||Issue No. 151||06 September 2002|
Looking for the Light
Interview: Packing a Punch
Bad Boss: Basher Takes Back Passage
Unions: Five Star Shafting
Economics: TINA – Rest In Peace
International: Against Bush's "War on Terrorism"
Environment: Saving the World
History: A Radical Scribe
Poetry: With A Little Help From My Friend
Satire: Colonel Gaddafi Promotes Himself to General
Review: Workplace Dictatorship
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Charity Begins At Home
Saving the World
With the Earth Summit in Johannesburg currently winding up, the consensus amongst environmentalists is that of defeat to the interests of the corporate world.
Much has been made of the salubrious conditions enjoyed by Earth Summit participants. From all reports, Johannesburg organisers have gone to great lengths to hide the poverty and destitution of South Africa from their high profile visitors. In the Sydney Morning Herald's 'News Review' of August 31, Australian youth delegate, Alan Yu, was reported as saying, "I haven't taken in the fact that I'm in Johannesburg at all. It's very insular and unreal. I could be in Australia."
Yu could be forgiven for forgetting that he is actually at the Earth Summit. Australian and US representatives don't seem to want to be there at all. The challenges facing participants and the global community are gargantuan, and yet in the face of these, our own delegation have been unwilling to commit to any reform which may even slightly impinge on business interests.
At the Rio Summit in 1992, 150 countries signed up to the Climate Change Convention. The ultimate goal of the convention was to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions at a level that would not dangerously upset the global climate system. There was a broad recognition that the major source of emissions emanated from the developed world. To combat this, a target was put in place stipulating that the 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emission would be the appropriate level to comply with.
The Rio Summit also recognised that for developing countries, economic reliance on fossil fuels was a major problem. To assist in helping them to overcome this reliance, richer nations were supposed to pay a leading role in fostering and developing the uptake of renewable energy sources, and provide finances for monitoring and controlling the release of greenhouse gasses.
For the convention to take root, more than 50 nations were required to ratify its principles. The 1997 Kyoto talks were the forum in which this ratification took place. Eighty-six nations signed the convention, with the US agreeing to cut their emissions by 7% of 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. Since their withdrawl, (one of President Bush's first acts in the Oval Office) the effectiveness of the convention has been put into serious jeopardy. The United State accounts for 25% of CO2 emissions on their own. The time-lag between the original agreement in Rio and subsequent ratification has also been a huge problem. Far from reducing to 1990 levels, the last decade has actually seen them rise by ten percent.
In this context, the failure of the recent Johannesburg Summit to deliver any meaningful reforms is of concern. The US delegation has insisted throughout the course of the summit that any resolutions should not be legally binding, leaving them virtually toothless, and reflecting the Bush Administrations penchant for unilateralism.
A clear example of this was the horse-trading that occurred over renewable energies. Brazil, with the support of several Central American states, proposed that by 2010, all nations have a ten percent renewable energy mix. The EU, with strong backing from European corporations already specialising in the production of these energies, wanted 15% by 2015. The US, Japan and OPEC countries- all heavily reliant on fossil fuels- were opposed to any targets.
The end result? A Japanese compromise position whereby targets of halving the number of people without access to sanitised water was accepted by the US in return for no targets on renewable energy. The final text calls on all countries to act with 'a sense of urgency' in adopting renewable energy, but there is no mention of targets.
NGO's and other representatives of civil society have been shocked by the pernicious influence and clout of the US at this conference. Despite George W. Bush's reluctance to attend, the shadow of US oil dollars has clearly pervaded the collective conscience of the delegates. Amongst most of these representatives, the consensus is that the progress of the Rio Summit has not only been lost, but that we are now moving backwards. On 4 September, Naomi Klein commented that,
"When Rio hosted the first earth summit in 1992, there was so much goodwill surrounding the event that it was nicknamed, without irony, the Summit to Save the World. This week in Johannesburg, nobody has claimed that the follow-up World Summit on Sustainable Development could save the world. The question has been whether the summit could even save itself"
With no real progress being made at this conference, the outlook for the environment is increasingly bleak.. From an Australian perspective, Russia's decision to now ratify the Kyoto protocol positions us as the US' lapdog more than ever. Unless a significant change is made, Australia not only risks international condemnation, but also the chance to develop a competitive advantage in the renewable energies market - an opportunity lost indeed.
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