The World Summit on Sustainable Development organized in Johannesburg from August 26-September 4 2002, ten years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, was supposed to be Earth Summit II.
Instead of Rio + 10, WSSD became Doha + 10. Ten months ago, the Ministerial Meeting of the WTO was organized in Doha to salvage the WTO negotiations for a new enlarged round, which had failed in Seattle due to citizen protest and a walk-out by smaller countries that had been marginalized and excluded from the negotiations. The implementation document of WSSD mentioned Doha and WTO 46 times at one stage and Rio only once. The draft had been introduced undemocratically by the US and EU, and with minor modifications was reintroduced by South Africa. There was no rebellion by Governments against the surreptitious substitution of the sustainability agenda of Rio with the commercial and corporate agenda of the WTO.
While the struggles of the poor in the South are related to their access and right to natural resources – land, water and biodiversity – and hence are intrinsically environmental and ecological struggles, WSSD was artificially presented as being about `poverty’, not about the `environment’.
Globalization was then offered as the solution to poverty, and decisions that were aimed at robbing the poor of their remaining resources and hence making them poorer, such as privatization of water, patenting of seeds and alienation of land, were being offered as measures for `poverty alleviation’.
While the landless people and the movements against privatization marched for environmental and resource rights, globalization pundits kept repeating the mantra that the poor could not afford the ‘luxury’ of their natural capital – they needed globalization.
Globalizers do not see that globalization would rob the poor of their resources and make them the property of global corporations who would then sell water and seeds at high costs to the poor thus pushing them deeper into poverty and over the edge of survival.
During the PBS/BBC debate in which I participated, industry spokesmen clearly said that imposing private property rights to natural resources was their first priority. Globalizing the non-sustainable, unethical, iniquitous systems of ownership, control and use of natural resources was the main agenda at WSSD.
The corporate hijack of the Earth summit was the overall outcome: WSSD had mutated into W$$D.
But the implications go further than the hijack of one summit. These are dangerous trends for democracy. The substitution of multilateral legally binding agreements (Type I outcomes) by so called Type II outcomes in the form of public private partnerships are reflections of the privatization of states and privatization of the UN. The UN of ‘We the People’ was transformed in Johannesburg into the U.N. of ‘We the Corporations’. It appeared to be an auction house where the Earth herself was being put up for sale. For us in civil society the earth and our world are not for sale. That is why we withdrew our consent to the outcomes.
When I had the opportunity to address the opening of the Civil Society forum with President Mbeki, I talked of how a global apartheid was being created by globalization after South Africa had fought its domestic apartheid. President Mbeki made reference to this ‘global apartheid’ in his draft political declaration at the end of the Summit. He had intended to say:
‘From the African continent, the Cradle of Humanity, we declare our responsibility to one another to the greater community of life, and to future generations.
Meeting in the great African city of Johannesburg, which bears testimony to how industrial activity can change the environment in a matter of decades, we recall the great social and economic divides we have seen.
This is a mirror of our global existence. If we do nothing, we risk the entrenchment of a form of global apartheid. Unless we act in a manner that fundamentally changes their lives, the poor o the world may lose confidence in the democratic systems to which we are committed seeing their representatives as nothing more than sounding brass or tinkling symbols.’
The US forced South Africa to change that text and remove all reference to ‘global apartheid’. It thus contributed to the Summit being nothing more than ‘sounding brass or tinkling symbols’.
Only the governments of Norway and Ethiopia spoke up against attempts to make the multilateral environment agreements (MEAs) of Rio subservient to the trade rules of the WTO. and to dilute the proposals on corporate accountability that the Friends of the Earth campaign had successfully introduced in the text.
The only other `victory’ was the women’s alliance of ministers and the women’s caucus preventing the removal of language relating to human rights in the context of health.
In an age supposedly characterized by a clash of civilizations, the ‘clashing civilizations’ – the US, the Holy See, the Islamic countries were amazingly unified in seeing human rights in health as a threat to all shades and colors of patriarchy. The tragedy was that all ‘victories’ were merely successes in preventing further regress – in terms of corporate accountability, multilateral environmental agreements and women’s health rights.
Instead of governments committing themselves to conserve water and defend and uphold the water rights of all their citizens, they were selling off water in privatization deals, even though water is not the property of the state, but the commons cared for and shared by communities. The privatization of water commons is illegal and illegitimate in common property law, natural law and moral law. This is why there were protests against water privatization through out W$$D. That is why we withdrew our consent from the process. The police attacked one such protest on August 24 with stun bombs, injuring three people. During a TV debate, when a person displaced by a dam in Lesotho to bring water to South Africa’s industry and towns called money generated by water privatization ‘blood money’ – the head of South Africa’s water supply said, ‘I love blood money that creates wealth’.
Vandana Shiva, writer and ‘ecological scientist’, directs the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy in New Delhi. Her current work centers on biodiversity and sustainable agriculture.