The View from Johannesburg
How can grassroots environmental leaders hold global corporations accountable for their impacts on local communities and the natural world? How are Goldman Prize recipients continuing to win environmental victories and build a global environmental community?
We are pleased to announce daily updates from Dr. Nat Quansah, our on-the-ground correspondent at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa from Aug. 26 to Sept. 4. He will be posting daily reports from the summit on this Web site as he joins more than 100 presidents and prime ministers and thousands of government delegates, NGOs and business leaders, all seeking to set the course of sustainable development and environmental protection for the next decade and beyond.
Quansah, a botanist-philosopher who lives and works in Madagascar, is no stranger to sustainable development. Since 1994, he has operated a health clinic which treats illnesses using traditional remedies based on plants found in Madagascar's tropical rainforests, 75 percent of which has been destroyed by logging and development. Quansah's eloquence and experience has inspired many of his fellow country people to take up the cause of environmental protection. We hope you will join us for his daily dispatches from the floor of the Summit.
August 23, 2002
Four days before the official opening of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa: Efforts are being made to get things ready. Tents are being erected. Security is cordoning off the Convention Center.
Meanwhile, NGOs, community activists and individuals are taking part in various pre-summit workshops to position the WSSD as not another "all talk and little or no action" meeting.
Very few summit documents are available, thus making it a bit difficult for delegates to participate in the pre-summit workshops going on. Of course, the bulk of information is 'supposed' to be on the website (the famous www) but the question is, how many people have access to the Internet?
For all intents and purposes, people want to see sustainable development become a reality, not rhetoric. Goldman Environmental Prize recipients have participated mainly in the groundWork 'People's Action For Corporate Accountability' workshop, held in the Protea Balalaika Hotel. Ten years after Rio, many governments and corporations have not lived up to expectations that they be responsible and accountable for their actions.
Double standards seem to be the norm. Corporations are doing things differently in the developing world, as opposed to the developed world. Example: dumping toxic waste that they dare not dump in the developed world into the ground and waters of the developing world. Sometimes this happens with the government's consent, but this isn't always the case. Often the corporations get away with toxic dumping because governments and people in the developing world are misinformed or have no access to the right information.
Better not to inform, than to misinform. Better not to be informed, than to be misinformed. Because knowledge based on misinformation leads to misunderstanding, which often leads to confusion, chaos, and conflict.
Prevention is better than a cure. Sustainable development means not transferring unsustainable technologies and industries to the developing world, after they have already proven to damage the environment in developed countries.
Even as we are calling governments and corporations to be accountable to environmental and safety standards, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it's individuals who make up governments and corporations. It is incumbent on us all, as individuals -- whether we are in league with government or corporations or not -- to be responsible and accountable to the natural world and the welfare of our fellow human beings in all our dealings.
August 24, 2002
Yesterday, Goldman Prize winners attending the WSSD gathered to consider a collective response and to voice our concerns around the WSSD process. The absence of some of the Prize recipients at the event-due to travel difficulties-did not deter the 15 of us who met at the Protea Conference Hall, Balalaika Sandton. The meeting was also an opportunity for Prize recipients from throughout the world to put faces to names that have been known only through correspondence.
Under the guidance of Bobby Peek, 1998 Goldman Prize recipient, we agreed to revitalize the Goldman Environmental Prize Recipients Council that was set up during the Prize Recipients Reunion in Berkeley, California in 2000. We also discussed the need to develop a Prize recipients' statement on world developments at the WSSD. A draft statement is in circulation and, in the spirit of democracy, is awaiting input from the other prize recipients who are expected to arrive in Johannesburg shortly. We expect to finalize and release the statement shortly.
Earlier in the day, prize recipients participated in workshops as part of the Corporate Accountability Week organized by groundWork, the South African environmental justice organization. Fatima Jibrell, 2002 Goldman Prize recipient, explained how Somali warlords are able to operate because they are financed by-and at times owned by-foreign corporations who use the warlords to protect their corporate interests including illegal and over-fishing, and dumping of toxic and other waste in Somali waters. She then called on participants and the rest of the world community to truly and honestly come to the aid of Somalia. She hoped and wished to see the day when Somalia is a peaceful country with a democratically elected government.
During my presentation, I drew participants' attention to the need and importance of "fairness"-as opposed to the much talked about but hardly realized "equality"-if there is going to be any chance of attaining sustainable development.
