CANBERRA - ''It's an important moment for global
political history. The future is green,'' Australian Greens Sen.
Bob Brown announced in opening the first Global Greens conference
just finished here.
While organisers were delighted with the success of the
conference that focused on the growing political force of Greens,
the future success of green politics hinges how it deals with both
the dilemmas of its success -- and the backlash of powerful
political forces it seeks to challenge.
With more than 1,000 members in parliaments around the world --
including 250 in national parliaments -- Greens are becoming a
major political force.
Some 350 delegates from 70 green parties around the world
attended the Canberra conference, which ended Monday.
The embryonic network of green parties has been growing rapidly
in recent years, leading to the development of regional
Over the last decade, regional networks of green parties have
evolved in Europe and the Americas. In 1998, the African
Federation of Greens Parties was formed and followed last year by
the Asia-Pacific Green Network.
While the conference dispelled the notion that Greens are
mainly a political force in the traditional strongholds of the
environmental movement -- such as in Europe -- the success of
Greens becoming ministers in coalition governments is creating its
In Germany, the decision of the Green Minister for the
Environment, Jurgen Tritten, to accept nuclear waste from a French
reprocessing plant, dismayed the anti-nuclear movement he was once
a part of.
While the growth and diversity have bolstered the political
strength of the green parties, the main formal business of the
conference was negotiating a Global Greens Charter -- part
statement of vision and principles, part policy platform -- to
give the network of parties greater coherence.
It also sought to create a global network of coordination among
green parties on key issues like climate change, for instance.
However, the adoption of the charter was not without its
One African delegate suggested the proposal that Greens be
bound to counter discrimination against homosexuals. But while was
popular in Europe, it would damage prospects for winning votes in
Others argued the draft charter should commit green parties to
the abolition of the World Trade Organisation, and not its reform.
The delegate of the Greens Party of Brazil, Antonio Melo Viana,
felt the charter should be more ambitious. ''We should dream a
little more. Perhaps the draft charter is a little too diagnostic,
a little too timid,'' he told the conference.
While the charter adopts the protection of human rights as one
of its central planks, green politicians were aware that the issue
is not an abstract one. Indeed, delegates from many countries were
under threat to their safety for advocating their views.
In response, the conference launched the formation of the
'Green Shield', with green activists from democratic countries
assisting in the defence of green activists under threat in less
Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Greenbelt movement in Kenya
and candidate in the forthcoming presidential election, was
recently imprisoned for opposing land clearing projects to protect
''The Greens have been put to the test and suffered in the
cause of their environmental work. Greens in prison and under
threat get a great source of encouragement when they know that
fellow Greens from around the world are supporting them,'' she
While the defence of human rights will be an essential
ingredient in allowing green parties to flourish, the structure
for broader cooperation among green parties has yet to be
Issues such as whether the Global Greens will establish a
secretariat and how a global structure can improve political
effectiveness without detracting from the role of the regional
federations has yet to be resolved.
The freedom to speak out is not the only hurdle to the growth
of green politics.
One of the biggest single barriers to increased green political
representation are electoral systems that effectively prevent
minor parties from either getting candidates on the ballot, or
ever having the prospect of winning seats.
''Political reform is hugely important but you do not wait for
political reform before you take action. The Greens believe in
operating within the space that they have and creating more space
around them and advocating for political reform at the same
time,'' said Marian Coyne, the Scottish delegate and spokesperson
for the European Federation of Greens parties.
For many delegates, especially those unsure whether they should
develop a formal green party or continue as either independent
politicians or extra-parliamentary activists, the conference was
an inspiration on what green politics could achieve.
''I believe that what the Greens are doing all over the world
should be replicated everywhere. I have been talking with some
friends back home and we think that it is time for us to go
green,'' said Nmimmo Bassey, director of the Environmental Rights
Action in Nigeria.
For Bassey, the issues are simple: ''I believe my colour is
green -- whether you are black or white the colour of life is
''With globalisation we are concerned that we are becoming a
global village not for people but a global village for
transnational corporations who are using our environment as a
place for the extraction of resources, our human rights are not
respected,'' he said.
Can increased global coordination of green political parties
achieve anything? Perhaps what is possible was no better seen in
the request from a delegation of traditional chiefs of New
Caledonia for support in protecting their coral reefs from
proposed mining projects.
''The reefs campaign will be fought in New Caledonia by the
Greens and the Kanak people and in France by the French Greens --
who are coalition partners in the French government and the
environment minister who is a Green,'' the New Caledonian Greens
spokesperson Didier Baron said at the conference here.
The traditional chiefs of New Caledonia, who were previously
marginalised under French colonial rule, were elated. For many
delegates, it was an illustration of the theme that ''green
politics is a whole new kind of politics''.
Copyright 2001 IPS