The fight over the DEAD

A severe tug of war between the North and the South preceded the unanimous acceptance of the Rio declaration

Published: Wednesday 15 July 1992

THOUGH the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development was finally accepted unanimously, Tommy Koh of Singapore, chairperson of UNCED's main committee, had to resort to a lot of jugglery to effect the compromise in the face of repeated threats from the US and other delegations.

The Rio declaration is a non-legally-binding set of 27 principles for states to follow. It recognises that environmental protection must become an integral part of the development of a country, if sustainable development is to be achieved.

It also states that industrialised countries must take the lead in cleaning up the earth's environment because they have the funds and technologies to do so. The developing countries failed to get their point across that industrialised countries must pay because they had caused the damage and were legally liable to pay for it.

The Rio declaration was the only unbracketed text that came from the last prepcom to UNCED, but despite this, some countries were still unhappy with it. The point that the "environment and natural resources of people under oppression, domination and occupation shall be protected" raised protests from Israel and USA. And the US also objected to the right to development, which raised a roar of protest from southern delegations.

In order to convince delegations not to reopen the declaration, Koh proposed a three-part package deal: if the delegates agreed not to touch the Rio declaration, he would suggest including a sentence in Agenda 21 which would state that it would be carried out with full respect for all the principles of the declaration. More importantly, the words "people under occupation" would be deleted wherever they occurred in the Agenda 21.

Koh did carry the day, but just about.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.