1990s >> 1997 >> no-1116-august-1997

Earth Summit II—Another UN Failure

Earth Summit ends in failure, ran a Guardian headline on 28 June this year—a headline any socialist could have written with prophetic accuracy weeks earlier.Indeed, the failure of Earth Summit II which opened in New York on 23 June was only ever going to be a reenactment of a similar summit held in Rio five years previously.This much we could glean from the G7 gathering days earlier which closed with the heads of the world’s leading nations failing 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 C02 levels by the end of the decade. But in the past five years such emissions have in fact spiralled and are forecast to increase, with the industrialised nations—making up 15 percent of the world population, yet responsible for 50 percent of emissions—being the worst perpetrator. And China’s C02 emissions are expected to exceed those of the US within eight years.

Similarly, the Rio guidelines to protect the world’s forests have not been adhered to, with about 10 million hectares of forest vanishing 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.

At Rio it was agreed that the industrialised world should increase their portion of overseas aid to 0.7 percent of GDR. What happened was that aid fell by 20 percent between 1992 and 1995 (from 0.33 percent to 0.27 percent).And in that period global poverty has increased with the poorest 20 percent of the world’s people sharing less than 1.1 percent of global income (compared with 2.3 percent in I960) with the richest 20 percent sharing over 85 percent.

Principle I 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.

Fishing around for profit
Were this not bad enough, in the past five years the world’s fishing grounds have become further depleted and whole eco-system faces an increased threat from oil and gas companies who are now exploiting the deeper oceans in their endless pursuit of profit.

This, then, had been the result 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 precluded. Little wonder that the day after the summit closed the Guardian (28 June) 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. A text which highlighted targets to reduce C02 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 the likes of Tony Blair, who believes C02 emissions should be reduced to below 15 percent of 1990 levels by 2010, as proof that governments are really beginning to care.


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 this journal has wasted no time in exposing similar summits in the past as the farces they are (see, for instance, our issues for June 1992 and July 1996). At Rio, evidence could be found during discussions on bio-diversity, with the US 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 US 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 US opposing new taxes. OPEC 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 this year. If the past is anything to go on the delegates would be better advised to stay at home and plant saplings.


Their ideas of a world compatible with a profit-driven market economy are illusory and their prospects for reform in the interests of humans and the environment a fallacy.
Were they to take the idea of socialism with them to future summits, however, the world would stand a far better chance of survival in the 21st century.



John Bissett