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Non-government organisations get the sinking feeling that the wssd will deliver nothing, after the final preparatory meeting in Bali comes to no good
"M r Annan, the Earth Summit is sinking," alarmed civil society groups wrote to un Secretary General Kofi Annan, after the final preparatory meeting to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (wssd) in Bali failed to reach agreement last month. A brief "Mr Annan, the Earth is sinking" may reflect the situation better.
The Draft Plan of Implementation that emerged from the Bali meeting was supposed to lay out concrete targets and deadlines. But agreement on deadlines -- for instance, a review of developed countries' progress in phasing out harmful energy subsidies by 2007 -- proved impossible. Finance, trade and other 'means of implementation' to help developing countries move to sustainable practices proved to be the final stumbling block in Bali.
Northern countries were generally unwilling to agree on targets to remove trade-distorting subsidies, improve market access for developing countries, provide new and innovative means of funding, and make the international financial architecture more transparent. They also opposed the elimination of unilateral trade sanctions to fulfil environmental agendas.
South African environment minister Mohammad Valli Moosa made a last ditch effort to rescue the meeting by presenting a compromise package on the last day that was only barely acceptable to developing countries. The compromise package was, however, rejected by the eu (some members had problems with the language on subsidies), and also by the us, Japan, Australia and Canada.
Progress on most issues was also disappointing. For instance, while the section on poverty starts with high-flown language on the need to eradicate it, the mention of a World Solidarity Fund to combat poverty stands bracketed.
On the section on strengthening the global institutional framework for sustainable development, no agreement was reached on revising the Global Environment Facility's (gef's) mandate from a purely global perspective to a more local one.
What is even more worrying is that some Northern countries, led by the us, are questioning basic principles that were agreed to ten years ago, at the un Conference on Environment and Development (unced) (see box: What are we going to do about the us?). Every reference to the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' (which takes into account the varying contribution of countries to environmental degradation) has been bracketed. Similar objections have been raised against references to the precautionary principle, and even the principles of equity and democracy.
Valli Moosa, whose country will host the wssd in August, was eager to prevent the summit from being written off entirely. "The formal talks are over but there is much that can be done informally between now and Johannesburg," he said.
But non-government participants were less hopeful. The only way to get anything meaningful out of the wssd, says Greenpeace campaigner Steve Sawyer, is to put pressure on "the us and its poodles".
For documents that emerged from the Bali meeting, go to: http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/ html/documents/prepcom4.html
For (slightly outdated) information on what the Indian government is doing about wssd, try www.wssdindia.org. The site promises, but does not deliver, information on what the Indian government has been doing at the wssd preparatory meetings so far. It does, however, provide information on the outcome of the seven regional consultations held in India.