From summit to summit

Cletus Avoka assesses the impact of the 1992 Earth Summit and sets
out critical issues for its successor planned for 2002

By the time of the 1992 Earth Summit, the global community had realized that it was futile to try to achieve satisfactory development by conventional means. It recognized that development – basically defined in terms of economic and social factors – was harming the environment, and in many cases even having detrimental effects on society, particularly through damaged health.

Ghana, for example, calculated in 1988 that the cost of environmental damage resulting from her mode of development amounted to about 4 per cent of her GDP, even without taking account of the effect of environmental degradation on her people’s health.

Developing countries were aware of the need to promote development to improve the social and economic well-being of their populations, but accepted that this had to take account of possible damage to the environment. So they saw in the Rio Earth Summit a process which would ensure – to use the Brundtland Commission definition – that their development ‘met the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.
Poverty continues to be a major problem in developing countries
The outcome of the Summit, as outlined in Agenda 21, was seen as promoting a global partnership for sustainable development. Developing countries believed that they would be helped to implement their own Agenda 21 programme by such critical initiatives as providing new and adequate financial resources, the transfer of environmentally sustainable technologies, fair trade and the involvement of all major groups of stakeholders.

Five years later the global community met at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly to review the implementation of Agenda 21. It realized that many of the commitments that had been made in Rio were not being met. This is still the situation, though there have been many assessments since – at the annual sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development and Conferences of the Parties to the conventions agreed at the Summit.

Resources needed
The financial resources and environmentally sustainable technologies, which the developing countries need for their sustainable development programmes, are not being made available. Their governments are thus forced to use other resources and arrangements to meet their social and economic objectives and improve their people’s quality of life, sometimes at the expense of the environment – even though they realize that this will have serious costs in the future.

Poverty continues to be a major problem in developing countries – without the global community making much of an effort to address it seriously.

In many ways the countries of the North are failing to meet their other obligations under Agenda 21 and the Rio conventions. It has been difficult to get them to meet the emission levels they agreed in the Berlin Mandate of the Convention on Climate Change. The arrangements to implement the Clean Development Mechanism are yet to be finalized. And the United States has yet to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Despite their financial and other constraints, the developing countries have done better in implementing Agenda 21 and the Rio conventions than most countries from the North. Ghana, for example, has ratified the conventions and put in place institutional arrangements which ensure that the environment is taken into account in her development process. All investments in the country have to be subject to environmental impact assessment before they are allowed to proceed.
Financial resources and sustainable technologies must be made available
District assemblies, the lowest level of political administration in the country, have all prepared local Agenda 21s for implementation. Major groups are part of the country’s decision-making process on sustainable development. We have also put in place arrangements which will ensure that our forests – which are being depleted at alarming rates to meet the needs of the population, especially in rural areas – are managed sustainably.

All this has been achieved at a substantial cost to the country. People have been known to wonder why they should not use natural resources however they like to improve their economic well-being. Why should they be made to wait for development, the rationale goes, while the government addresses the question of the environment? Some have no desire for tomorrow, which they may not see. It is difficult, at times, to win the argument against such people because the financial and technical resources needed to solve their problems may not be readily available.

A critical look
The Earth Summit planned for 2002 gives the global community an opportunity to take another critical look at the implementation of all that was decided in Rio. Its success will largely depend on the process leading up to it. This must be very participatory, involving all stakeholders and countries. The process and way of conducting the Summit should go a long way to ensuring that countries are prepared to implement its outcome. It is important that it is focused so that concrete results can be achieved.

Attaining sustainable development cannot be looked at from the point of view of one region of the world or the other. It has to be considered as a global partnership. The developing countries hope that the following will be among the critical issues that the Earth Summit 2002 will address seriously.

1) Greater political commitment by all countries to the tenets of Agenda 21 and the other regional and global economic, environmental and social agreements.

