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26 June, 2012

Falling between two stools

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The buglers are proclaiming a victory for India at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, last week but non-government organisations campaigning on the issue of sustainable development are unimpressed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew into Brazil from the G-20 meeting in Mexico where, playing Santa Claus, he had pledged $10 billion towards the $73 billion committed by the BRIC nations to recapitalise the International Monetary Fund to enable it to bail out crisis-hit Europe.

At Rio, he appeared like a mendicant rather than a philanthropist. He complained there was little evidence of industrialised world helping the developing nations to find the resources and technology they need to reduce the intensity of emissions.

The conference, dubbed Rio+20 as it was taking place two decades after the Earth Summit held in that city, brought together leaders from more than 180 countries. India was a key player at the 1992 conference as the chief spokesman of the developing world. A major achievement of that meet was the Climate Change Convention, which led to the Kyoto Protocol.

Rio+20 took place in vastly different circumstances from what prevailed at the time of the first meet. The average annual global temperature was up by 0.32 degree Celsius, global carbon dioxide levels were 10 per cent higher and primary forests had dwindled by 300 million hectares. What is more, the rich nations’ interest in protection of the environment had waned as their economies declined.

India appeared to be not too sure where exactly it stood. As Sejal Worah, World Wildlife Fund’s project director in Delhi, put it, India was straddling both sides — the rich as well as the developing nations. “We have not heard of India being on any side,” she told reporters at Rio. “It is losing its leadership edge. It is always riding on someone else. We don’t stand for anything.”

Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said India was happy that no specific goals and targets had been agreed upon. Environment journalist Daryl D’Monte termed her comment astonishing.

India’s diminished role at Rio II is a reflection of the dichotomy in the government’s approach to developmental problems. Its record in upholding the principles laid down at Rio I is less than satisfactory.

“Human beings are at the centre of concern for human development,” the first Rio declaration had said. “They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” An agreement concluded at that time directed governments not to carry out any activities on the lands of indigenous people that would cause environmental degradation or be culturally inappropriate.

Yet all across India the government is endangering the lives and livelihood of the indigenous people, who live in subhuman conditions, by permitting domestic and foreign corporations to grab their lands for industrial projects. In Orissa, for seven years tribesmen have been fighting an unequal battle with the South Korean giant Posco, which wants to set up the world’s largest steel plant in their homeland.

Disappointed with the draft of the declaration prepared for adoption at the summit meeting, Indian NGO representatives gathered at Rio issued an open appeal to Manmohan Singh to display bold leadership and rescue the conference. They asked him to advocate strong fundamental principles for the world and make basic changes in economic and other policies back home.

It turned out to be a cry in the wilderness. “We are reiterating the mistakes of the past while the crisis has worsened,” Ashish Kothari of Pune-based Kalpavriksh said later.

The official claims of victory rest primarily on a few passages in the platitudinous declaration, grandiloquently titled “The Future We Want.” It says all countries, especially the developing nations, need additional resources to ensure sustainable development and unwanted conditionalities on development assistance must be avoided.

The declaration asks all countries to prioritise sustainable development and allocate resources based on national needs. It also talks in vague terms about giving assistance to the developing countries to ensure long-term debt sustainability.

The G-77 countries and China sought $30 billion a year for assisting the developing nations but the document makes no firm financial commitment. Instead, it suggests that additional resources be mobilised on a voluntary basis through innovative financing mechanisms.

In a joint letter to the UN, a group of international civil society organisations said: “The Future We Want is not what resulted from the Rio+20 negotiation process.” -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 26, 2012.

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