A handful of aces for the North
"THE CLIMATE negotiations have just begun. And it is important that developing countries pay heed to them. What was signed in Rio was simply a framework convention. It just says that all nations should protect the world"s atmosphere. What actions we need to take, which will greatly affect how we use our energy resources, will be decided now. But developing countries continue to act as if the climate negotiations mainly concern the North. If they do not participate actively now, they will lose out heavily."
This is the warning of a senior officer of the climate convention secretariat in Geneva.
His comment would, in fact, apply to other environmental issues that Southern governments will have to confront in the post-Rio phase. Negotiations for the protocols to the biodiversity convention will begin only now. Industrialised countries want to keep the forest issue alive even though their proposal for a global forest convention was turned down by developing countries in Rio. And, what kind of a Commission for Sustainable Development should be set up and where, is an issue in the UN General Assembly in New York.
Unfortunately, most developing countries are suffering from Rio-fatigue and UN officials in New York and Geneva are apprehensive that they are not preparing themselves adequately to deal with this new round of environmental negotiations. In India, for instance, global environmental issues are handled by a handful of officers in the ministries of environment and forests and of external affairs, but there is no proposal as yet to strengthen this work. Even so, India is regarded as one of the leaders of the South in global environmental negotiations.
An informal South Centre statement, emerging from the discussions of a working group that met in Geneva in late October and sent to the chairperson of the Group of 77 in New York states bluntly that the road to Rio "was long and difficult and no one should harbour illusions that the future course will be easier. Indeed, the underlying contradictions and conflicts of interests are likely to surface and multiply in the period to come... The developing countries need to maintain and build on the initiative they mounted during the preparatory process for UNCED and at UNCED itself. But how best to influence and steer the UNCED follow-up, constitutes a major challenge for the South."
The speed at which developments are taking place can be gauged from the following schedule of meetings: the General Assembly was expected to conclude in early December its discussions on the establishment of the Commission on Sustainable Development, recommended by the Rio conference; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an eminent body of scientists set up by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organisation to analyse scientific developments in the area of climate change, was to meet in Harare in November to develop methodologies to calculate national greenhouse gas emissions; the fourth Conference of Parties to the Montreal Protocol was to take place in Copenhagen in late November and developing countries are to be pushed for a phase-out of CFCs much sooner than the schedule agreed to less than three years ago in London; the members of the Global Environment Facility, which is likely to emerge as the main source of post-Rio environmental funds, was to meet in early December in Abidjan to discuss the facility"s decision-making system, which is expected to become a contentious issue as the South objects to the donor domination in the GEF; and, the sixth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for the climate change convention was to take place in Geneva in December.
These are some of the meetings at which a new system for global environmental management is being fashioned. What was likely to emerge from all these negotiations is a UN-supervised Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) to monitor the implementation of Agenda 21 -- the Rio blueprint for sustainable development. The main financial mechanism would be the World Bank-dominated Global Environment Facility. The specific concerns of climate change, biodiversity and the ozone layer are to be dealt with by specific conventions and protocols associated with them. Regardless of Southern protests and agreements in the conventions, many observers are convinced the GEF will play an important role in the financing of activities undertaken under these conventions.
The critical question before developing countries is to what does all this add? Obviously, an elaborate system of global environmental governance. But it isn"t clear how all this will help the developing countries and this, unfortunately, has left them unsure and confused about how they should respond.
A key question that old UN hands are asking is: What is the commitment of the North to the development of the South? Neither at Rio nor in the months immediately after, during which a summit of the Group of Seven (G-7) was held in Munich, has there been any talk about the South"s financial and technological requirements so as to make the transformation towards sustainable development. Industrialised countries are being pinched by recession-hit economies and by rising unemployment rates. As a result, many have slashed their aid budgets. There has been no effort made either to sort out the continuing development problems of debt or of falling commodity prices. In other words, the Northern leadership is showing no political commitment to the development of the South. On this front, internationalism is as dead as ever.
On the other hand, the environment is an issue that raises the spirit of internationalism to a point that even "interventionism" begins to look morally acceptable. A German foundation, in fact, was to have organised a meeting in November entitled, Towards Global Governance: From the Principle of National Sovereignty to the Necessity of Interference.
Few ask, however, who is going to interfere in whose affairs? It is unlikely that Bolivia or the Maldives would like to interfere in the domestic economic or ecological affairs of USA, Canada or the Netherlands. Given the international economic interests of the industrialised countries, it is more likely their domestic environmental lobbies would be interested in intervening in specific projects and programmes of the developing countries. In actual fact, global environmental concerns throw open the South to Northern intervention, whereas the South has limited interest in intervening in Northern affairs.
