Voices from the Summit

Posted: 5 September 2002

The World Summit prompted strong reactions from many quarters. Here we give a flavour of what has been said:

Ministers and organisers

Jan Pronk, the Special Envoy to the Summit of the UN Secretary-General:

"We have had a narrow escape. The outcome is better than we feared, but much less than we needed. There is a huge gulf between those inside the hall and people's expectations. We have to look at a better way of managing these things. It all could so easily have fallen apart."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

While acknowledging that some were disappointed that not everything that was expected to take place in Johannesburg had been achieved, Mr Annan said he was satisfied with the results. "I think we have to be careful not to expect conferences like this to produce miracles, but we do expect conferences like this to generate political commitment, momentum and energy for the attainment of goals," he said. The 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," Mr. Annan stressed.

"The Summit represents a major leap forward in the development of partnerships," Mr. Annan said, "with the UN, Governments, business and civil society coming together to increase the pool of resources to tackle global problems on a global scale."

Nitin Desai, Secretary-General of the WSSD:

"This plan of implementation provides us with everything we need to make sustainable development happen over the next several years. The test is whether governments, along with civil society and the private sector, can pursue the commitments that are in the document, and take actions that achieve measurable results."

French President Jacques Chirac:

"Our house is burning down and we're blind to it. Nature, mutilated and overexploited, can no longer regenerate and we refuse to admit it. Humanity is suffering. It is suffering from poor development, in both the North and the South, and we stand indifferent. The earth and humankind are in danger and we are all responsible... We cannot say that we did not know! Let us make sure that the 21st century does not become, for future generations, the century of humanity's crime against life itself."

UK Environment Secretary Margaret BeckettShe was pleased at the reinstatement of a clause on human rights which had been resisted by the US, the Vatican and Islamic states. The clause had omitted the rights of women to contraception and abortion, and asserted the superiority of local cultural and religious values.

The objection from the US was removed when it was pointed out that the clause would give tacit approval to widely condemned local traditions such as genital mutilation. "This is an extremely good outcome," Mrs Beckett said. "This could have set the clock back. This is a hugely important issue because it would have allowed such practices as genital mutilation which are wholly unacceptable. I am very pleased about this outcome on another crucial issue."

President Yoweri Museveni, of Uganda

"The arrogant so-called non-government groups who interfere with the construction of hydro-dams in Uganda are the real enemies of the environment," he said, to some cheers. "The people are going to launch a massive resistance movement against double talk," he said, summing up what all the world leaders may feel but none dared say. "There is little point in holding more summits until governments can cooperate in the common interest."

NGOsCharles Secrett, Director of Friends of the Earth UK:

"The Earth Summit should have been about protecting the environment and fighting poverty and social destruction. Instead it has been hijacked by free market ideology, by a backward-looking US administration, and by the global corporations that help keep reactionary politicians in business."

Dr. Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International: "Overall, this is a deal that in the long term will benefit neither the countries who stitched it up, nor those countries who stood by and allowed it to happen. Apart from some limited commitments to protect our oceans and fish stocks and provide sanitation, the summit will do almost nothing to help reduce our damaging global footprint. Although many individual countries want to do far more, the summit texts are mostly a race to the bottom.

"WWF believes that there are many groups who think that this Summit should have done much more. We hope to work with them to develop concrete field and policy based sustainable development programmes, and promote solutions and policy alliances which can mitigate current flaws in the multilateral system," Dr. Martin added.

Steven Sinding, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)

"The one issue noticeable by its absence from from the summit was population. Everyone agrees that population is central to what this summit was meant to address, yet it was not on the agenda.

"Family planning is a crucial element in sustainable development, yet proponents had to battle to retain language committing nations to safeguarding 'reproductive and sexual health'.

"If governments do not protect and promote reproductie rights as human rights, they condemn women to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and poverty".

Oxfam:After nine days of bluster, the world gets some gains on a few environmental issues, and on sanitation for the poor, says Oxfam. But overall the deal as it appears today is feeble -a triumph for greed and self-interest, a tragedy for poor people and the environment. Who's to blame? Oxfam International points the finger straight at the world's leaders. "Most of them lacked the guts and will to achieve a brave and far-reaching agreement that might have effectively tackled the problems of poverty and the decaying environment. It was within their grasp," said Andrew Hewett of Oxfam International.

Greenpeace International"The best thing that can be said in the Summit's favour is that it could have been worse."

Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin:

Worldwatch emphasises three points about the Summit:

1. The agreement reached in Johannesburg is weak on targets and timetables. It will also be more difficult to enforce as it lacks sanctions for non-compliance. (In contrast, such sanctions were included in a world trade agreement struck last year.) The question now is whether government leaders will enact and enforce laws needed to make the vision of a sustainable world a reality. 2. World Summit deliberations revealed widening splits between nations. Europe, for example, is now far more willing than the United States to adopt tough new environmental standards. The divide is even greater between industrial and developing countries on the question of economic assistance for reducing poverty. The next few years will reveal whether progress over the past two decades toward multilateral cooperation on pressing environmental and social issues will continue. 3. A vigorous debate over renewable energy lasted right up to the end of the Summit, with Europe and several Latin American countries arguing for a firm commitment to move away from fossil fuels. Although the United States, China, and OPEC were ultimately successful in weakening this provision, the fact that the debate progressed as far as it did reflects strengthened confidence in the ability of new energy technologies to move quickly into the marketplace, a perspective that was shared by many industry representatives in Johannesburg.

World Resources Institute (WRI): Despite some advances made by negotiators at the Summit, WRI expressed disappointment in the overall outcomes incorporated in the WSSD Plan of Action. "Overall we must ask, will the poor be better off ten years from now? Will our world be safer or more secure from global environmental threats ten years from now?" said Jonathan Lash, WRI president. "Unfortunately, there are too many gaps and too few teeth in the WSSD Plan of Action."

The WRI delegation was particularly disappointed over the governments' failure to set targets for increases in renewable energy like solar or wind. The United States and other oil producing countries have resisted setting targets for renewable energy, while European countries and some developing countries like Brazil and the Philippines lobbied hard for such targets.

While the Plan of Action contains language on actions to help solve climate change, it is silent on the need for all countries to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, said WRI. This treaty is needed to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which was adopted by the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The United States has lobbied hard against it.

"Energy and climate change are inextricably linked. Energy generated by fossil fuels is driving global climate change," said Jonathan Lash. "We have missed an opportunity to increase energy production from non-polluting sources like solar, biomass, and wind, and to provide the many companies taking action to reduce emissions with a secure framework for their actions."