JOHANNESBURG - In an effort to inject credibility into the largest-ever United
Nations summit, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Monday called on the world's
richest countries to take the lead in designing a concrete plan to improve the
lives of the world's poor without destroying the planet.
"The richest countries must lead the way. They have the wealth. They have
the technology. And they contribute disproportionately to global environmental
problems," Annan told nearly 100 world leaders gathered here for the opening session
of the heads of state meeting at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).
He also underscored the importance of businesses and non-governmental groups
(NGOs) helping to achieve the goals of sustainable development. "Civil society
groups have a critical role, as partners, advocates and watchdogs," Annan added
in his address during the final stage of the 10-day WSSD.
NGOs lobbying to secure a range of commitments from governments have begun
raising the alarm that the summit may endorse a program of action that will mean
very little to the world's poor and to developing countries.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the leading NGOs lobbying for concrete
language in the summit's final document, declared Sunday that the plan being negotiated
by delegates from 190 countries is woefully short of what the WSSD promised to
"The Plan of Implementation as it currently stands will not provide significant
movement forwards from commitments made in Rio and since," it stated. "In some
cases the text actually constitutes a step backwards (as in trade and globalization)."
Particularly troubling for NGOs is some countries' attempts to water down
the agreement regarding such issues as the use of renewable sources of energy,
targets for access to water and improved sanitation, reforming global trade and
The leaders of Germany, France and Britain must play a pivotal role to save
the Johannesburg summit, said Gerd Leipold of Greenpeace. "It will require a Herculean
effort on their part but it must be done here and now."
But some Third World leaders assembled here to review progress towards sustainability
since the 1992 Earth Summit, expect little will change due to domination of the
free trade agenda, also called neo-liberalism, in global affairs.
Among them is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who told government leaders
Monday the "neo-liberal model is guilty for the disasters of the world, and we
need to fight against it".
"I say to the world one more time that we must change this model, because
there is no development without humanism," added Chavez who heads the Group of
77, which is made up of 133 developing nations. "It is not possible to develop
the world according to this model."
These continuing calls for real results from the meeting received a boost
from an international poll.
"If it were up to the will of average citizens, the World Summit on Sustainable
Development would require national governments to deliver on time-bound commitments
towards reducing poverty and resolving environmental problems," states the report
of a survey of 24,000 people in 31 countries.
Released by London-based Gallup International and Toronto's Environics International
on Aug. 29, 'Voice of the People' reveals "a global public opinion climate that
is very receptive to major initiatives to reduce poverty".
The results, from interviews held in July and August this year, reflect the
views of "almost 1 billion people on all continents except North America", claim
In September 2000, world leaders from 191 nations pledged at the Millennium
Summit to combat specific global problems by 2015.
These pledges, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), included
slashing by half the number of people living on less than one U.S. dollar a day,
the number of people suffering from hunger and the number of people without access
to safe and affordable drinking water.
Further, the MDGs also seek to ensure: that all children are given primary
schooling; gender equality in education; a three-quarters reduction in the maternal
mortality rate and a two-thirds drop in deaths of children under five.
Today, close to 800 million people do not get enough to eat, over one billion
people lack access to clean water, some 2.4 billion people do not have basic sanitation
facilities and close to 325 million boys and girls are not in school, according
to the United Nations.
Senior U.N. officials view the Millennium Summit as a step forward from the
Earth Summit, when the world leaders gathered for the first time to link development
and environmental problems and find common solutions. The idea of sustainable
development was affirmed at that gathering.
Copyright 2002 IPS