Some recipients participated in the "Stop ISCOR Pollution" demonstration at the Hilton Hotel in solidarity with the people of the "Steel Valley" who are affected by pollutants from ISCOR's Vanderbijl Park Steel Works, 70 kilometers south of Johannesburg. According to the Steel Valley Crisis Committee, ISCOR has been polluting the land, water and air for the past 40 years. In 1997, the contaminated area was declared unfit for human habitation, yet ISCOR ignored its own experts' advice to clean up and stop polluting.
The Steel Valley case is one of the many instances of corporate irresponsibility hampering sustainable development. It is a clear example of why we are calling for corporate and government accountability.
August 25, 2002
The official summit program has finally been released. More and more people have arrived in Johannesburg for the WSSD and transportation logistics for moving to and from the various summit activity sites have been great.
Some Goldman Prize recipients attended and participated in a teach-in at the University of Witwatersrand on good governance, corporate accountability, and the path from Rio ten years ago to Johannesburg today.
Speakers gave in-depth presentations on the policies and governing bodies that have guided international sustainable development efforts since the Rio summit -- from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to the WTO to the more recent New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), a plan conceived and developed by African leaders to place Africa on the path to sustainable growth.
Speakers and audience members alike spoke passionately about the impact of these international agreements. From the watering down of the Kyoto protocol to biopiracy and the patenting of life, the environment has been left in the hands of corporations. This has resulted in environmental disasters and a staggering loss of livelihoods and exposed the fallacy of neo-liberal economic growth and the commodification of development. Meanwhile, history has shown that the precautionary principle adopted in Rio has not been observed.
Delegates spoke of the need for local communities to win back their governments from corporate warlords and to engage them in their own new visions of "ground-up" development tailored to meet their needs.
Bruno Van Peteghem, who was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2001 for his efforts to protect New Caledonia's coral reef from nickel mining, has captured the attention of many of us here for speaking eloquently on the importance of ethics as a pre-requisite for sustainable development if it is to succeed. He has suggested setting up an International Ethics Commission under the auspices of the United Nations. He hopes to present this idea to the delegates at the WSSD.
At the end of the day, Goldman recipients attending the teach-in found themselves inadvertently caught-up in a demonstration by some South Africans protesting land evictions in Durban. The protesters were demanding that the South African government deliver on its promise for a better quality of life for all -- not just for the elite. Many communities still suffer from lack of clean drinking water and sanitation. Schools are either too expensive or substandard. Land ownership is out of reach for most people, a major roadblock for development efforts.
The summit hasn't been all work. The World Wildlife Fund treated us to a live concert, "SOS," or "Save Our Planet." Held at the Johannesburg Stadium, the concert featured dynamic performances by internationally renowned artists, including Mendoza, Lucky Dube, Salifu Keita and Remi Kuti.
August 27, 2002
Forestry experts from around the world gathered at Mears Hall at the St. Stithians College for the World Sustainability Hearings Day of Forests, Indigenous and Other Forest-dependent Peoples.
Serving on the panel was 1999 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Samuel Nguiffo, a lawyer by training who has devoted himself to stopping the destruction of Central Africa's tropical rainforest by foreign developers. Alexander Peal, a 2000 Goldman Prize winner who has led efforts to protect Liberia's forest and wildlife since the mid-1970s, and I served as witnesses.
Many of us deplored the absence of real, meaningful participation by indigenous and other forest-dwelling peoples in forest policy decision-making, which was seen as unfair, unjust and undemocratic. Their lack of representation at the table has led to policies that have severely damaged their livelihood.
After discussing the issue, participants agreed on and called for a change from the status quo to having a democratic process leading to, and arriving at, Forest Policy Decision-Making whereby indigenous and other forest-dependent peoples are full participants. This is because they are the ones who are most directly affected by any decision and, as was repeatedly noted, "in any case, they are the rightful owners of these forest lands."
Alexander Peal, who organized the creation of Liberia's first and only national park, explained how illegal logging was destroying the forests in his homeland. This has resulted in the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of livelihood by the forest-dependent peoples, who are now mired in poverty.
I drew participants' attention to how consumption patterns and globalization are impacting forests and forest-dwelling peoples. Greed and waste are becoming the norm in consumption patterns as globalization places monetary value on every resource. I lamented the fact that a natural resource (biodiversity) only becomes "important" when it has an economic, monetary value placed on it by an individual or institution outside the region where that resource is found -- irrespective of how local people view that resource. It is time that attitudes change. Values accorded to forests by forest-dwelling peoples must be respected not only in words and on paper, but backed by action.
Citing the case of Cameroon, Samuel Nguiffo explained how policies and projects of international financial institutions negatively impact not only forests and forest-dwelling peoples but also their states. These impacts are seen and felt at the socio-economic level.
