The continuing irrelevance of Agenda 21

AGENDA 12 resources to the South have been consistently falling - and there hangs the threat of a further plummet. Even the North- initiated Global Environment Facility has failed to raise the finances agreed upon.

The promise by industrialised countries at the Rio summit to provide access to eco-friendly technologies to the developing world in compensation for the pollution caused by them has also failed. The Montreal Protocol, one environmental agreement already in operation, is proving that it works only because the North sees business in the making. The banning of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) suited the interests of a few multinational corporations controlling the market who foresaw a larger market for CFC substitutes, which they had already developed. The dates for phasing-out ozone-destroying chemicals weren't chosen because they were the best for the ozone layer but to allow multinationals time to change their chemicals and reap a profit at the same time. The executive committee which has equal North-South representation remains guided by the money-giving North, which is selectively and unashamedly pushing projects using Northern technology.

Obviously, this is in complete contravention of Agenda 21, which calls for the building up of capacity of technology development in the developing countries, including R&D. A CSD working group report to be debated and possibly adopted at the CSD reiterates all these objectives, while the practice being followed by the Montreal Protocol and the Climate Change Convention are largely based on the business interests of the North. In the effort to primarily appease the reluctant Bush administration, developing countries had rushed to sign the Rio agreements. If Agenda 21 cannot be transformed into economically viable projects, saving the environment will remain limited to UN meetings alone.

Developing countries have to challenge the real value of these agreements instead of asking for more meaningless UN reports to assess the follow-up on these agreements. The developing countries' ministers of environment need to bring their national business interests to the table at New York. They need to stop pleading for aid and preferential treatment and instead demand payments for environmental services provided to the North. The Northern business houses should also be forced to clean-up the mess they have created by emitting excessive greenhouse gases, CFCs, toxic waste dumping and so on. Nothing but putting a price to the environment is what will protect the environment. And perhaps making the UN responsible for implementing what is preached in its sanctum.

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