Another key concern that emerged from the discussions leading up to Rio, is whether developing countries would be provided with sufficient "environmental space" for their development or whether global sustainability would be achieved preserving the existing inequities in the use of environmental resources. These points were made in 1990 in a publication of the Centre for Science and Environment entitled Global Warming in an Unequal World and have also been strongly emphasised in a South Centre statement that was prepared for the Caracas summit of the Group of 15 (G-15) developing nations held in November 1991. The 1992 meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Djakarta also stated in its final communique: "By monitoring the implementation of programmes in developed countries, it would be possible to ensure the adequacy of environmental space required by the developing countries for their economic and social advancement." This means that developing countries would like to use the proposed Commission on Sustainable Development, whose main task is to monitor implementation of Agenda 21 by national governments and international organisations, to further monitor Northern development and push it towards greater sustainability and world equity.
What does this environment space mean in real terms? In the case of the global warming problem, for instance, it means that the world must first identify what is the total sustainable level of carbon dioxide emissions and then share equitably the total global quantity, or quota. Therefore, industrialised countries must not just stabilise or reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent, while developing countries freeze their emissions at much lower levels. Instead, industrialised countries must reduce their emissions by an amount that is required to reach a point of convergence that is globally equitable. This could mean that USA has to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 85 per cent from its current level of five tonnes per capita. Such an arrangement would release sufficient "environmental space" for developing countries to grow and reach a common per capita emissions rate that would be sustainable and globally equitable.
An outstanding example of an inequitable document is the Montreal Protocol to save the ozone layer, which has already been signed. In 1986, the US Environment Protection Agency disclosed the US was using 1.22 kg of CFC-11, 12 and 113 per capita annually. The Montreal Protocol treats 1986 as the base year for industrialised countries and expects their 1995 consumption to be just 50 per cent of the base year. In other words, US citizens will still be consuming more than 0.50 kg of CFC-11, 12 and 113 per capita in 1995. The base year for developing countries under the Montreal Protocol is the average consumption of 1995-97. The per capita consumption of India in 1996 is estimated to be less than 0.01 kg per capita, which is one-fiftieth of US consumption in that year. But, the Montreal Protocol requires India to first freeze its CFC consumption at its 1995-97 level and then begin cutting back. Equity would demand that industrialised countries begin by cutting back rapidly until they reach the levels of developing countries and then all countries start cutting back at the same rate.
Many observers are also querying what are the South"s bargaining chips? Many state the answer to this million-dollar question is: None. The only lever that the South has is to walk out of the environmental negotiations and some Third World veterans at the UN insist that in bargaining with the North on environment, the South"s approach should be, "We will discuss environment only if you discuss development." They point out that the environment can become a bargaining lever for the South because Northern leaders are under pressure from their own people to act on environmental issues.
Question of morality
But there are others who are not convinced that this would be either an effective or a moral bargaining chip. How can any Southern political leader threaten that if the North does not sort out Southern problems with debt and trade, the South will pollute the earth?
India and China have warned that if under the Montreal Protocol they do not get adequate funds and technology transfer to switch over to ozone-friendly chemicals, they reserve the right to walk away from protocol obligations. But, these observer ask, will they be able to do so, in actual fact?
Many observers report, rightly and ruefully, that the North got everything it wanted in Rio, without giving up anything. It got written affirmation from the Southern countries that they would integrate environment with their development plans -- the affirmation resulting from their acceptance of the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21 and the establishment of the SDC. And, the North did not have to give away anything. US president George Bush may have isolated himself in Rio, but his intransigence worked greatly to the advantage of the North. Now, the South can be controlled through an elaborate system of conditionalities on aid, trade and debt, but the South has no lever whatsoever to control the North.
"It seems that a grand design for world development is being spelt out and also a system to implement it," says a UN expert wanting to remain unidentified. "Firstly, there are all these conventions which will tell us what to do. Then, we will have this SDC, which will monitor what are we doing about it." This one-sided control of world affairs is a source of worry to many UN observers like him. Their concerns are strengthened by the fact that even the few billion dollars that the North does want to give to the South to deal with global environmental issues, it wants to channel through the donor-controlled World Bank system. In the decision-making system of the Global Environmental Facility, set up by the World Bank for this purpose, the North even wants veto power and has more or less rejected the suggestion that the more democratic UN system should prevail in the control of the funds for global environmental management.
The South is caught in a bind as it is politically and economically weak, with the G-77 at the UN at its lowest ebb in terms of Southern solidarity. The South"s weakness comes mainly from its extraordinary level of indebtedness and the economic restructuring in many developing countries required by the IMF is forcing individual countries in the South to seek Northern support on a bilateral basis. The result is that Southern solidarity has taken a back seat at the UN.
Few realise the IMF is ensnaring the South into a highly contradictory economic system. An element of the IMF prescription is currency devaluation, which means in essence devaluation of a country"s labour and natural resources in the world market, making it more open and cheaper for Western consumers. The North lectured to the South in Rio on the need to value its natural resources by adopting appropriate national policies because the market does not capture environmental costs. Surely, these two contradictory Northern policy prescriptions need to be resolved before the South"s economy and culture are torn apart. But discussions of world finance, world markets and terms of trade of international commodities -- the only way to solve this critical contradiction -- are not on the sustainable development agenda, which was determined by the North.
