Saving the planet

The Johannesburg summit on sustainable development has failed to meet expectations, even though it would be unwise to shun the few deals reached so far. One agreement concerns the preservation of marine life, while a second deal foresees the gradual limitation of toxic chemicals (target date 2020). The crucial issue, however, concerns the degree to which countries will implement the requisite measures. Participants at the Rio de Janeiro summit 10 years ago agreed on a much more ambitious program for tackling environmental destruction which was, however, never put into practice. The same thing happened with the 1997 Kyoto protocol on the limitation of gas emissions responsible for the greenhouse effect. The United States, the world’s largest polluter, still refuses to ratify the Kyoto agreement. Its denial has had practical implications as the US has, since the Rio summit, increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent. The US now produces a quarter of greenhouse gasses globally. The Bush administration seems blinded by its narrowly economic approach, which does not suit the hegemonic role of the USA in the international system. Still, coming under intense pressure, the US delegation in Johannesburg changed course. Only time will tell whether this was a tactical maneuver or a genuine policy change. What is certain is that in this way, and with support from some other states, the US has managed to shift the summit focus away from issues of environment and poverty toward issues of trade and development. Without pushing for a breakthrough, the EU has emerged as the most progressive force in this forum. The EU is not only proposing the signing of a political declaration but the adoption of a binding 10-year action plan with specific targets and time frames. Hence the EU is battling with the US, which refuses to undertake any binding commitments. It is remarkable that the stance of developing states facilitates US policies. The governments of poor countries are under a severe economic strain. Not surprisingly, they believe they cannot afford to undertake environment-friendly commitments that may hinder national growth. It should be noted that more than 80 countries have per capita incomes lower than they were a decade ago.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.