Planetary politics

  • 30/07/1997

Even as we move towards the 21st Century the future appears bleak. Only the Earth knows what transpired at the Denver meeting but in the light of hindsight it is becoming all too evident that the North, the Europeans and their American cousins, went in with a coordinated stand to ward off the South at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session ( ungass ) held in New York.

Nobody won and nothing moved. Unfortunately it was the Earth that lost.

Concealing their intent in a labyrinth of words, world leaders made statements that pleased everyone while settling for the bare minimum. The second Earth Summit therefore ended with a diluted text which had no firm agreements on the actions required to meet the threats to the Earth's survival.

While there was no dearth of concern for the environment or the poor, what was missing was crucial action. us President Bill Clinton's sympathy with the Maldives was almost touching, as he pointed out in his speech "island chains such as Maldives will disappear from the map" when the sea level rises due to climate change. But that was not enough to goad him into action; the us , for example, did not agree to a legally binding target on greenhouse gas emissions. What had gone wrong?

Obviously the slogan of Stockholm in 1972 - "Only one Earth" - is far from becoming a reality. The truth of the matter is that we continue to live in a world, where nobody wants to give even an inch, whether it is money, technology or other economic interests. The us did not want legally binding targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions since it would directly affect us industry and business interests. It was as simple as that. The oil exporting nations did not want energy pricing since it would affect their oil export market. Canada wanted a forest convention because it would help them expand their wood export market by putting the forests of the world under a super bureaucracy and label their own wood as 'green wood.'

The South had pressed for more money and a transfer of technology on easy terms, and the North in a fit of miserliness had declined. In this summit the European Union ( eu ) and the us were not even interested in putting up a pretence of being altruistic - as in Rio, where promises of money were made without ever actually being put into practice in these last five years.

The developed world made it amply clear that they were not interested in funding the Earth's future. The eu wanted a green image for itself, but at the cost of the South. The eu lobbied hard for a forest convention. It was easy to do so, as without much forest cover of its own, the South's forests would primarily be held ransom through the convention.

But even if the North was lost in self-exculpation and showed scant respect for the planet's well being, the South on its part failed to come up with anything constructive. The South's demand for money and technology transfer, although valid, has become an end in itself, almost to a point where it is having a crippling effect on the psyche of southern leaders. To make matters more dismal, the leaders of the South have lost their political will to act and with that their moral authority to blame the North.

A classic example of this is the assertion in the ungass by India's environment and forest minister Saifuddin Soz, that India needs money for carrying out forest conservation measures. India has extraordinarily diverse and complex forest management systems. If only the Indian bureaucracy could do away its claim on being experts on forest management, and give the forests back to the local communities, more than half of India's forest conservation problems would be solved.

But to give the forests to the communities is an act of political courage, that no politician today in India would be willing to undertake. They are therefore content with giving sops to the forest dwelling communities and asking for funds from the North.

Therefore if the North wants to impose all kinds of conditions, such as a forest convention, along with the funding, can we really blame the leaders of the North? Obviously, it is time that South decided to cast aside its beggars bowl and give the much needed leadership to save the Earth.

The ungass however, was not without its positive moments. Even though days before the summit Saifuddin Soz had himself admitted in an interview with Down to Earth , that India would have to humour the West on the Forest Convention, the Indian delegation strongly opposed the move during the Summit. On coming home, Soz, in an obvious effort to pacify local ngos, went ahead and announced that India would oppose the Forest Convention come what may.

Unfortunately, one thing remains very clear. It has taken the world five years to discuss the following up of whatever was decided in 1992 at Rio. Unless world leaders wake up to ground realities fast there are chances that the Earth Summit iii , scheduled to be held in ad 2002 would be a bigger farce than this.

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