Nguiffo described how countries' burdens of debt increase, leading to crushing poverty when they are given loans to finance projects that create "protected" areas off-limits to forest-dwelling peoples who depend on forest resources to survive. At the same time, these projects liberalize access to these same resources by corporations for profit.
Dr. Jane Goodall, renowned chimpanzee expert and a United Nations Messenger of Peace, reminded all the participants of our reason for being here in Johannesburg when she made a speech calling for respect for all Nature.
Meanwhile, other Goldman Prize winners were busy at other sessions. 2001 Goldman Prize winner Bruno Van Peteghem met a number of people, including David Waskow, policy analyst for Friends of the Earth, Michael D. Madnick, vice president for Resource Mobilization at the UN Foundation, and Brooks B. Yeager, vice president for Global Threats Program at the World Wildlife Fund, to present the case for the need to help save the Corals and the Marine habitats of New Caledonia.
According to Van Peteghem, the World Bank is in partnership with INCO Ltd. which has a agreement with the French government to exploit the marine resources of New Caledonia. However, this meeting -- despite the fact that these people now know of the situation on the ground -- may not lead them to take any positive steps to avert the crisis.
Anna Maria Giordano, an ornithologist who was awarded the Goldman Prize in 1998 for leading a successful campaign to protect delicate bird species from poachers in the straits of Messina, and Laila Iskandar Kamel, a 1994 Goldman Prize winner who introduced innovative social and environmental projects to garbage collectors on the outskirts of Cairo, spent the day at Nasrec. They both faced a long line to enter the summit hall after the requirement for a special pass was waived.
The plenary session at the summit discussed sustainable agriculture. NGOs in attendance agreed that governments have been more candid about abuses in agriculture than about any other development discussed in similar sessions thus far. Agricultural subsidies to farmers in the north and the resulting indebtedness of developing countries are enough evidence that trade liberalization is an untenable situation. WTO rules have to be revamped. Kamel took part in GAIA's session on alternatives to waste incineration. She then attended the Arab caucus which will wrap up the summit's daily proceedings at 5 p.m. at the Ford Foundation Hall in Nasrec. The Arab caucus will present Fatima Jibrell's petition to have Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates place a moratorium on buying charcoal from Somalia.
Jibrell, a 2002 Goldman Prize winner, heads the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Organization, which organizes across clans and regions in her native Somalia to lead women and their families in promoting environmental protection and peace. Jibrell scored a major victory when she secured a ban on the export of charcoal in northeast Somalia. Before the ban, massive logging was ravaging Puntland's acacia trees to produce charcoal for export to the Gulf States. The caucus reported that the "charcoal wars" have been raised among the Arab delegates and is on their agenda.
August 28, 2002
The day started rather early for Samuel Nguiffo, Anna Maria Giordano and Laila Iskandar Kamel with a breakfast hosted by the Heinrich Boll Foundation at their offices in Johannesburg. United National Environment Programme Director Klaus Topfer was the guest of honor, followed by the German minister of foreign affairs and Maria Ivanova from the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, who co-edits Global Environmental Governance -- Options and Opportunities.
Bruno Van Peteghem attended the World Sustainability Hearing as a witness and exposed the New Caledonia story. The importance and need to have an International Bureau of Ethic and its International Ethic Control Bureau is seen as an answer to these corporate actions.
August 29, 2002
A Common Threat
Today, Samuel Nguiffo spoke on a panel organized by the San Francisco-based International Forum for Globalization. The panel discussed how globalization has affected forest management in Central Africa and devastated forests and the lives of people who have built communities in that region.
Other panelists talked about similar, negative trends that have razed Latin America's forests and depleted South Africa's fisheries. Prize recipients' discussions have brought to light the commonalities in our stories: the power of big companies and their collusion with politicians to destroy people's livelihood and the environment.
A Disagreement about Forest Management in the Congo Basin
Nguiffo met with Michael Brune of the Rainforest Action Network and Jeffrey Burnam, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for the environment, about the proposed multi-donor Congo Basin Initiative.
Burnam believes it will be possible to improve forest management in that region by partnering with the same individuals who were involved in forest management in Central Africa and by increasing the funding base for the initiative. This strategy will also inspire better compliance with policy objectives than in the past, he said. Secretary of State Colin Powell will announce the initiative next week as one of the U.S.'s achievements in global environmental policy.
