by John C. Dernbach
This year, in late August 2002, the United Nations will hold the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), an international conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, ostensibly to create a new model of sustainable development that integrates economic development, social justice, and environmental imperatives. WSSD is supposed to be a ten year follow-up and implementation conference to the 1992 Rio de Janeiro UN Conference on Environment and Development–thus, its other name, “Rio plus 10.” In the Preparatory Committee (PrepComm) meetings that have preceded WSSD, (the latest in Bali, Indonesia held in late May through early June) a common theme has emerged–the United States government is bound and determined to undermine, overthrow, and sabotage any international treaties, agreements, and conferences that it believes restrict its sovereignty in any way as the world’s rogue superpower.
At a time when the petropolitics of the Bush administration seem to reign supreme, the rights of peoples affected by the global hunt for oil have received an important boost. An African commission has ruled the Nigerian government should compensate the Ogoni people for abuses against their lands, environment, housing, and health caused by oil production and government security forces. Nigerian and international groups say that the ruling by the nine-member African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) is a sweeping affirmation of what the human rights community calls ESC rights–defined by the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social, and, Cultural Rights.
The Rio Grande/Río Bravo no longer reaches the Gulf of Mexico—it’s blocked by a sandbar that is the result of several years of low flow in the river. This development is symbolic of the dire state of the entire transboundary river basin. The river’s troubles are now manifesting themselves in an increasingly acrimonious dispute between the United States and Mexico.
Having rejected the Kyoto Protocol on climate change soon after taking office, the Bush administration has finally released its alternative plan for addressing the threat of climate change. Unfortunately, the administration seems to have taken a page from Enron’s operating procedures on accounting tricks. Although it promises to reduce pollution, it will actually lead to increased emissions. This is partly because the plan requires only voluntary compliance, and partly because the Bush administration is promoting the plan with some artful wordsmithing.
In a previous article for FPIF, written after COP6bis in Bonn, (see Tom Athanasiou and Paul Baer, Bonn and Genoa: A Tale of Two Cities and Two Movements (August 2001) online at http://www.fpif.org/papers/kyoto.html) we argued that despite all the weakening that the Kyoto Protocol had suffered, the Bonn Compromise had made it ratifiable, and had to be counted as a major victory. We argued that with Kyoto’s ratification, carbon would actually be priced, that new principles for the protection of the global commons would be established, and that the structures necessary to eventually strengthen the climate regime would be put into place. And we added a few elements of hope: that as the reality of climate change becomes more sensible and the climate protection coalition stronger, it would become possible to step past Kyoto to the global, equity-based treaty that might actually work.
This past month has been marked by a dramatic change in the U.S. and European attitudes toward the Israeli occupation. The U.S. first, and subsequently the EU, have adopted the Israeli view that the core of the problem is Yasir Arafat. Bombing Arafat’s helicopters, confining him to the besieged city of Ramalla, and the recent occupation of parts of the city, have nothing to do with Israeli security or “the struggle against terror.” The Israeli Government targeted Arafat, and succeeded in convincing first the Israeli public and now the international community that this policy is legitimate.
It may be time–yet, then it may be too late–for Israel to confess to its true intentions in the Palestinian territories. The sustained and myopic focus on the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has little to do with stopping “terrorism.” What removing Arafat will do is induce a Palestinian civil war and, by extension, give Israel a pretext for re-occupying the Palestinian territories. The campaign behind this strategy has been ongoing, but it has rapidly intensified since the U.S. military action in Afghanistan. As the U.S. focuses its efforts on Osama bin Laden, Israel appears to be making parallel moves against Arafat.
The inevitable has now happened. The strategy of the government of President de la Rua was to revive the sinking economy by re-attracting IMF credits and foreign capital. To appease the IMF and Wall Street, it chose to remain with a policy triad that had ceased to make sense. This was to defend at all costs a severely overvalued peso exchange rate, keep up full servicing of the oppressively large dollar debt, and balance the fiscal budget in the face of skyrocketing unemployment and falling production.
The U.S. House of Representatives barely approved fast track trade authority by a vote of 215 to 214, ending a long battle that pitted the Fortune 500 against a broad alliance of labor, environmental, religious, feminist, human rights, consumer, family farm, and other activists. These diverse forces defeated fast track twice during the Clinton administration and managed to delay a vote numerous times this year because of lack of support. Now that fast track has been approved, pro-free trade analysts would no doubt like to begin ringing the death knell of the opposition forces. To the contrary, there are several reasons why this vote is only a small setback in the fight against corporate globalization.