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Earth Summit II Ends in Failure

"Earth Summit ends in failure," ran a headline in The Guardian, London, on 28 June 1997. The failure of Earth Summit II, which opened in New York on 23 June 1997 was only ever going to be a re-enactment of a similar summit held in Rio five years previously (see Agenda 21—Funding Failure for further details). This much we could glean from the gathering of the 'Group of Seven' leading industrial nations (G7), days earlier who failed to agree on new targets for carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon dioxide emissions have been a core problem at both Earth Summits. Back in 1992, the 125 delegates at Rio agreed to return to pre-1990 CO2 levels by the end of the decade (see Climate Change—Profit Depleting Agreements.) But in the past five years such emissions have in fact spiralled and are forecast to increase. The industrialised nations, who make up 15 percent of the world population, are responsible for 50 percent of emissions. China's CO2 emissions are expected to exceed those of the U.S.A. within eight years.

The weak guidelines for protecting the world's forests (which could not attain the status of international law) have unsurprisingly been neglected. About 10 million hectares of forest vanish every year—an area equivalent to the size of South Korea—with the loss of an estimated 130,000 species of life.

You name it and the delegates at Rio have reneged on it—climate, deserts, bio-diversity, even aid for the developing world.

Principle 1 of the Rio summit had been a pledge of $125 billion a year in aid initiatives and projects aimed at helping the environment. Few have been observed and many have resulted in misery. In Uganda, for instance, 35,000 inhabitants of the Kabale forest region were forcibly ejected from their homes in order that tourism could be encouraged and the forests protected. Those who resisted were either shot or burnt alive in their homes. In Kenya, a huge road project spewed up so much dust that thousands were left with irreparable lung damage.

These, then, have been some of the results of Rio in 1992, a summit that had taken 20 years and 30 million pieces of paper to get off the ground.

What added insult to injury at this year's summit was that G7 scapegoating of the industrial world dominated so much of the meeting that constructive debate on saving the environment was made preclusive. Little wonder that the day after the summit closed The Guardian, U.K. (28 June 1997) could report of the summit ending "in a shambles with no clear agreements on its main goals of new aid for developing countries or protecting forests".

Talks on climate collapsed and have effectively been deferred until the Climatic Change Conference in Kyoto, Japan, this December. See A Familiar Story From Kyoto. A text which highlighted targets to reduce CO2 emissions had been agreed by a working group one evening, but came to nought when the group fell out over lunch some 12 hours later.

We may well ask that if the Rio summit resulted in a score of promises that were eventually broken, and if the latest summit ended in failure, then what future for planet Earth?

Commentators have tended to cite a growing governmental awareness of environmental issues as one positive spin-off of such summits. They point to a small number of western governments who have expressed a commitment to small reductions in CO2 emissions, for example. Like true apologists for capitalism, they continue to fail to locate global problems in a wider social and economic context, in capitalism itself, as if the profit motive was incidental to environmental concerns.

Profit is in fact the biggest stumbling block encountered by delegates at Earth summits and the World Socialist Movement has wasted no time in exposing similar summits in the past as the farces they are (see, other articles in our Environment section). At Rio, evidence could be found during discussions on bio-diversity, with the U.S.A. refusing to back an agreement to safeguard animal and plant diversity for no other reason than this would have curbed the excesses of the mainly U.S.A. transnational corporations.

At the recent Earth Summit, a hoped-for agreement on a global tax on aviation fuel, aimed at improving engine efficiency and consequently reducing pollution, failed to materialise, with the U.S.A. opposing new taxes, O.P.E.C. fearing a loss of revenue and developing nations fearful that increased prices would result in a drop in tourism.

You do not need a vivid imagination to envisage the environment and development report that will be prepared for the next Earth Summit in 2002, or indeed the outcome of the Conference on Climatic Change to be held later next year (see A Familiar Story From Kyoto.)