2) Greater commitment by the countries of the North – expressed not only in words, but in action – to help developing countries meet the objectives of Agenda 21, the Rio conventions, and other global social and economic agreements.

3) The arrangements for implementing the Clean Development Mechanism should be finalized. Adequate resources should be made available, especially to African countries, to enable them to help the global community to meet the targets set out in the Kyoto Protocol to the Convention on Climate Change. We hope that all developed countries will ratify the Protocol by 2002.

4) The necessary resources should be provided to implement the Convention to Combat Desertification, which is critical for Africa.

5) Following the recent disaster in Mozambique, developing countries should be helped to prepare plans for addressing natural disasters, which can wipe out all the positive elements in a country’s sustainable development programme in a single day.

6) There needs to be an integrated approach for handling the world’s sustainable development agenda, which develops the appropriate synergies in implementing all the regional and global agreements in the field, including those dealing with human settlements, population, women, food security and the environment. This will call for a critical assessment of the United Nations system’s mechanism for addressing sustainable development. Developing countries should be given assistance to make it possible for them to do this at a national level.

7) All countries should be encouraged to prepare National Sustainable Development Strategies to address integrating economic, environmental and social issues into their development agendas. Local authorities should prepare their own Local Sustainable Development Strategies.

8) The global target of reducing poverty by half by the year 2015 should not just be a paper declaration, but be backed by action. The developing countries view reducing poverty as a very important element in their sustainable development programmes and expect the developed ones to assist them in their own efforts.

9) Developed countries should make publicly owned environmentally sound technologies available to developing countries for their own use. When these technologies are privately owned, favourable arrangements will need to be put in place to enable developing countries to take advantage of them.

10) New partnerships must be developed. The private sector, civil society and the various regional and sub-regional economic and development groupings should be critical partners in promoting sustainable development.

11) Developing countries, especially in Africa, are venturing towards making democracy an integral tool in their governance. This is expensive and may take away some resources which could be used immediately to undertake socio-economic development. Donor partners should recognize this and assist with the resources needed to promote democracy.

12) The current global trade discussions do not promote fair trade for most developing countries. Subtle trade barriers make it difficult for them to compete equally with their developed partners. Some regulations affect their ability to trade in goods that are critically important for them. For instance, the European Union’s recent decision to allow higher levels of vegetable fats other than cocoa butter in chocolate will hurt Ghana’s cocoa industry and reduce her income from exporting cocoa, harming her economy.

13) Most developing countries are burdened with the servicing of their debts and find it difficult to meet their commitments to the global financial institutions, though they recognize their obligations. Developed countries may consider reducing the debt burden by cancelling some of these debts or having them rescheduled on favourable terms.

I believe that the current arrangements for managing the environment, through UNEP, are satisfactory. UNEP should continue to provide the sound scientific basis for decision-making in this area. Efforts, however, should continue to be made towards making it more effective in its operations, and I would like to recognize the current efforts of its Executive Director, Dr. Klaus Toepfer, in this regard.

We need to start the process to the Earth Summit 2002 now if we want to achieve any positive results. There is no need to rewrite Agenda 21. What is needed is greater political will and commitment from all of us to ensure that it is implemented

The Hon. Cletus A. Avoka MP is Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, Ghana.
PHOTOGRAPH: Ugonna Emerole/UNEP/Still Pictures

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | The right to diversity | Gain, not pain | Changing course | From summit to summit | Empowering the poor | The environment millennium | Focus On Your World | Competition | A critical priority | Flashing indicators | Sea changes | No wires attached | Now for vigorous action | Malmö Ministerial Declaration | Young, impatient and soon to be in charge | Green spot in Africa

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on The Way Ahead, 1997, including:
Shridath Ramphal: Now the rich must adjust
Maurice F. Strong: Remaking industrial civilization
Ricardo A. Navarro: Unfair trade (Beyond 2000) 2000
Ashok Khosla: Under threat (UNEP – Looking Forward) 1999