Isagani R. Serrano**
Mood @ closing
Though varied, as in other summits, the mood here was one of disappointment generally,
with some dose of optimism thrown in.
Remarks collected by media tell a lot. Here’s a cross-section from different sources,
but mostly from The Star, the South African newspaper which, together with Earth Times,
published the Summit Star for an 11-day dedicated coverage of the Joburg Summit.
“Nothing for the poor, nothing for the climate,” said a joint statement of WWF, Oxfam
and Greenpeace. Instead of World Summit on Sustainable Development, the WWF said WSSD
really meant “World Summit of Shameful Deals.”
Oxfam: “The WSSD is an opportunity wasted…a triumph for greed and self-interest, a
tragedy for the poor and the environment.”
Dr. Vandana Shiva, Indian author, physicist and activist: “What happened in Joburg
amounts to a privatization of the Earth…an auction house in which the rights of the poor
were given away.”
Muriel Saragoussi, Brazilian Forum of Social Movements: “”Our governments have shamed
Liz Hosken, The Gaia Foundation, London: “What should have been an Earth Summit has been
infiltrated and taken over by trade. The Johannesburg Plan is an incredibly weak
Axel Naersted, Norwegian Forum for Environment and Development: “The Norwegian
government and a few others did an excellent job but the only victory was to prevent the
WTO taking over completely.”
Friends of the Earth International: “A failure. Only two new and specific targets: on
sanitation and establishing marine protected reserves. Otherwise existing commitments
reaffirmed…a clear step backwards from the Convention on Biological Diversity.”
Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa: “A failure as regard any significant
advances on the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, but…a few successes mixed in.”
National Wildlife Federation, US: “We are deeply disappointed in the Bush
administration’s approach to the plan…the same colluding industries who are favored in
Washington were favored in Joburg.”
NGO Energy and Climate Caucus: “The agreement on energy is an outright disaster with the
dropping of all targets and timetables.”
WWF: “Overall disappointed, but progress in some areas, notably water and sanitation,
and in fisheries.”
European Trade Union Confederation: “An imbalance between the importance given to trade
and the lack of recognition given to the social and environmental dimension.”
The Business Council for Sustainable Energy: “Disappointed at the lack of substantial
direction provided by the world leaders.”
Senator Bob Brown, Australian Greens: “Like ostriches, the wealthy nations have stuck
their heads into the sand and have let down the next generation in an appalling way.”
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, head of G77 and China: “We go from summit to summit
but our peoples go from abyss to abyss.”
Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General: “This summit has instigated global action among a wide
range of actors and makes sustainable development a reality. The summit will put us on a
path that reduces poverty while protecting the environment. Governments have agreed on an
impressive range of concrete commitments and actions that will make a real difference to
people around the world. Conferences like this cannot produce miracles…Johannesburg is a
beginning, and if we keep the momentum and pressure on the stakeholders, I believe the
conference will have made a major contribution.”
Nelson Mandela: “It had been a pleasure to exchange views with world decision makers…
There were highly developed countries whose wealth has been achieved through the
exploitation of colonial countries. It is time now that they use that money to assist
President Thabo Mbeki, South Africa, president of the WSSD: “Now let’s make things
What Joburg handed us
A blueprint to save our planet? Call it any which way you like but the Joburg Summit has
left some legacy for the present and future generations.
The Joburg Summit did what it was called to do. It gave us (a) a political declaration
and a plan of implementation, or so-called ‘Type 1 outcomes’; and (b) a bundle of
partnership initiatives, or so-called complementary ‘Type 2 outcomes’.
Imperfect as they are, the products are there to take home and carry forward. The next
step is to translate these into national plans or national strategy for sustainable
development (NSSD), hopefully to be in place in every country by 2005.
