Good job bringing this to light. People won't realise how huge the problem is and municipalities are woefully ill equipped to...
Agreed; mining can never be sustainable, but then how do you get the metals to make all the things you need in the course of...
Very good piece.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development (wssd) may not finally amount to much, but the preparatory meetings for the summit have reopened old scabs that received only hasty treatment at Rio. Quite clearly, many of the differences held by the Northern 'environmental' groups and Southern 'development' groups are as strong as ever.
Many Western groups still see it as their duty to rescue the South from development -- at any cost to the South, it seems. Unable to do much to change attitudes to development in their own countries, they are quick to waggle a finger at their Southern counterparts saying, "No, no, development is bad for you." Instead, they point to the section of the store that sells the mirage of sustainable development. "Look, here's something healthy." Of course most of them pointedly ignore the price label. Acknowledging that sustainable development costs more money would require them to get their own governments to at least meet the financial commitments they have made. This they are plainly not capable of doing, as they have proved over the last so many years. They find it much simpler to deal with Southern governments than their own governments, because Southern governments can be arm-twisted through conditionalities from Northern-dominated financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (imf) to do their bidding.
It is for this reason that the 'right to development', which was agreed to as an inalienable human right by the un General Assembly in 1986, is still an issue of debate in the draft document that will be accepted at Johannesburg. Like their governments, many Northern groups vehemently oppose any suggestion that all nations should have a right to development. According to these groups, giving Southern nations the right to development would translate into giving them a 'right to pollute'. The most they are willing to concede is a 'right to sustainable development'. In other words, developing countries can meet the needs of their people -- but with restrictions. These restrictions take away a right, and instead replace it with a duty.
To begin with, any 'right to sustainable development' will not reflect the fact that unlike industrialised countries, Southern nations have not yet used up their share of global environmental space. So to be fair, they should still have a right to development, while it is the industrialised countries that should have the restriction of sustainable development placed upon them. The right to development, which encompasses the right to equal access to all resources, far better articulates the right of developing countries to grow in the conventional development model until they have used up their environmental space (or until the world community provides them the financial and technological wherewithal to opt for sustainable development, in which case they should have no objections to making the change).
The second problem is with the definition of 'sustainable development'. Given that the term is a chameleon with no fixed meaning, it is apparent that the South's 'right to sustainable development' will be defined by the whims and fancies of the financial muscle of the North. And as we have learnt over the last so many years, Northern definitions of sustainable development can be very anti-poor and pro-rich. Take the instance of sustainable forestry. Most of the criterion defined for sustainably produced timber favour Northern practices of sustainable forestry. They give no importance to whether the process of producing the timber benefits the poor or further lines the pockets of the rich. Or whether the poor timber producers of the South will be able to compete with the rich producers of the North in meeting the criterion.
A right to sustainable development could become a problem for the poor for two other reasons mentioned before -- because the extra funds needed to practice sustainable development are not yet available to the South, and also because there is every likelihood that while the South will be bribed and bullied into keeping their commitment to sustainable development, the North will carry on with business as usual, while there is not a thing the South will be able to do to make them change their ways. Northern ngos will be as powerless as they are now in their own countries, and will therefore find it more convenient to continue to turn a relative blind eye to the non-performance of their own governments. This is exactly what they have been doing in the case of global warming. Instead of trying to change policies to reduce fossil fuel dependence in their own countries, these groups find it easier to force changes on the South by using their influence on global financial institutions.
Before advocating the right to sustainable development as an option for the right to development, Northern groups have to recognise that while it is high time rich countries committed themselves to sustainable development, any 'right to sustainable development' places a duty on Southern nations while denying them an equal right to development -- which explicitly implies that all human beings should have equal access to all resources to meet their needs, and have an equal share of the benefits of development. For the poorest populations of the South, these rights translate to a right to survival.