The principles and objectives laid down by the Stockholm Resolution were confirmed by the Rio de Janeiro Summit on June 14, 1992 (also known as the Earth Summit) which adopted a now famous Rio Declaration and its Plan of Action popularly known as Agenda 21 and the Declaration on Principles of Forests. The Heads of Governments who attended the Earth Summit proclaimed that “there shall be sustainable development, and the environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant levels”. The post-Rio program was reviewed in the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held on Johannesburg in 2002.
A close examination of Earth Summit performance reveals that it remained far from becoming an earth-friendly convention, which it was originally intended. This failure can be explained mainly in terms of non-performance of many treaties and conventions signed in its aftermath, which again, was due to the conflict of interests between the rich industrial countries of the North and natural resources rich environment, which have reversed the direction of ‘reforms’ towards ‘ecological globalization’. In other words, the best intentions as outlined in these treaties and conventions were defeated by the defiant USA and the other rich countries taking shelter behind it in order to safeguard their industrial elites.
The most important environmental concern relates to the dangerously increasing phenomenon of global warming. Burning of fossil fuels (e.g. coal) has been the driving force of industrialization; it also has been the major source of emissions of carbon dioxide, which along with other gases like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) trap the sunrays in the atmosphere and heat up the earth like a ‘greenhouse’. These GHGs (Greenhouse gases) with carbon dioxide component close to half of the total are main fuel for global warming. If these emissions are not topped, there is a fear that (a) there will be several incidents of droughts and floods; and (b) the sea level will rise and submerge a good part of low-lying countries like the Maldives, Bangladesh etc. In order to meet this danger, a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed by 154 countries at the Earth Summit in 1992. After protracted negotiations, industrialized countries agreed to reduce their emissions in the period 2008-12 period by 5.2 per cent compared to 1990 levels. This is the famous Kyoto Protocol which has been signed by the majority of countries but not by the USA and Australia (prominently).
The similar fate fell to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which President (Senior) George Bush refused to sign at the 1992 Earth Summit. The CBD recognizes the rights of countries on their genetic resources and insists on the fair and equitable return for the use of these resources mostly by the pharmaceutical companies of the North. Recognition of the rights of ownership of these genetic resources for the indigenous communities is a major feature of CBD which has been ratified by more than 175 countries today.
Eighty per cent of the world’s biological resources exists in the forests in the South (i.e. the developing countries). The North (industrially rich countries) wants unrestricted access to these forests for raw material for their drugs production, which is approximately US$ 43 billion a year. Tropical deforestation is fast increasing owing to large scale felling of trees for logs. Forest of southare preying grounds for the multinationals of the north which want a convention to protect its timber trade interests but not because they are the lifeline for people inhabiting those lands. The struggle is still going to have an international convention on sustainable forestry. Though Rio Summit had called for it as a part of its global sustainable development goal.
Similarly, the UN convention to combat desertification which was adopted by the Reo Summit in 1992 is similarly faced with problems as the northern countries are willing to accept “desertification” as anything more than a local problem caused by population pressure. Desertification affects 41 per cent of the total land area on the earth and affects livelihoods of more than 1 billion people (mostly in Africa) in more than 110 countries. The northern countries are willing to provide any assistance to the southern countries in this matter.
This is however not the case with the environmental concern affecting northern hemisphere. Whether it is the hole in the ozone layer which was found to cause cancer particularly to the white skin or the problem of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) travelling to the Arctic, the governing Montreal Protocol and the negotiations on POPs respectively, have been administered both in time and with full force. However, treaties on biological diversity and desertification which deal mostly with the problem in developing country have been stalled. This is symptomatic of ‘ecological globalization’ which the governments of the world are promoting through the drive on the part of the rich and passive indifference on the part of countries of the south. One of the leading actors of India “The Center for Science and Environment” has identified these challenges ahead of us.