Summit Adopts Action Plan Wrapped in Controversy

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - The 10 day United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development concluded today with commitments by governments and the private sector to improve the lives of people living in poverty and to reverse the degradation of the global environment. But young people and environmental NGOs expressed disappointment and anger that some wealthy nations and industries did not allow greater progress on the road to sustainable development.


South African President Thabo Mbeki (center) is applauded in the summit's final moments(Photos courtesy IISD-ENB-Leila Mead)
"Governments have agreed here on an impressive range of concrete commitments and action that will make a real difference for people in all regions of the world," said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a closing press conference.

The major outcome document, the Plan of Implementation, contains targets and timetables to spur action on a wide range of issues, including halving the proportion of people who lack access to clean water or proper sanitation by 2015, to restoring depleted fisheries to the preserving biodiversity by 2015, and phasing out of toxic chemicals by 2005.

For the first time countries adopted commitments toward increasing the use of renewable energy "with a sense of urgency," although a renewable energy target introduced by Denmark on behalf of the European Union and the Like Minded Group of Countries, and supported by many others, was not adopted.


United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the summit
More than 220 partnerships, representing $235 million in resources, by and between governments, citizen groups and businesses were identified during the summit process to complement the government commitments, and many more were announced outside of the formal summit proceedings, Annan said.

"This summit will put us on a path that reduces poverty while protecting the environment, a path that works for all peoples, rich and poor, today and tomorrow," the Secretary-General said.

Green Cross International President Mikhail Gorbachev was joined by other Nobel Peace Laureates in calling upon the world's political, business, and civil society leaders to rapidly take action to stem the earth's environmental degradation and place the whole of humanity on the path to sustainable development.

"A gathering of the world's leaders to combat the earth's growing environmental and economic development problems is an opportunity for action that must not be squandered," said Gorbachev, former head of the Soviet Union. "If we fail to act decisively and strongly, we will be judged harshly by future generations. We should win the battle for the planet."

Gorbachev released the "Johannesburg Declaration" with fellow Nobel Laureates and mayors from across the planet representing millions of citizens. The Declaration calls on summit participants to take swift and resolute action in the areas of water, energy, and the acceptance of a new code of ethics for sustainable development.

Given the lack of commitments, targets, and timetables in the WSSD plan of implementation, the signatories of the Johannesburg Declaration hope that governments, business, and civil society will not shirk their responsibility to set the world firmly on the path to a sustainable future.

Young people assembled in Johannesburg said they were angered and disappointed at the summit's "meagre results."


Girl pauses in her performance at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
In a statement today, the International Union of Students, the International Youth and Student Movement for the UN, and the South African Youth Council said the young people "entered this process with hope and optimism" but emerged "disappointed and angered that the rich and powerful have blocked the road to sustainable development and generated meagre results from this summit."

"We are troubled by the efforts of governments of the north to gut Agenda 21and to co-operate with and even encourage an unprecedented corporate invasion of democratic, multilateral, and cooperative processes," the young people said. "We are outraged by one government in particular, the U.S., and its attempts to undermine and sabotage agreements at this summit."

“The Bush administration is the biggest obstacle to the success of the World Summit on Sustainable Development,” said Leslie Fields, director of International Programs for Friends of the Earth US, following the speech of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the plenary session of world leaders.

Powell was booed and jeered at today when he defended genetically modified food aid to starving countries of southern Africa, and again when he said that the United States is committed to combatting global warming.


Representing women, author and physicist Vandana Shiva of India calls for positive action from governments.
Comparing the outcomes of the Johannesburg summmit to those of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Philip Clapp, president of the Washington, DC based National Environmental Trust said, “Worst of all, on climate change it’s a huge step backward. The Bush administration formed its own axis with Venezuela and OPEC nations – its own axis of oil.”

Clapp contends that the Bush administration aggressively held out to the end with OPEC countries to block the European Union supported targets that would have increased the percentage of energy production from renewable sources to 15 percent by 2015.

"Utilities are the source of 40 percent of America's global warming pollution. We will not begin to cut those emissions unless utility companies begin to invest seriously in renewable energy resources. They have failed to make those investments for the past decade, and our global warming emissions have risen by over 13 percent," said Clapp.

Jacob Scherr, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s International Program observed that though “the secretary spoke a lot about partnerships,” he “failed to recognize that such initiatives can only be truly effective if they are undertaken within a framework of globally agreed standards and targets. We need mechanisms at the national and international level for accountability.”

As the summit comes to a close, all of these groups have begun to outline their follow-up plans. “Implementation,” said Scherr, “is when the really hard work begins. The Natural Resources Defense Council and others need to work together to hold governments and other groups accountable.”

For the Sierra Club, Director Michael Dorsey warned, “The next step forward is November. Judgement will come on election day.”

{Amy Shatzkin contributed to this report.}