TWN Briefings for WSSD No.1

WSSD Jo’burg 2002: Where We Are and What’s Needed Now

1.          JO’BURG 2002

WSSD opens in Joburg in a crisis atmosphere.  The Plan of Implementation has many major points of contention.  Some countries are even seeking to water down the two most sacred principles of sustainable development agreed to in Rio 1992, i.e. the common but differentiated responsibility (which is the lynchpin of development), and the precautionary principle (which is the lynchpin for environment).   The Political Declaration has yet to be even properly discussed.  The so-called “Type Two Partnerships” is in some state of confusion: the political framework underlying it has yet to be decided on, whilst individual partnerships are already being announced, and NGOs as well as many governments fear this is a red herring to undermine the multilateral system (“Type One” intergovernmental commitments).  How did we get to this impasse?  What happened since Rio?  Which way to go forward? The following is a brief look at what has happened since Rio, and what we need to do for WSSD 2002 to succeed.


Positive Aspects:  Rio built the conceptual and political link between environment and development, and forged the basis of a new potential North-South “deal”.  “Sustainable development” was born as a concept and value which includes equity, rights of people to fulfil their needs in this and future generations, environment and development.  It called for the changing of production and consumption patterns. It spurred many groups to action including in integrated environment-development-rights manner. 

Shortfalls:  Rio did not have a program to regulate TNCs and big business, which are the main source of environment problems. It failed to address global development governance, and only used an inadequate proxy (financial resources, technology transfer) as framework for equitable global economic policy.  It did not have a clear implementation or compliance plan. It had a weak follow up mechanism (mainly the CSD) compared to the task.   There have been many multilateral environment agreements, but some of the old ones (CBD, Climate Change) are still mired in controversy with little if anything to show for results;  others (Desertification) have yet to really take off; and the new ones (Stockholm, Rotterdam) must be seen as achievements (for being established) and have yet to prove themselves.

The Situation Has Deteriorated.   After ten years the situation has deteriorated on both the environment and development fronts.  There is more deforestation and Greenhouse Gas emissions, threats to water supply, more resource exploitation. There is more absolute poverty, higher inequality, an increased threat of Aids and other infectious diseases.  Aid volume has fallen.  Technology transfer went into reverse due to tighter IPR regimes resulting from WTO-TRIPS agreement.  The environment fell down the priority policy agenda.  So did development, whose principle is now being challenged in international fora. Globalisation undermined Sustainable Development.   A major reason for this deterioration is the ascent of globalisation as policy, practice and law, transmitted through more corporate power as governments deregulate and privatise, as the IMF’s power expanded to more countries and its restrictive macroeconomic policies combined with external-liberalisation finance, trade and investment policies were wrongly applied even to the hitherto successful developing countries.  Most important, the WTO and its rules came into being, thus institutionalising “globalisation”.  But whilst developing countries were pressured to free their markets with devastating results to small industries and farms, rich countries continued to protect their markets through tariffs, subsidies and high IPR regimes. Many communities and families became more impoverished, even as a few became much richer. Due to market expansion without enough regard for environment, the environment deteriorated.  Despite the end of the Cold War, there is now a rise in conflict within and among countries.  The military budget is rising rapidly again. Thus from all three aspects of sustainability (environment, social, economic) the situation is worse than ten years ago.  Some institutions for sustainable development were set up especially the CSD, but have been disappointingly weak in face of the globalisation forces.

3.          NEEDED:  A GOOD VISION

To redress this, Johannesburg must have a vision of structural changes in the future.  Based on this vision we can draw up the political statement and plan of action accordingly, otherwise the documents may be only general or technical without a framework.  The vision should be based on: building rapidly on the good things from Rio:  the environment-development link;  the North-South partnership;  the government-nongovernment dialogue; equity in and between countries, for the present and future generations; and expanding rights of communities and people Š both the human right to fulfil basic and development needs and the human right to a clean, safe environment.   We need strong institutions to turn vision to plan and plan to implementation.  We need an implementation plan that can really be implemented and that will make a difference when implemented.


(a)  The hallmark principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibility” should be operationalised in all areas and issues:  it should have an operational plan in all sectors and cross-sectoral areas.  (Similar to an exercise in WTO on looking at and strengthening the Special and Differential Treatment principle).   

(b)The precautionary principle must similarly be fleshed out and operationalised.  This must especially be applied to new technologies, production processes, and products (such as genetic engineering and GMOs)  that have the capability of damaging or even destroying the environment and human health.

(c)  The North-South compact that started but failed at Rio must be revived.  The key development needs of the South should be listed and a clear programme initiated on aid, debt relief, terms of trade, technology assessment and transfer, IPR regimes appropriate to development, etc.  A programme for social development (health, education, information culture) with the spelling out of needs, targets, resources and implementation should be agreed to.  A listing of the environmental imperatives, with a priority agenda of the most critical things that need doing immediately, should similarly be done, with a clear implementation plan with target and commitments. 

(d)  The North must take the lead: First in having a plan to change its unsustainable production and consumption models to set an example for the world (the move in Europe however tentative towards organic farms and safe foods is should be applauded and accelerated). Second, in helping the South in its transition to sustainability.  Third, in initiating global policy and governance reforms. 

(e)  The South must be more serious in devising the sustainable development approach by giving priority to the social and environmental agenda which until now in most countries is inadequately dealt with. It should recognize that the economic models in the North have failed to address environmental concerns.  It should also reject the disastrous models imposed on it through structural adjustment policies by the Bretton Woods institutions.  It should search for and implement truly sustainable development models.

(f)   The forces of unfettered globalisation must be tamed by a collective effort of governments:  to regulate companies through a framework convention of corporate accountability; to regulate financial markets and restrain the free flow of speculative capital; to reexamine the dinosaur-age policies of Bretton Woods institutions;  to reform the WTO principles and rules so as to realistically suit the needs of communities and developing countries.  It must be recognised that the WTO Doha outcome, despite the attempts to portray it as pro-development has the potential to be Everything But Development; the attempts to move the “Singapore issues” (investment, competition, procurement, trade facilitation) along the negotiation route to new agreements should be reversed, otherwise sustainable development will not be able to recover from the blow.  Perhaps the greatest single achievement that WSSD can attain is to reverse the disastrous trends in WTO that Doha has set in motion. 

(g)  We need a review of global governance.  We need changes in the institutions that have power.  We need to build quickly a global sustainable development architecture, with the three legs (social, environment, economic) all developing strongly and evenly.  A strengthened CSD is one obvious answer: how it should be strengthened and structured, according to which model in the UN family, and how it shall be financed and governed should be a critical point of discussion.

(h)  Finally we need to recognise the value, contribution and rights of the ordinary people, the local communities, indigenous peoples, and the poor, and the social organisations and movements, and the NGOs that fight on their behalf, and on behalf of justice, equity and equality Š between and within countries, between classes and between men and women. Thus the rights of individuals, communities and groups that are fighting for this cause, the cause of sustainable development and justice, must be recognised and expanded, and the WSSD process must accelerate this movement for rights, both procedurally and substantively.  The NGOs involved in this process are an important component.  The people’s organizations will do their part.  The governments and the international agencies must also do their part. 

If WSSD contributes towards the vision and the actions proposed above, it would be a positive achievement.  If it fails to do so, it would be most unfortunately a missed opportunity.  If it backtracks from even the Rio standards, then it would be a tragic failure for everyone.