Meanwhile, the South itself is in such disarray talks have not been held even between OPEC members and other developing countries on world environmental issues. Says a senior OPEC-nation diplomat based in Geneva: "Rio was a traumatic experience for many OPEC countries. We just failed to get our point of view across. We keep our oil production high -- and thus world oil prices low -- only because of the political pressure from the North. They want high oil production -- not us. But now the North wants to increase its oil prices through carbon taxes. But why should that be so? Because oil is our resource, if oil prices have to increase, we would like to do that ourselves and keep our oil in the ground."
But South-South solidarity is almost non-existent today and OPEC"s Arab members, instead of talking to the South, preferred to throw in their lot with the North and argue that there cannot be a legally binding climate convention that would control carbon sources like oil, but only a set of non-legally binding principles for forests (a carbon sink). They knew full well that a forest convention was being strongly opposed by the South.
In this scenario, how strong should developing countries allow the SDC to be? What clout should it have? What advantage will its strength give them?
The answers are obvious: Precious little. With the North not much interested in the economic growth of the South, a strong SDC would not give them anything. Several Third World experts are unhappy, in fact, that the name of the commission includes "sustainable development". They argue this gives the impression that the commission will deal with development, whereas, in reality, it will deal largely with environmental issues.
Says a senior UN official in New York: "Undoubtedly, there is an interface between environment and development. But development also includes international finance, commodity trade, international prices, intellectual property rights etc. Will the SDC deal with these issues? If not, then we have got an entity which looks at development simply through environmental eyes. This will please Northern governments, but it will put all outstanding North-South issues on the back-burner. And, the North will get precisely what it wants: the integration of environmental concerns into development in the South without giving up anything itself."
The idea of a SDC is also mixed up with ongoing UN restructuring. UN observers feel strongly that the clear design the North has for the UN, would strengthen it in matters of global security, human rights and, under pressure from Europe, environment. The design is to make the UN function like a world parliament, whose resolutions would legitimise intervention in national affairs. Simultaneously, the North"s design seeks to weaken the UN Charter functions dealing with economic and social progress and transfer these functions to the donor-dominated Bretton Woods institutions -- the World Bank, IMF and GATT. The Rio outcome fits into this mould. The SDC, which has the potential to become an interventionist agency, is under the UN and, despite repeated protests from the South, funding for environmental problems will come from the GEF, a World Bank-dominated institution.
Favourable to North
Such an arrangement is good for the North from a number of viewpoints. For instance, if the UN leadership falls tomorrow into the hands of those who are not prepared to toe the Northern line on global security, the UN can easily be ignored, because global economic power would be controlled through the Bretton Woods institutions. But if the UN leadership is supportive of Northern interests, the organisation and its vast empire can be used to the hilt.
A report on UN restructuring submitted recently to UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali by Netherlands overseas development minister Jan Pronk and the Uruguayan president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Enrique Iglesias, is being seen by many in this perspective. The powerful role the Pronk-Iglesias report gives to the SDC, which would treat Agenda 21 as "the new bible of development" and oversee the policies of the entire UN system from its perspective, fits the same design, even though nobody believes its eminent authors had this in mind. On the contrary, the idea that there should be a strong office coordinating the development activities of the UN, came first from the South and resulted in the creation of the office of the Director-General of International Development, an office that had to bite the dust because it was not liked by either Kurt Waldheim or Javier Perez de Cuellar. Today, the South"s position at the UN is weaker and the North"s leadership more obdurate in their policies towards the South.
As one wag put it, "If the North is really serious about sustainable development and wants a strong SDC, let it bring the World Bank and the IMF also under the purview of this commission and force these mega-institutions to report to it."
What should be the South"s post-Rio priorities and on what should it concentrate? As Gamani Correa, the former Sri Lankan secretary-general of UNCTAD puts it, the South must now make two demands: one, more environmental space to be released by the North so that the South can grow without the threat of global environmental destabilisation, and, two, more resources for development.
But to accomplish this, Southern diplomats and politicians must understand environment-development linkages at the national and global levels. As the Northern leadership is mostly using an environmental language, the South"s concerns will also go much further if its demands for environmental and financial space is couched in terms of environmental costs that the North does not pay but instead passes on to the South in particular and to the world in general.
To do so, the South would have to turn the spotlight on the North: its economy, its lifestyles and consumption patterns and the environmental costs. The South should research the North in depth and work closely with sympathetic Northern sectors and NGOs to put the heat on Northern leaders and interest groups. This is about all the leverage available to the South. The North has a powerful secretariat -- the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development -- to protect its collective interests. The South has nothing.
An amazing result of the growing global focus on environment is that the issues of poverty and hunger, which dominated the 1970s, have almost completely vanished from the world agenda. Only a handful of political leaders talked about these subjects in Rio though this was the world"s largest conference of political leaders discussing a better tomorrow. Putting these issues back on the global agenda probably constitutes the biggest post-Rio challenge to the South.