Nguiffo disagrees with how the initiative is being handled. "It is a model of a top-down initiative and not grounded on the lessons of past failures," he said. "It lacks local partners except the state and the content has not been discussed in the region where the initiative is going to be installed."
Other Notable Developments
At the OilWatch International meeting, the government of Costa Rica announced a moratorium on oil explorations in the country.
Laila Iskander Kamel, Anna Maria Giordano, and Nguiffo had a breakfast meeting with representatives from the Heinrich Boll Foundation, German officials, the director of the United Nations Environmental Programme, and 10 other delegates. Discussions centered on the issue of global environmental governance. A book from a Yale University project on this topic was presented at the meeting following the project's official launch the day before.
From the discussions, it looks like we are still a long way from attaining sound global environmental governance. The rule of law and the capacity to enforce the law by sanctioning those who refuse to play by the rules are the basic steps we have to take to ensure that corporations will not rule the world. It appears that an agreement on global environmental governance will be difficult to reach at the WSSD.
Bruno Van Peteghem's quest to get an International Bureau of Ethics that would monitor the activities of multinational companies off the ground continues. Presentations have been made to a number of European Union delegates.
A Trip Through South African History
Prize recipients visited the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto, a museum honoring children slain by apartheid police in the 1976 Soweto student uprising and named for the 12-year-old boy who was one of the first of 500 protesters killed. The visit made us reflect on how disrespect for, and the belittling of, other human beings, their traditions and cultures can result in devastating negative effects on people and their environments.
Current global trends seem to be heading in Soweto's direction. But I believe it is possible to avert a crisis. All of us--as individuals, civil society, governments, corporations, NGO's--must recognize that human beings are part of nature, respect nature and other peoples as well as the diversity of traditions and cultures. We must be responsible in our dealings with nature and with each other. We must work with the other components of nature and not against them. This is the surest way to successfully attain sustainable development worldwide.
August 30, 2002
Protecting Our Children's Future
Some Prize recipients left today to attend to other issues at their work places. Those of us remaining have been busy chasing country delegates, UN representatives, NGO representatives as well as members of the news media to engage them in discussions and/or present petitions to them.
With the Sandton Convention Center now accessible without a secondary pass, Bruno Van Peteghem, his wife Junko and I participated in an interactive panel discussion side event organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) in ballroom 3 at the Convention Center on the theme "Health and Environment in the 21st Century: Priorities and Action Strategies to Secure our Children's Future."
The event was under the guidance of Hon. David Anderson, Canada's minister of the environment, who was also a speaker. The other speakers were Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of WHO, Mrs. Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, Mr. Klaus Topfer, executive director of UNEP, Mr. Ian Johnson, vice president of Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development, World Bank, Dr. Carlos Santos Burgoa, general director of Environmental Health, Ministry of Health, Mexico, Ms. Linda J. Fisher, deputy administrator of the United States Environment Protection Agency, Dr. Robert K. Musil, executive director and CEO of PSR, and a representative from the South African Ministry of Health.
All speakers agreed in their talks to the linkages between health and environment and emphasized the need to ensure healthy environments for the survival of children. Brundtland reminded participants of the importance of health, while Bellamy called for the need to invest in children. Topfer pointed out that about 80 percent of environmental problems are health-related. Johnson called for the need to build a strong advocacy platform for health and environment.
The representative from the South African Ministry of Health asked, how we undertake development without damaging the environment. Water, she noted, is the most important natural resource; therefore, the need to make safe water available to all has to be a priority. Anderson noted that policies need to be moved forward and that creating partnerships and coordinating efforts is the way to accomplish this. He called for an "integrated approach" to health and environmental issues.
Without health, there will be no sustainable development, noted Santos Burgoa, and so poverty eradication must be a priority as poverty impacts on people's health. Fisher put much emphasis on the US's partnership drives in tackling both local and international health and environmental problems. NGOs are the voices of the people and are instrumental in getting policies implemented, noted Musil.
Contributions from the audience included a children's petition presented by two children from Nigeria. This reminded all of us of the importance of allowing youth to be treated as our peers. We should, and often do, listen to them more than to adults on certain issues.
Other contributions included the question of persistent organic pollutants that are contaminating food, and the need to provide financial assistance to "poor countries" in the quest to address health and environmental issues.
Sustaining the World's Waste Collectors
At a breakfast meeting organized by the International Labor Organization (ILO), Laila Iskander Kamel talked to Juan Somavia about the plight of Cairo's garbage collectors and the threat to their livelihood due to the possible take-over of garbage collection in Egypt by multinationals. The ILO will produce a document about decent work, an entire chapter of which will be dedicated to the work of waste pickers worldwide.
