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World Sustainability Conference
In August, UN delegates from governments around the world will gather in Johannesburg, South Africa to review the successes and failures of the sustainable development agenda launched at the then celebrated Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
The official Summit agenda embraces four main issues: poverty eradication, eliminating unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, sustainable management of natural resources, and the need to make globalization work to promote sustainable development. The conference has certainly embraced language that implies they are prepared to address the issues of sustainability that are affecting individuals and communities worldwide.
However, in his recently released forward to WorldWatchs State of the World 2002 report, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan flatly stated that the promises governments made at Rio havent been kept and that business-as-usual has ruled the past ten years.
Friends of the Earth International reports that governments have shown reckless disregard for safeguarding the planet and its poorest inhabitants since Rio, noting that 1.2 billion people still lack access to clean drinking water, 35 percent of the worlds fisheries suffer from declining yields, and none of the European Union nations reporting (as of 1998) had approached their waste and materials reduction targets.
A key commitment in Rios Agenda included increasing aid from developed countries to developing countries. However, annual aid dropped rather than increased, from $69 billion in 1992 to $53 billion in 2000. Moreover, the Kyoto accord on carbon emissions that grew out of Rio has yet to be ratified by the U.S., despite being the worlds largest emitter of carbon dioxide and a growing scientific consensus confirming that climate change is now accelerating. The list goes on.
In light of this, a consensus is emerging among international NGOs, including Earth Island Institute, the World Sustainability Hearings Project, Citizens Network for Sustainable Development, Grassroots Globalization Network, Friends of the Earth International, Third World Network, and many others that progress toward a sustainable world has, in many instances, either halted or reversed due to corporate-led globalization.
As Martin Khor of the Third World Network observed: In the 1990s, the WTO overwrote the Rio accords. Its free trade agenda, which has also been supported by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, often ran counter to sustainable development. While the WTO and related institutions have had the funds and the detailed, enforceable rules to move their agenda forward, the UN plan was loosely drawn, under-funded, and did not include agreement on monitoring or compliance. The result: lots of words from Rio, but no progress towards a sustainable world.
In reaction to this sobering reality, NGOs and their civil society allies have called for an agreement on corporate accountability that could monitor and enforce adherence to world guidelines and help ensure progress toward sustainable development. Many remain concerned that this crisis in world governance is leaving most of the worlds people without effective representation in critical decision-making processes.
What has been lost in all the dialogue is the question how developmentsustainable or otherwisehas affected the lives of everyday people. Noticeably absent from the international conference circuit are the voices of people who live where development projects and the forces of globalization are felt most directly. Fisher folk in North America whose livelihoods are threatened by unfettered global markets, forest communities in South East Asia whose future is threatened by their governments rapid and destructive conversion of timber into hard currency, and farmers worldwide whose land has become the testing ground for agricultural biotechnologyall have first-hand experience with the promises and pitfalls of globalization and development. Also excluded from the official debate are the many communities that have found innovative, local solutions to ensure their economic, social, cultural, and ecological survival in the face of globalization.
In an effort to increase effective participation in global governance, the World Sustainability Hearings Project and more than 40 other civil society organizations have teamed up to provide a stage for their testimony to be heard at the Johannesburg summitthe World Sustainability Hearing.
Scheduled in a separate venue near the Summit, the hearing will feature day-long explorations of critical issues, including: a Day of Energy and Climate Justice; a Day of Oceans, Fisheries and Fisher Folk; a Day of Forests, Logging, and Timber-Dependent Communities; and a Day of Corporate Accountability and Global Governance, among others. The Hearing will yield both a video record of the testimonials and a series of position papers outlining a grassroots citizens assessment of critical sustainability and social justice issues that have been so poorly addressed by the UN over the past 10 years. The overall goals of the hearing are:
- To bring delegates face-to-face with the people enmeshed in the problems that need to be addressed
- To provide an independent, civil society accounting of what has and has not been done by governments and corporations over the last ten years
- To give views, from the ground level, of the state of the world
- To hear about international and local approaches that have worked, to identify problems and highlight solutions
Even when indigenous groups, environmentalists or other grassroots civil society representatives manage to wrestle their way into these global conferences, their effectiveness is often impeded by a lack of finances, logistical support, interpreters, and other assistance. Their voice is muted by their scramble for resources and their need to ride on the coattails of northern NGOs.
By contrast, the World Sustain- ability Hearing will provide a central organizing and coordinating site for amplifying the voice of people in a venue that encourages dialogue with UN delegates and major stakeholder groups, increases their accessibility to the media, and facilitates opportunities for strategizing and networking. By showcasing the vital reality of peoples everyday lives at the Summit, the Hearing will help decision makers fashion a binding implementation plan that moves all nations toward a just, sustainable planet. Z
Astrid Scholz and Kelly Jones are co-directors of the World Sustainability Hearings Project (www.wosh.org) and Aaron G. Lehmer is director of Grassroots Globalization Network (www. Earthisland.org/ggn).