15 September 2002
TEWOLDE EGZIABHER - "ONE GENUINE HERO" OF EARTH SUMMIT
Below is an excerpt from an article by the Independent on Sunday's environment correspondent, Geoffrey Lean, reviewing the largely missed opportunity of the earth summit in Johannesburg.
The article notes where a major part of the responsibility lay:
"Had [Blair] himself shown an ounce of the political will he called for, he could have made a difference... It is hard to overestimate the damage done internationally by the cursory treatment of the summit by the absent President Bush and the transient Mr Blair, while they were apparently preparing for war. The rest of the world got the impression, rightly or not, that they were obsessed with the impossible task of trying to bomb out terrorism while caring little about tackling the poverty that gives rise to it. This will surely be immensely counter-productive."
But Lean goes on to strike a more positive note, "There was, however, one genuine hero: Tewolde Egziabher".
In an article for The Independent during the summit Lean had already noted the critical role the head of Ethiopia's environment protection agency was playing:
"American plans to force genetically modified crops and food on to Third World countries were unexpectedly frustrated at the Earth Summit last night.
After an impassioned plea from Ethiopia, ministers rejected clauses in the summit's plan of action which would have given the World Trade Organisation (WTO) powers over international treaties on the environment.
...Originally, the only resistance to the proposals came from Norway and Switzerland but after the Ethiopian delegation made its intervention the rest of the Third World swung against it, followed by the European Union which had originally been pushed into adopting it by EC officials. The US was left isolated.
"I have never seen so many environmental ministers hugging each other as when the proposal went down,'' said one British negotiator early this morning. "
[PLANS TO PROMOTE GM CROPS DEFEATED
By Geoffrey Lean in Johannesburg
The Independent (London),02 September 2002
They came. They talked. And weasled. And left
The Independent on Sunday, 08 September 2002
In 25 years as an environmental writer, Geoffrey Lean had seen nothing like it. What a circus! What a show! But oh, what a missed opportunity! In this special report, he reflects on the week that the world came to Johannesburg and asked for the earth
...Had [Blair] himself shown an ounce of the political will he called for, he could have made a difference, for example by working with Chancellor Schröder to secure a renewable energy target. But the possibility of tabloid stories about the cost of his hotel room if he had stayed overnight apparently weighed more heavily with him than the issues he professed to care about so deeply.
It is hard to overestimate the damage done internationally by the cursory treatment of the summit by the absent President Bush and the transient Mr Blair, while they were apparently preparing for war. The rest of the world got the impression, rightly or not, that they were obsessed with the impossible task of trying to bomb out terrorism while caring little about tackling the poverty that gives rise to it. This will surely be immensely counter-productive.
There was, however, one genuine hero: Tewolde Egziabher, a slight, asthmatic Ethiopian who heads his country's environment protection agency. Twice, by the sheer force of his somewhat diffident personality, he turned the whole conference around. On the first occasion, the summit seemed set to take a big step backwards by giving the World Trade Organisation, which allows no obstacle to free trade, the power to override international environment agreements. This threatened to nullify treaties which, for example, control trade in hazardous waste and toxic chemicals, phase out the substances that destroy the ozone layer, and enable countries to refuse imports of GM crops and food. Just as everything seemed lost, Mr Egziabher made an impassioned late-night speech that shamed the rest of the Third World and then the EU into voting down the plan. No one could remember a personal intervention having such an effect. Then he did it again, personally frustrating a US move to negate the small progress made on corporate responsibility.
The South African government also deserves praise for skilfully handling the negotiations and mounting a logistically flawless conference. And there were silver linings. The biggest was a hugely significant by-product of the summit: the announcement by Russia and Canada that they were moving to ratify the Kyoto Protocol combating global warming. Their ratification, under the complicated rules of the treaty, would bring it into force. This alone would make the summit success - and do more to stimulate the spread of renewable energy than the proposals that had been defeated. Then the summit confirmed a series of other targets, notably those of the Millennium Summit two years ago, which set out goals for halving dire poverty by 2015, and the Monterey Summit earlier this year, which unexpectedly led to promises of big aid increases by the US and the EU. These set out a framework which, in principle at least, bind even the Bush administration to tackling the poverty and environmental crises.
Next, the development and environment lobbies came closer together, with groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth helping to lead the fight to tackle world poverty. The combination could be immensely powerful for the future.
[for the full article:
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