The Egyptian press, as witnesses at the Ford Foundation event at Liberty theatre, had reported on the contributions of the garbage collectors. Their presentation rankled Egyptian officials at Sandton. Hours of talking to all the stakeholders, however, led to an agreement modifying the work of multinationals to accommodate the 40,000 collectors. There remains a lot of work to be done in Cairo.
Hunger in the Balance
I participated in a taping of the TV talk show on food and sustainable development, "Down To Earth." Panelists and audience members passionately discussed hunger, genetically modified organisms, land to the landless, farmers' rights and agricultural subsidies. As much as natural occurrences like drought and flood negatively impact food production, we acknowledged that a major contributing factor to hunger is unfair distribution of food due to unjust systems and mechanisms.
Panel and audience members alike were divided as to whether genetically modified food is the solution to the world's--particularly Africa's--food crisis. The landless, we agreed, must be given land to farm, and nations must privilege food production to feed its own people first before producing for export.
I drew attention to the fact that the food crisis is also the result of disrespect for other peoples' cultures and traditions in terms of the food they eat. This is because of the misperception that if people from developing countries don't eat the types of food that citizens of the developed world eat, it must follow that they haven't properly eaten and must be hungry.
This disrespect is reflected in some of the developed world's efforts, via globalization, to make everybody eat the same food worldwide. Is this due to ignorance or to a deliberate strategy motivated by an economic motive? Whatever the case may be, we must respect the world's diversity and allow people to produce and eat what they have. Of course, help may be needed but help from outside must complement what exists indigenously.
The panel and audience members agreed that developed nations must stop subsidizing their farmers and open up their markets to the developing world's agricultural produce as an important step to alleviating world hunger. We must recognize that having food to eat is a right. Allowing people to go hungry in a world where others have more than they can eat is immoral, a crime.
August 31, 2002
Reflections at the Water Dome
"...We have concluded that water can make an immense difference to Africa's development if it is managed well and used wisely. Given clear policies and strategies and real commitments to implementation, we can use water to help eradicate poverty, reduce water-related diseases, and achieve sustainable development in Africa...."
The above is the final draft of the Accra Declaration on Water and Sustainable Development by the Africa Water Task Force (AWTF) for the WSSD. I came across this in a pamphlet when I visited the Water Dome, an official parallel event of the UN Earth Summit specifically dedicated to water issues.
Yes, water is vital to the existence of all. At the Water Dome, I came to realize the sheer number of organizations, institutions and partnering nations undertaking diverse water-centered activities to provide safe water to humans and save water-dwelling organisms worldwide. But are these efforts really doing what they claim, or is it just talk and no action?
I'm asking this because more than one billion people are without safe drinking water and twice that number lack adequate sanitation, according to the AWTF. This, I believe, is the result of destructive activities like the mining of coral reefs, the dumping of toxic wastes in rivers, lakes and the oceans, and the draining and filling up of wetlands by multinational corporations in partnership with national governments and governmental institutions. Treaties are not respected; non-compliance is the norm. Numbers do not matter much. What matters is the effectiveness of actions designed to alleviate situations on the ground. Actions speak louder than words.
As I sat at the International Coral Reef Initiative stand pondering what we must do to protect nature's beautiful gifts from being pillaged by the greedy, a group of children walked past. They were pupils from the Hlabelela Public School in South Africa. How sad would it be if these and other children elsewhere, as well as those yet to be born, are not able to enjoy these gifts. I managed to talk to some of these pupils. It was heartening to know that these children are eager to learn. Some of them told me, "We want to learn so that we can teach our friends."
Corporate Accountability and the Banana Wars
As a witness at the world sustainability hearing on democratic governance and corporate responsibility, 1994 Goldman Prize winner Andrew Simmons drew the forum's attention to the plight of banana farmers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a result of the WTO ruling that gives preferential marketing for their bananas in Europe.
Simmons asked the following questions during his presentation: "Where is the sense of responsibility of corporations to community? Do they have any moral and ethical values?"
He lamented the fact that corporations are usually supported by national governments and international institutions such as the WTO, IMF and the World Bank.
"Where is the level playing field for all in this?" Simmons demanded. "Or is this a situation where a 'powerful nation' just picks upon a 'weak' nation as a means of gaining competitive advantage?" "There is nothing democratic," he concluded, "about the banana wars."
Simmons, who led a successful community effort to protect one of the world's oldest forest reserves in the Eastern Caribbean from logging, and who now develops youth empowerment and environmental campaigns around the world, also highlighted the impact and consequences of HIV/AIDS on young people in Africa and the Caribbean, and strategies they have employed to "fight back."