On President Mbeki’s advice the Johannesburg Commitment to Sustainable Development
should be read together with the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. So it’s like a
mother chapeaux (preamble or introduction) to the main thing. The Commitment reaffirmed
the Rio Declaration and other agreed sets of UN principles and called to put words into
action in areas that would truly enable humanity to move toward the path of
Many wanted to see a much stronger political declaration but this was not to be. In fact,
the document, based on the South Africa draft, nearly missed adoption at the closing
plenary as there was no deliberation on this in a real sense. Prior agreement was to do
this only after completion of the Plan of Implementation which stretched till the wee
hours of the closing day.
Partly in deference to the host and out of sheer fatigue, the summit closing
plenary adopted the Joburg Commitment although not without qualification and
reservations coming from disparate quarters. NGOs protested that reference to human
rights and indigenous peoples were missing in the revision. Others insisted to see their
own “babies” reflected somewhere. President Mbeki explained what happened and assured
the plenary that the final version would consider all these in the final declaration.
The Joburg Plan of Implementation was the main outcome of the Summit. The Plan comprised
ten chapters, beginning with the overall introduction followed by different themes, like
poverty, production and consumption, natural resource management, African development,
and so on then ending with means of implementation and governance.
It’s like the old Agenda 21 restructured along what world leaders had agreed as the most
outstanding challenges of our times. The 128 paragraphs fleshing out each chapter were a
bounty of must do statements, agonizing to be action-oriented rather than visionary, as
agreed from the start. Goals were hardly cast in clear targets and timetables, though the
2015 timeline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was assumed as future reckoning
For all its limitations and weaknesses, the Plan might serve as some kind of road map for
designing country-specific National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSSD). This
follow-through process could be an opportunity either for strengthening or further
weakening of the Joburg Plan.
These so-called ‘Type 2s’ were a controversial lot from early on. Despite repeated
caveats that they were not a substitute to ‘Type 1s’ the view that they were a
competitor for scarce resources persisted to the end.
As of 16 August, over 170 proposals for partnership initiatives have been received and
listed by the WSSD secretariat. These cover a broad range of themes, clustered around the
Joburg Plan’s concerns and the WEHAB (water and sanitation; energy; health; agriculture;
All the proposals could potentially fit in more than one cluster, for example, most of
them contribute to poverty eradication and nearly all involve capacity building. Some are
already fairly detailed, with set goals, partners, and a clear funding strategy. Others
are as yet conceptual, needing further work-outs. Some aim to benefit a few, others
nearly half of humanity.
Some examples. One is the Bicycle Refurbishing Initiative. Proposed by a Dutch, this
proposal seeks to collect bicycles in Europe and the US (100,000/year over 5 years) and
set up systems of transporting, refurbishing and selling these second-hand bikes in
Africa. Another is Water , Sanitation and Hygiene for All or WASH Initiative, proposed by
the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) of Geneva. This project
aims to deliver by 2015 safe, affordable, and reliable water and sanitation services to
over 1.1 billion people (living on US$1/day or less) currently without access and to over
2.4 billion people (living on US$2/day or less) currently with inadequate sanitation.
Resources: real additionality?
What resources are we talking about here?
The EU has committed to increase ODA by 22 billion Euros up to 2006, to increase to 9
billion Euros annually from 2006 onwards. US State Secretary Colin Powell said that
President Bush was seeking to allocate about US$ 5 billion over 20 years to development
aid. UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher wanted world business to come in to top the
so-called extra 11 billion dollars committed by developed countries in Monterrey.
According to US Assistant Secretary of State John F. Turner, 9 in every 10 dollars
available would be added by the private sector.
Are these net resources? Maybe, whatever everything is still on the drawing board. Wait
till you meet the devil in the details. Already, US commitment is set with a string of
conditions—focus on its favorite health and education, macroeconomic (read
privatization) and governance reforms—all of which could be rationalized under “anti-
terrorism.” The EU commitment might be more benign and Joburg-dedicated.
