target but not how much a country should do to meet it.

Apart from the north-south divide and the wrangling between the industrialized countries, several other issues remain stumbling blocks to the successful conclusion of the earth summit.

Lack of interest by Japan in taking a leading role in Rio as many analysts had hoped in a major draw back. If Japan could have been persuaded to take on environmental leadership, then a total of between US$2 billion and US$5 billion would have been available over five years to help boost environmental programmes.

On top of all these problems are fears that Brazil has not made adequate preparations for the vast gathering of world leaders, while, on the other hand, the Brazilians complain that less than 60 countries have so far indicated that they will be attending.

Despite their differences, however, environmentalists from both North and South see UNCED as being of great importance. The environment continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate and a meeting must take place to come up with concrete plans of action before the earth is irreversibly damaged. (SARDC)

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