Simmons cited the case of Freddie from Zambia, who is unemployed, and ostracized by his community because he is HIV positive. Freddie does not have the means to purchase medicine that can prolong his life. He has lost his only child, who contracted the AIDS virus at birth from its parents.
"Should this continue to take place when drugs are available to stop such acts from occurring?" Simmons asked rhetorically. He took the opportunity to call on nations and institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank and corporations worldwide to implement positive and democratic actions now.
Responding to a Water Crisis in India
Goldman Prize recipients have been following the struggle of the Adivasis, an indigenous tribal people who live in India's Narmada forest valley, for better treatment from the state in response to rising water levels that have flooded their homes and villages. Prize recipients sent a petition to the chief minister of Maharashtra urging him to intervene by preventing further rising water levels in the Narmada Valley. In the letter, we cited the banner of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, which protects the Adivasis' land rights, and distributed copies of the petition to media outlets and delegates at the WSSD in Johannesburg.
September 1, 2002
When the Government Breaks the Law
Speaking at the World Sustainability Hearings at St. Stithians College as a witness, Goldman Prize winner Anna Maria Giordano drew attention to the poaching of endangered and delicate birds on the Straits of Messina.
She described the absolute lack of respect for the law in a democratic country like Italy. Using her experiences on other issues, she explained how the first culprit to flout the law is often the government, especially local and regional governments. "In the context of respect for the environment, the trend seems to be that we are heading in a backwards direction," Giordano said.
An Impromptu Conversation
On a shuttle transporting Laila Iskander Kamel, Madeleine Bollinger of the Swiss Coalition of Development Organizations and me from the Water Dome to Sandton Convention Center, we struck up a conversation with a UN Development Programme official who wishes to remain anonymous.
We asked him what his impressions are of the WSSD thus far, and whether heads of state and governments returning from the WSSD with commitments would truly work to achieve sustainable development.
He responded, "While we're talking about the need to seriously look at vital world issues like poverty alleviation and eradication, which are real threats to sustainable development, some states will still want to maintain the status quo. There are tough choices to be made. Let's hope it doesn't end up in a disaster."
Hmm! I hope our government leaders take note of the following: There is no right way to do the wrong thing but there could be a wrong way to do a right thing. Be careful, therefore, not to do the right thing the wrong way as that will impact negatively on humanity and our environment in the same way as if you did the wrong thing.
Merging Human Rights and the Environment
Other highlights from today: Hon. Mary Robinson, the UN high commissioner for human rights, gave a rousing keynote address at a workshop at NASREC designed to provide participants with the information, tools and resources that will enable them to use human rights principles and mechanisms to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. Robinson called on activists from the human rights and environmental movements to work together.
A visit to Ubuntu Village revealed the beauty in South Africa's diversity. Ubuntu, from what I understand, means togetherness. An array of cultural and traditional art, crafts, and clothes, were on display. Artists performed dances and theatre pieces for numerous people from all walks of life who flocked to the place amid sustainable development exhibits hosted by state and private institutions as well as non-governmental organizations around the world.
The world will surely be a better place if we recognized and respected diversity.
The Dark Truth About Light
The sustainability of current practices involving energy came under scrutiny during the filming of the TV talk show "Down to Earth" at the Water Dome. Bobby Peek, a South African grassroots activist awarded the Goldman Prize in 1998 for organizing multiple campaigns against toxic and nuclear contamination, sat on the show's panel. Andrew Simmons participated from the audience.
The show spotlighted the plight of Soweto's poor who are unable pay for energy as a result of corporate and governmental failure to tap appropriate energy sources.
Participants called for:
1) Activities that raise awareness of the importance of energy and the need to develop renewable and appropriate energy sources;
2) The development of standards to monitor and control the activities of energy corporations;
3) Coalitions of local communities, governments and corporations working together to develop strategies capable of resolving the problem of energy provision and the use and financing of renewable energy technologies to meet the needs of the poor;
4) Governments to not allow corporations to dictate the outcome of the WSSD summit by enforcing corporate responsibility and ensuring that the summit achieves its proposed objective--sustainable development.
Civil Society Shutout Again
It appears that the WSSD will end on the same note as it began: minimum participation by civil society. The access pass system will be reintroduced during the heads of state/government segment of the summit from Sept. 2- 4. We are told that the reintroduction of the secondary and tertiary passes, which are necessary to access the SSC Building and the Plenary Hall Balcony respectively, is, "due to the tremendous concern over safety and security problems related to the overcrowding in the building."
