Big business accused of derailing Earth Summit
JOHANNESBURG - Activists accused big business this week of hijacking the Earth Summit from a goal of halving poverty without poisoning the planet.
\"The resources of Mother Earth are being sold off,\" said Anuradha Mittal of Indian group Food First on the second day of the 10-day talks in Johannesburg tackling issues from promoting clean energy and preserving fish stocks to fighting AIDS.
The World Development Movement, a British-based anti-poverty group, accused rich nations of \"kowtowing to the powerful corporate lobbies\". Among activists\' complaints this week were limited access to the summit venue, ringed by armed police.
The main business lobby, representing about 200 corporations in Johannesburg from automakers to chemicals groups and oil majors, rejected charges that businesses would get better deals than those on environmental protection.
\"Business is happy to work with others to deliver and make sure we address the environment issues and we look at the social side,\" said Mark Moody-Stuart, former chief executive of Shell and head of Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD).
He told Reuters, for instance, that the world should stick with the Kyoto climate change pact despite misgivings from some major firms and rejection by Washington. President George W. Bush will not join about 100 world leaders at the summit finale.
The conference is expected to bless partnerships between governments, companies and other groups to get together to solve problems including access to clean water, energy or healthcare or to improve policies on green agriculture or biodiversity.
Many environmentalists are sceptical, saying the alliances could be a backdoor way for governments to shirk responsibility and give big business opportunities to profit from expensive, privatised services ranging from water supply to electricity.
Delegates from poor nations at the summit say the United States is leading resistance to their calls for more aid and new timetables to meet goals of halving poverty and hunger by 2015.
\"In the United States, globalisation is a god,\" said Tewolde Gebre Egziabher, a senior Ethiopian delegate to the summit.
Among other problems: \"The northern states still insist on maintaining subsidies on agricultural products,\" he said.
Poul Nielson, the European Union\'s Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, denied that the 15 nations were pushing rampant capitalist remedies: \"The EU is not blindly accepting the market is the only way to do things,\" he said.
Inside, many delegates at the World Summit on Sustainable Development blasted rich countries for giving about a billion dollars a day in subsidies to their farmers - six times aid handouts to poor states totalling about $54 billion a year.
\"Can we take a piece of this billion dollars a day...and put it toward ending hunger and poverty in the developing world?\" University of California professor Pedro Sanchez asked to loud applause in the plenary hall for negotiations.
A World Bank official noted: \"The average cow is supported by three times the level of income of a poor person in Africa\".
But the United States recently increased agricultural subsidies while the European Union is bitterly divided over French-led resistance to cuts in its massive subsidy programme.
Noting World Bank figures calculating that giving them more access to Western markets could benefit developing countries to the tune of $150 billion a year - almost treble what they get in aid - British Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told delegates that London strongly favoured reform of EU subsidies.
But helping Third World exports meet Western quality standards was also a way to improve access to markets, she said.
Organisers denied they had tightened access to the plush convention centre in Sandton, close to some of Johannesburg\'s slums. They said they were struggling to manage about 16,000 delegates for a building that can take only about 7,000 people.
But non-governmental delegates had to get special tags, as well as passes, to get in. Some grumbled that the neighbouring mall was dominated by a huge display for German BMW luxury cars.
Away from the wrangling, barefoot activists in tie-dyed T-shirts at a \"People\'s Earth Summit\" a few kilometres (miles) away grooved to a jazz band as they sought to mend the planet.
\"People here are networking and getting things done,\" said Samantha Skyring, a local activist involved in a project that introduces drums to township children as a way to express themselves and to heal themselves \"spiritually and mentally\".
NOT HOT AIR?
Summit Secretary General Nitin Desai rejected widespread predictions that the meeting\'s draft 77-page conclusions will be mainly hot air. \"This conference will be different,\" he told South African public radio. \"The focus is very much on action.\"
Among deals already struck, officials pointed to a pact to revive fish stocks by 2015. Negotiators have so far agreed 38 of 156 paragraphs that were still in dispute before Johannesburg. agreed several of the less contentious points.
In a key section on trade, finance and globalisation, delegates agreed some of the less contentious points this week.
The latest draft marginally watered down some environmental schemes while strengthening references to deals reached at the World Trade Organisation talks in Doha last year.
One group of activists vowed to press ahead with a banned protest march from a slum to the Sandton centre on Saturday, setting them on a collision course with South African police who have warned they will crack down \"very, very firmly\".
Story by Alister Doyle
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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