WORLD ’LEADERS’ are preparing a global publicity stunt – the World Summit on Environment and Development. From 26 August to 4 September, 65,000 delegates from 174 countries will descend on Johannesburg, South Africa. Security will be provided by 27,000 police.
While talking about ’sustainable development’ they will ensure that multinational corporations tighten their grip on world markets, choking the life out of our planet’s environment and further exploiting its people.
Tony Blair will show up to smile smugly, shake hands and initial the final declaration. George W Bush will still be on holiday at his Texas ranch to the delight of his oil industry backers who want to rubbish the environmental lobby.
The summit is supposed to assess progress towards ’sustainable development’ since the Rio summit ten years ago.
An objective assessment makes grim reading. Rio’s Agenda 21 agreed to $125 billion of aid from the wealthy nations, committing them to spend 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) each year. By 2000, the money provided had actually fallen from $69 billion to $53 billion. Britain’s contribution remained at 0.33%, with the US on 0.1%. The total debt burden of developing countries climbed by 34% to $2.5 trillion.
Nearly three billion people do not have adequate sanitation and 30,000 people die every day from water-related diseases. The gap between rich and poor is widening. In the 1990s, the number of extremely poor in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 242 million to 300 million.
In Johannesburg, big business will call the shots. Blair’s delegation includes his buddies from multinationals such as Thames Water and Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ), both of which have been accused of polluting the environment, destroying wildlife habitats and ignoring human rights abuses.
RTZ, the largest mining conglomerate in the world, plans to mine uranium in Kakadu National Park, Australia. Clashes between protesters and police have led to more than 500 arrests. In the 1970s it backed the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.
Thames Water has expanded its operations worldwide on the back of International Monetary Fund diktat that developing countries privatise water provision in return for ’aid’.
This means making the poorest people on the planet pay for one of the essentials of life. Thames Water operated in Indonesia under president Suharto’s brutally oppressive regime.
The summit’s draft plan calls for the ’promotion of corporate responsibility’. But the multinationals, and the governments which back them, ruthlessly exploit the rest of the world. The World Trade Organisation imposes harsh penalties if poor nations do not open up their markets. But the biggest culprits are the US and European Union.
In 2000 the rich nations spent $245 billion subsidising agriculture (before Bush’s Farm Act this year). Subsidised crops are dumped on the global market forcing prices down. Wheat, for example, is sold by the US at 46% below production costs, and by the EU at 34%. Small scale farmers from the developing world just can’t compete.
In the meantime, an ’Asian brown cloud’ two miles thick sits over Asia. It is made up of vehicle and industrial pollutants and minute particles of ash from forest and wood burning.
The cloud is blocking up to 15% of solar energy reaching the Earth’s surface and UN scientists believe it is altering the monsoon rain pattern, causing droughts and catastrophic floods.
The World Summit will provide no solutions. The capitalist system as a whole is responsible for the destruction of the world’s delicate ecological balance and exacerbating inequality. A small minority at the top enjoy obscene wealth while a massive majority exists in abject poverty and misery.
But a different world is possible. It is, however, a race against time to implement a system which could provide everyone with a good quality of life in an environmentally sustainable way.
In a socialist society – where production is organised for need not profti – the vast majority of the world’s workers and oppressed peoples could democratically plan and organise an environmentally sustainable system – but only if power is taken out of hands of the parasitical ruling class.
See also A sustainable environment? – A socialist contribution by Pete Dickinson