Well! Let's hope that disaster will be avoided (as indicated by the anonymous UNDP official) and that our political leaders will weather the storm, rise to the occasion and come up with decisions that will have positive impacts for us all. Please, do not disappoint us.
The day ended with Prize recipients gathering for a barbecue at one of two guest houses where we are staying for the duration of the WSSD. The meal rekindled our spirits and allowed us to say farewell to some of our colleagues who are leaving before the end of the summit.
September 2, 2002
Inside the Summit of World Leaders
Most of us could not access the SCC building, let alone the Plenary Hall, in person. Andrew Simmons, however, was able to enter the plenary. The following is Simmon's observation as to what happened:
"Today was one of the most amazing days of my entire life, a day that gives me hope that good will prevail over evil and sustainable development is possible. I regained my composure and confidence after over 25 years of toiling in the trenches fighting poverty and unsustainable development practices. Many a time, when the burden had become too heavy and unbearable, I felt like giving up. Sometimes, I felt like quitting from the struggle. But today, although the head of the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America, was not at the summit, leaders worked assiduously to hammer out an action plan on sustainable development. The energy in the summit was very high and positive and electrifying. There was urgency from governments to regain control of the agenda from being hijacked by corporations. Governments were determined to get on with the people's business."
Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, set the stage in his opening presentation. He reminded member governments and leaders that one thing should be of concern to them and that is their responsibility to each other and the plight of the poor.
"Democracy will not be achieved until we address issues relating to the plight of the poor," he said. Other presenters included Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, and Han Seung-soo, president of the 56th session of the General Assembly.
A group of children accused leaders of not listening to children and said they should be punished for committing crimes against humanity. The children challenged world leaders to take action to accomplish the goals of the summit. Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, supported the views of the children and called for the setting up of a humanitarian fund to cover the cost of implementing sustainable development.
Andres Fogh Rasmussen, president of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted that eradicating poverty should be done through sustainable development practices and access to the markets of developed countries by developing nations. The strategy should be based on the following:
-- Provision of free trade and market access to all countries of the world.
-- Increase in development aid to meet agreed targets.
-- Commitment to eliminate HIV/AIDS.
-- Increase in education and links to livelihood development.
-- Financing of priority areas such as good governance, building of strong democratic institutions and sustainable use of natural resources.
-- Ratification of the Kyoto agreement.
-- Clean water and sanitation to all villages (to reduce diseases).
-- Investment in economic growth and technologies.
Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schroder, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, and other leaders who spoke on Monday echoed the need to ratify the Kyoto declaration on climate change and supported similar strategies to the ones listed above to assist sustainable development worldwide.
Blair was frank in his statements. He said that leaders knew the problems and the solutions but often lacked the political will to take action. Leaders from both the developed and the developing countries emphasized the need to eradicate poverty as a means to achieve sustainable development.
There was one heated moment in the plenary when Robert Mugabe, prime minister of Zimbabwe, responded to charges from Blair and the British press that Mugabe violated the human rights of white farmers by taking away their land and giving it to black farmers. "The poor should not be at anyone's mercy but should be able to define their own future," Mugabe said.
A Statement from Goldman Environmental Prize Recipients
The Goldman Prize recipients' statement urging governments to protect people and the world's resources from corporate pillaging was distributed. We had a meeting with Byron Blake and representatives from CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Secretariat to discuss the statement and to look at progress made on implementing the plan of action of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 1994. The Secretariat has 13 member countries in the Caribbean. CARICOM officials were pleased with the statement and agreed to include the issues in their position statement.
Similar meetings to discuss and rally support for the Goldman Prize recipients' statement were held with Raj Mohabeer, charge de mission, of the Indian Ocean Commission (five countries are members of this commission), as well as with Iosefa Maiava, deputy secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum and the OASIS Secretariat. Mohabeer agreed to incorporate the statement into their position paper for the summit. Majava also responded positively.
The statement was again discussed when Andrew Simmons accompanied Hon. Don McKinnon, secretary general of the Commonwealth Secretariat (54 member countries), to meet with Professor Wiseman Nkhulu and his team from the NEPAD Secretariat to discuss how the Commonwealth Secretariat could assist the development of their corporate and sustainable development structures and operation. NEPAD has a membership of 43 countries in Africa. NEPAD's aim is to ensure sustainable development on the African continent. Both Secretariats were supportive of the prize recipients' innovative work.
