“Voluntary Partnerships”

In Bali at the end of May, the UN called a pre-meeting to thrash out an agreed agenda and action plan for the Johannesburg summit. After this meeting, the spokesperson for the pressure group Friends of the Earth (FOE) International, Daniel Mittler, said, “The US and its friends might as well come from Mars for all they care about the future of our planet.” At the Bali meeting, the Bush administration successfully pushed for any deals on the environment to be based on ’voluntary partnerships’, consistent with its neo-liberal, deregulation, agenda. They also persuaded Australia and Canada to join them at the summit in opposing the Kyoto agreement to reduce global warming. While the Bali meeting was taking place, the Indonesian authorities intimidated a flotilla of local fishermen and forced them to abandon their protest against the ’free trade’ policies promoted by the Western powers at the meeting, which threaten to destroy their livelihoods.

The conference put forward a meaningless wish list of aims for the summit that will never go beyond the paper it is written on. One proposal is to reduce by half the 1.2 billion people who do not have access to clean water by 2015, another is to provide 2 billion people with electricity generated from renewable sources. Basic healthcare needs, such as immunisation and access to essential drugs, should be available to all and the 2.4 billion people currently without it, should be provided with proper sanitation. However the Western powers made it clear in advance that no more money will be available to achieve these targets and they will all be strictly voluntary. Although it is possible that relatively minor issues such as a clampdown on illegal logging will be agreed, this will not be able to disguise the fact that the imperialist countries are treating the Earth summit as a cheap public relations stunt. Even conservative commentators in the West have been forced to admit this glaring fact.

On all the key issues for environmentalists, including finance and trade commitments, health, education, debt reduction and above all, targets for renewable energy generation, the Bali conference broke up without agreement. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, was forced to call an emergency meeting in New York in late July, of the key countries, including the G8, comprising the leading capitalist powers, in an attempt to save the summit.

Environmental pressure groups and activists are pressing for the summit to adopt tough enforceable rules. The key priority for Friends of the Earth is to establish a legally binding treaty which requires international companies, wherever they operate, to adopt best practice and to be accountable for their environmental and social damage to citizens and communities. Daniel Mittler, the FOE spokesperson, has correctly said that voluntary partnerships will not deliver sustainable development.