This is an edited version of an interview CSERGE conducted with Saliem Fakir, Director of the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) South Africa Office, on issues for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) that will take place in Johannesburg in August and September this year. The next SARPN Newsletter will have a focus on the WSSD.
CSERGE: What are the key interests that will fight it out at the Summit?
Saliem: The general mood is not positive and we will not see the enthusiasm of Rio 92 repeated. We are likely to see a battle of interests around trade, energy, finance, and climate change. Issues of poverty alleviation, and globalisation will inform the agenda. WSSD needs to go beyond a review of Agenda 21 towards something more substantial that is forward looking.
There is also a debate on a future International Environmental Governance (IEG) system. The EU Council has proposed a governance framework. In my opinion this is more pragmatic than the notion of a ‘super’ environmental organisation and recognises the legitimacy of existing UN.
Another useful idea is for greater involvement of environmental and other Ministers in environmental governance and policy on implementing sustainable development. Last year, our own Minister, Valli Moosa was pushing for this.
CSERGE: What about the main strategies for meeting these challenges?
Saliem: There are two initiatives. The first is the Global Deal (GD) supported by the European Council and other European States. The second is the South African government's proposal for a set of actions called the Johannesburg Plan of Action. Alliances and partnerships will be needed to achieve post WSSD goals.
SERGE: How significant is the GD? What do you think of it?
Saliem: It still needs to be fleshed out. There are three main elements: trade, de-linking environment and development, and ensuring developed countries adhere to their ODA commitments. It is a good starting point and can complement the Johannesburg Plan of Action.
CSERGE: What role will anti-globalisation or anti-privatisation social movements play at the WSSD?
Saliem: The anti-globalisation and anti-privatisation social movements are important and should have a platform. I think there has been some confusion, maybe even a deliberate attempt, to conflate violent anarchism and anti-globalisation. Anita Roddick, the former CEO of the Body Shop, has participated in anti-globalisation events. Is she now all of a sudden an anarchist?
CSERGE: In your expectations, how will positions be developed around trade and Corporate Social Responsibility?
Saliem: The Ministerial Declaration from the WTO meeting at Doha, Qatar links trade and the WSSD ensuring that it will feature. Developing countries will suspect that environmental standards may become a new form of non-tariff barriers. The EU is hard-pressed to deal with environmental issues because of its constituency and the proposed reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The African bloc is very keen that this issue be discussed.
All the major multinationals now have some sort of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy and committee. One needs to measure the talk against action. Some companies seem sincere and willing to adhere to sound environmental and labour practices. Consumers in developed countries are demanding it. With large corporations have more financial clout than many developing countries, there has to be an international regime governing corporate behaviour. At the moment there are only voluntary mechanisms.
Free Trade Agreements are also a concern. Some view them as an attempt to by-pass the WTO as it becomes more developing country focused. NAFTA is a case in point, its investor clauses may allow corporations powers over sovereign and democratic states. We have already seen a Canadian company, MetalClad, taking a Mexican municipality to court for introducing legislation it viewed as impacting on its bottom line.
CSERGE: What are key organisational challenges for the Summit? Have we learnt from the World Conference Against Racism (WOCAR)? Will there be effective interaction between the Global Forum and the UN Conference?
Saliem: I am hoping we have learnt. The Global Forum at WOCAR was a disaster, partly because South African NGOs are unaccustomed to dealing with international players and have been ameteurish. I think the conditions that led to failure at WOCAR are present for the WSSD.
CSERGE: What impact will the South African civil society fracas have on the Summit?
Saliem: If there is no positive outcome South African NGOs will loose immense face and reputation, and may lose future funding from donors and partner northern NGOs. Politically it will be their death. WOCAR and the WSSD are important tests of our ability to become international players. The SA government is doing better at dealing with an international audience than the SA NGOs. I think the major problem in the NGO community is our inward focus. We forget the Summit is an international event. I think it reflects the lack of good political leadership. I doubt, that any NGO network, like SANGOCO, will survive failure for long. It has not shown vision. We have to go beyond pettiness and mediocrity.
CSERGE: Why hasn't South Africa developed a National Policy on Sustainable Development (NSSD)? Should it have?
Saliem: When Pallo Jordan was Minister for Environment, South Africa committed itself to an NSSD. It has completed a review of Agenda 21 as the foundation for a process to develop an NSSD after the Summit. The process will require consultation with other sectors as well as the environmental sector to take the NSSD beyond an environmental discourse so that it does not just become another boring exercise.
CSERGE: What is the state of affairs on Agenda 21 and preparation for the Summit in other SADC countries?
Saliem: I understand that a regional document is being pulled together. There have been regional review meetings.
CSERGE: What will be the impact of Zimbabwe on the African position at the Summit (in terms of NEPAD, for instance)?
Saliem: To suggest that NEPAD relies on Zimbabwe's behaviour and the reaction of Mbeki is an insult to other African leaders. Although Mbeki and others initiated it, the AU has adopted NEPAD as its own initiative. Its main drivers are Senegal, Nigeria, Eqypt and Algeria. In addition, the G-8 has established a special committee to assist in pulling together NEPAD.
CSEARGE: Is there adequate coordination between SADC countries for the Summit, and Africa in general?
Saliem: SADC is coordinated through its Secretariat. African coordination has been facilitated through the African Ministers Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). I doubt that there has been enough time to consider the issues seriously because of the shortage of resources. South Africa has played a supportive role in ensuring that an African Agenda is developed. A Ministerial Declaration in October, facilitated by UNEP stated the African position on the WSSD.
Full text at www.sarpn.org.za