After today, hopes are high and expectations for some positive outcomes from the summit have risen. The stage is set. We hope that leaders will finally agree on the items in the sustainable development action plan. Let's hope Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2002 marks their confirmation of the plan and that the WSSD closes on this positive note: We commit to move from words to actions to achieve sustainable development worldwide.
September 3, 2002
Ed. note: Nat Quansah has left the Summit for home. Today's report was written by 1994 Goldman Prize Winner Andrew Simmons.
Inside the UN Summit on Sustainable Development
Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, hailed the World Summit on Sustainable Development a success at the end of the second day of deliberations among government leaders.
Natan Dasi, convener of the meeting, also supported this view. He said that while governments were able to develop a conceptual framework for sustainable development at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, absent was any specific timeframe and commitment of resources to implement the plan. He feels that the Johannesburg summit is much more positive. A specific timeframe for implementation will be approved on Wednesday, Sept. 4, supported by a provision of resources for implementing the action plan.
A Critical View of the Summit
At their closing ceremony of the People's Summit on Tuesday, Sept. 2, the organizer said that the summit was a failure because civil society and governments did not take up their responsibility to ensure the implementation and monitoring of the Rio declaration and called on key stakeholders to institute measures to follow-up on outcomes from the Johannesburg and Monterey declarations.
Antonio Hill of Oxfam said that the current "so-called action plan" was a grave disappointment overall because of the summit's failure to come up with anything substantial. Observers say that although there is a commitment to increase overseas development aid on top of the aid committed at Rio, so far developed countries have made no real commitment to new funding. Ted Van Hess of Eurodad said that the big losers in all of this will be people living in poverty. He added that the language in the document is "pre-authorized and even pre-Rio."
The Human Rights Controversy
Women's groups picketed the summit on Tuesday to ensure that article 47 of agenda 2--declaring health access as a fundamental human right--is not cut from the summit agenda. The groups proposed an amendment to the articles "consistent with national laws and culture and religious values and in conformity with human rights and fundamental freedoms."
The issue of human rights is creating major concerns for negotiators. The European Union (EU) is supportive of a strong human rights component, whereas the US and Group of 77 are opposed to any commitment to human rights within the WSSD political declaration and implementation plan. The Group of 77 is concerned that human rights be coupled with the right to development, whereas theUS appears to oppose both the human rights agenda and development as a right. The Group of 77 fears that human rights issues can be used as a tool to allow rich states to impose strict rules on developing states.
A Nelson Mandela for the Globalization Age?
The atmosphere within the summit is confusing and at times annoying. It is an extremely difficult period for negotiators. The American delegation at the summit stalled the process.
Case in point: Although negotiators felt that the text regarding globalization and trade issues had already been watered down, it was sent to Washington D.C., for President Bush's approval. Negotiators from the EU expressed disappointment and accused the Americans of holding up the negotiation process just when poor countries had made significant concessions.
Although it is too early to substantiate this claim, it is rumored that developing countries have dropped their insistence on a deadline for the elimination of market- distorting subsidies in rich countries. instead, they compromised on "vague wording" and referred the issue to the Doha trade talks.
Listening to the quality of the presentations, I got the impression that the majority of leaders from developing countries are ill-prepared for the summit and the critical role they should play to create positive change for the future. The prime minister of Fiji, speaking on behalf of OASIS and Island Nations of the Pacific and the Caribbean, insisted that the summit needs a Nelson Mandela to provide leadership to bring the different stakeholders together to create positive change for the world.
An Inspiring Talk by President Vincente Fox
The most positive presentation on Tuesday was from President Fox of Mexico. Many thanks to the Goldman family and my colleagues for teaching him the wonderful lesson of humility, respect and care for the environment. His presentation to the summit was stunning and a reflection of his transformation. He was jubilant that Mexico was the first country in the Americas to ratify the Kyoto protocol. He added that one should not pursue economic development at the expense of degrading the planet. "Sustainable development is a human right and a fundamental freedom," Fox said.
During the afternoon session, I attended a consultation on "Financing for Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean from Monterrey to Johannesburg," chaired by Fox. Other distinguished scholars and development practitioners from the region participated, including Enrique Garcia, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and executive president of the Andes Development Corporation. The consultation led to agreement on strategies for bridging the poverty gap and enhancing growth through trade and sustainable development practices.
Views on the final outcomes of the summit will differ depending on the perspective of the individual's, group's, or stakeholder's geo-political interest and orientation. I am hoping that our many differences will be resolved overnight and that leaders will present an action and implementation plan on Wednesday that the majority of us can be proud of and commit ourselves to supporting.