NEWS

Johannesburg showed the way things stand

What is the key word today for the environment? Johannesburg. The recent World Conference on Sustainable Development was the forerunner to what was to follow with the war on Iraq. That is, just as with Iraq, the US bypassed the UN system, with a number of other countries going along with it or at least tolerating it. In Johannesburg, agreement via the UN was abandoned and a peculiar alliance between the USA and Third World countries emerged. G77, the old movement of non-aligned states (represented by Tito, Indira Gandhi, and so on) that developed into a group of originally 77 countries (today they number 130), questioned the European model of social and environmental protection and aligned themselves with the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, which is the group of states in favor of deregulating markets and the unrestricted movement of petroleum, and against any moves to protect the environment. The Third World turned its back on Europe, refusing both free supplies of soft technology and renewable forms of energy. The Johannesburg conference did not result in an international court for the environment, nor a World Environment Organization which Greece had proposed (and to a great extent promoted). There were no mechanisms of control over the World Trade Organization or economic institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Organization. The UN was bypassed in favor of unrestricted economic growth and emerged from the conference with its reputation in tatters. On the other hand, the USA came out the winner and is now exploiting that position in the war on Iraq. So it has been apparent since last year that the official world system tolerates intervention by the USA. And to be honest, that is logical for many reasons. America is clearer, more understandable – it wants economic development. Clearer than Europe? Of course. After all, what does the European proposal consist of? Democracy within these countries, so that any products are redistributed, a welfare state, very complicated environmental legislation. These are difficult things that societies are often unwilling to accept. On the other hand, in all these countries there is a real passion for development along well-trodden pathways (classic forms of industry, petroleum production, electric power from petroleum, infrastructure, direct foreign investment and trade). Unfortunately, despite the invocation of sustainable development, in my opinion, we have returned to a classic development model. And one without limits… Yes, for in these countries, the State has effectively been taken over. Africa has 53 states and about 20 wars which we are ignorant of (Iraq is the most well-known). In Congo alone, four wars are being waged. There is no State because it was badly set up, a product of colonialism – and there the West bears a great responsibility. So for Europe to talk about regulatory mechanisms and environmental protection in Congo is somewhat hypocritical. Old regulatory mechanisms, the different tribes and tribal economies, no longer exist. What exist now are various guerrilla movements and a few interests that perpetuate wars. Pretending that the UN system is representative because states are represented there, means we are turning away from the truth – what states exactly? Half of all African countries don’t even attend the UN (they cannot pay their prime ministers’ fare). Despite that, members of the Security Council who voted for or against the war on Iraq were Guinea, Angola (where a 30-year civil war just ended) and Cameroon. Three of the votes came from countries that are barely able to participate in these international forums. So abolishing the state on one of the continents is a truly terrifying issue. It is precisely this lack of clarity that the USA is exploiting, the looseness, the vagueness of the international system.