Socialist Worker

Hot air from world leaders

Issue No. 1816

TONY BLAIR claimed to be leading the world on tackling poverty and environmental destruction at the Earth Summit this week. The truth is that the summit's outcome represents no progress at all. On key areas it will guarantee things get worse, not better. That is why 25,000 protesters, mainly the poor of South Africa, defied the police and government and staged an angry march on the summit last Saturday (see report below).

The world leaders' Johannesburg 'agreement' is toothless. On some issues it lists aims, many of which have been promised before. They have not been delivered despite such pledges. There is little chance of them being met after the summit.

On other issues, such as biochemistry and overseas aid to the poorer countries, the declaration was a retreat from commitments made at the last Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro ten years ago. No firm targets at all were agreed to boost the use of renewable energy like solar, wind and wave power.

The declaration is much weaker than the promises made at Rio a decade ago in other ways too. Then agreements were signed which were supposed to lead to enforceable treaties between world governments. Now that has been ditched. The Johannesburg 'agreement' is simply a declaration of intent, with no mechanism for implementing it.

Mark Malloch-Brown is head of the United Nations Development Programme. He admitted, 'The international negotiations and governmental declarations will be forgotten within minutes of the ink being signed on the paper.' And he added that the summit was in reality 'a great trade fair'. The substance of the summit took place away from the wrangling over the final declaration.

It lay in the drive to further hand the fate of the planet and the world's poor over to big business. Instead of firm government commitments and regulations, world leaders say we have to look to 'partnership' with business. The Guardian's environment correspondent Paul Brown attended the Earth Summit. The 'partnerships will see schemes involving water, sanitation and electricity provision', he wrote.

But most depend 'on the condition that public services are privatised to the benefit of big business. Tony Blair is a keen advocate of the schemes.' We are to get a global version of the PPP and PFI madness that New Labour is inflicting on public services in Britain. Some 192 such partnerships were announced at the summit. Full details of many have not yet been made public.

But one that emerged sums up the summit. In Rio a decade ago all the world's governments signed up to a deal to tackle child poverty. Ten years on 30,000 children a day die from preventable causes linked to poverty.

The answer proposed at the Earth Summit is an official 'partnership' between the UNICEF United Nations children's organisation and McDonald's. Instead of action to tackle the roots of poverty we will get a sick marketing ploy, a 'World Day for Children' sponsored by the United Nations and McDonald's. The multinational will donate a (small) amount of money to charity for each burger a child eats that day.

'This is Blairism gone mad,' the Guardian quoted one exasperated summit insider as saying. The media focused on the rows between the US and other governments, including Britain, at the summit.

The US was reluctant to even make noises about targets and aims for tackling poverty and environmental destruction. But the US was more than happy with the thrust of the summit. 'We are very excited about partnerships,' said US summit delegation leader Paola Dobriansky.

Tony Blair, for once, did attack the US over climate change. That had less to with ending global warming than with Blair wanting to show domestic opinion in Britain that he was not simply a poodle to George Bush.

Blair hopes that will make it easier for him to back Bush's war plan on Iraq. World leaders had one more nasty twist before they left Johannesburg. The World Trade Organisation will be given an effective veto on all deals and agreements aimed at tackling environmental problems and poverty. An explicit reference to all agreements being subject to 'WTO consistency' was dropped from the draft final agreement.

But no one doubts that this is the thrust of the references to 'supportiveness of trade' being a central principle. This is aimed at ensuring that nothing gets in the way of the business agenda that dominated the real deals done at the summit. 'It is a damning indictment of governments who protested that they believed in sustainable development. This is no less than a World Trade takeover of the Earth Summit,' said Friends of the Earth's Charles Secrett.

Steve Sawyer, Greenpeace's key organiser over climate change, summed up the summit well: 'It's worse than we could have imagined.'

25,000 join mass protest

'IN A historic show of 'people's power' over 25,000 marched on Sandton, Johannesburg, on Saturday to reject the neo-liberal politics of the summit and the South African government. Under the banner of the United Social Movements the marchers made their way from the poverty-stricken township of Alexandra to the ultra-wealthy suburb of Sandton to send a peaceful, yet militant, message that 'enough is enough'.

Thousands had come from across South Africa's urban and rural poor communities, and were joined by activists from various communities and movements from around the world. The march represented the largest and most popular rejection of the corporate and anti-poor policies of the South African government since 1994.

It also represented a continuation and strengthening of the growing global rejection of the capitalist neo-liberal 'developmental' framework that has wreaked so much devastation on the poor majority of humanity.

Even the presence of thousands of heavily armed police and army troops did nothing to deter the spirit or content of the people's voice or message.

The march was a resounding victory for those who continue to be marginalised and treated with contempt by the rich and powerful. The summit has been exposed as the charade that it is. The tide is turning against the barbarities of capitalist neo-liberalism.'
UNITED SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, who organised last Saturday's march against the Earth Summit in Johannesburg

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 7 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1816
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.