What to make of it
Coming home from this eventful global event, I was asked the usual but fair question:
what did you get out of it? Come to think of it, what did we really get out of the Joburg
Was it worth all the trouble? Maybe.
Where I stand on this one I already indicated in my response to a 6-point questionnaire
waiting on my desk. This was a follow-up to a pre-Joburg Summit survey where I was also
chosen as one of the respondents. It was done by Prof. Adil Najam of the Boston
University Department of International Relations and Center for Energy and Environmental
Studies. To the last question of the survey—a concluding comment on the Summit’s most
important achievements and/or disappointments—my reply: a very minimalist response to a
monumental problem. You can guess the rest of my answers to the rating scales.
I can’t help feeling tentative about the Joburg Summit. The reasons are many, and some
of them may not be fair. It’s easy to join the chorus of disappointed and hard to be
positive if you yourself are struggling to be optimistic.
The Joburg Summit was a huge learning experience about how hard (or ‘hopeless’) to
negotiate fairness in this fragile world.
The devil is still in the perimeter. Before we could even talk about details the rich and
powerful put a basic principle back on the block. Already enshrined in the Rio
Declaration (principle 7), the principle of common but differentiated responsibility is
for me what runs through all the contentious issues of the Joburg Summit process. It is
the cornerstone principle of sustainability in a highly unequal world.
If it’s a shot in the arm, China, Russia and Canada commited to ratifying the Kyoto
Protocol before the year is over. That left the US and Australia even more isolated.
Likewise for the call of Denmark, on behalf of EU, to form an alliance among those
already willing to strive for the 10 percent target in new and renewable energy (NRE),
exclusive of hydro, in the total energy mix.
But the Kyoto Protocol is at bottom about mitigation of emissions and scarcely about deep
cuts. And the biggest emitter of all, the US, continues to reject even that minimalist
Trade, finance and debt were likewise a big summit headache. There’s hardly any
indication in the summit outcomes that developing and poor countries will get more fair
terms of trade, less burdensome financing of development and substantial debt relief.
The world’s poor and the environment would have to settle for the crumbs. The Joburg
Summit seemed so helpless to make the lifestyle of the rich subject to negotiation.
If every little helps…
If you have learned to scale down your expectations and believe that every little helps,
the Joburg Summit offers enough to chew on and translate in your own little corner or
“defensible spaces”, as it were. Of course major UN events are not about little things
and little corners, though these are also important concerns. What’s a global
summit for if not about big questions and big actions?
The deliberations prior to and during the Joburg Summit and its final outcomes would seem
to agree with those who envisioned the Joburg Summit to be a “poverty summit”, a
“development summit”, an “environment for development summit”, or even a world summit
for African development, if you like. Much of the agenda in question revolved around
poverty and redress of imbalances. Environment and management of natural resources have
been tackled from this point. And so have other issues, like human rights, institutional
arrangements, and so on.
In a sense, the Joburg Summit was a follow-up to the 2000 Millennium Summit,
incorporating the March 2002 Monterrey Conference (financing for development/poverty) and
Doha Development Agenda of the 2001 WTO Ministerial Meeting (especially trade access for
poor countries). Each new one builds on the previous others. Did Joburg?
Reacting to President Mbeki’s reference to the historic end of apartheid in South Africa
Indian activist-scientist Vandana Shiva spoke of a new ‘global apartheid’ between the
rich and the poor of this world. She asserted that this was very much felt during the
summit and warned about hijacking of the summit by the WTO and global corporations.
In both physical and symbolic terms, a certain divide did exist during the Joburg Summit
and it expressed in different ways. Outside of the official process were a motley of
events with no real or merely tenuous connection to the negotiations or hardly any
influence on the outcomes.
The Multisectoral Dialogue (MSD) was a WSSD Secretariat-mandated process and platform of
engaging different sectors around the WSSD issues. What value it might have had stands to
question, as can be gleaned from the September 4 editorial of the Stakeholder Forum’s