Great Summits, Modest Agreements, and Insignificant Actions

by Stephen Lampe

In an essay entitled “Great Summits, Modest Agreements and Insignificant Actions”, I noted the poor record with respect to concrete achievements of international and regional summits, such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002 and the Earth Summit (known formally as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) held a decade earlier in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I stated that one of the saddest stories of our times is that of great and costly summits which, after long and harrowing negotiations, come to rather modest agreements that are never implemented or acted upon only to an insignificant extent. I am convinced that only those plans and initiatives which are rooted in true love and justice and that arise from the genuine volition, conviction, and commitment of the human spirits concerned can be successfully implemented. All conventions, protocols, plans, blueprints, resolutions, etc. are in vain, if they are the result of hypocrisy, political or economic expediency or hatched for mere material advantage, without the foundation of a genuine volition to do that which is pleasing to God. Reports from Johannesburg confirmed that some powerful countries seemed to be primarily interested in promoting the commercial interests of companies owned by their nationals. Thus, they argued for proposals whose contribution to sustainable development would be minimal and rather incidental to their main aim of creating business opportunities for their own people. Unfortunately, such pursuit of narrow self-interest has always characterized international relations and development aid.

The Earth Summit in Rio resulted in two conventions: one on climate change and another on biodiversity. It also agreed on a program, called Agenda 21, designed to alleviate environmental problems, reduce poverty and foster development. The outcome of the Johannesburg summit was a political declaration reaffirming the principles of the Rio Declaration, and an action-oriented “Plan of Implementation” (consisting of 152 numbered paragraphs totalling nearly 27,000 words). As stated in its second paragraph, the present Plan of Implementation would further build on the achievements made since the Earth Summit in Rio and expedite the realization of the remaining goals. To this end, the Johannesburg Summit committed countries to undertake concrete actions and measures at all levels and to enhance international cooperation, taking into account the Rio Principles, including the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” as set out in principle 7 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. These efforts are also to promote the integration of the following three components of sustainable development as interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars: economic development; social development; and environmental protection. The Plan states that “poverty eradication, changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are overarching objectives of, and essential requirements for, sustainable development.” Overall, the Johannesburg Summit has been described as a modest success. But the key question with this as with previous summits is the extent to which the agreements will actually be implemented.

To find a durable solution to the environmental crisis and to formulate a strategy for future environmental management, let us turn to nature and observe at work the Law of Balance between Giving and Taking. Every natural process and relationship is characterized by the principle of give and take. There is never any one-sidedness. In the complex web of natural relationships among living things, this principle is forever at work, unless disturbed by man's ill-considered interventions. We intuitively sense that whatever is out-of-balance is unsatisfactory or wrong. There is a problem whenever accounts (financial and otherwise) cannot be balanced. A company which routinely fiddles with its accounts so that its accounts are not genuinely balanced eventually comes to grief, as has happened to Enron and WorldCom. For every action, there is a counterbalancing reaction. Food intake is balanced by waste elimination; we have constipation and feel sick when food waste is not eliminated owing to poor digestion. Endless work without rest is harmful; complete retirement from work, that is, endless rest, is equally harmful. Exhaling is balanced with inhaling --- try breathing in without breathing out!

The Kyoto Protocol, which is an outcome of the Earth Summit of 1992, is an example of the knotty problem of implementation. It aims to cut the emissions of gases that cause global warming by 5 per cent below the levels of 1990 not later than the year 2012. However, since 1992, emissions of carbon dioxide, which are widely held responsible for climate change and global warming, have actually increased by 10 percent worldwide. They are up by 18 percent in the United States, which has already undermined a major achievement of the Earth Summit in Rio by withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol. Progress on Agenda 21, another agreement arising from the Earth Summit, has been limited because of lack of funding. This is in part because the industrialized countries have fallen far short of fulfilling the pledges they made at Rio to devote more resources to help poorer nations. Rich countries promised to give 0.7 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in aid to less developed countries, but only the Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland) and the Netherlands have met the target. Instead, development aid from the rich countries has actually declined, as a share of GDP, from 0.35 percent in the early 1990s to 0.22 percent in 2000. Aid fell despite the fact that the rich countries' economies grew by a total of more than US$10 trillion during the 1990s.

One of the saddest stories of our times is the phenomenon of great and costly summits which, after long and harrowing negotiations, come to modest agreements that are never implemented or are acted upon only to an insignificant extent. With respect to the environment, one informed commentator remarked that there exist today some 240 environmental treaties and conventions, but that they suffer from lax or no enforcement even when ratified, and are run by toothless and under-funded secretariats. The case of Africa is especially pathetic. Dr. Mostafa K. Tolba, a former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in a publication entitled The Earth Summit and Africa's Development (published in 1993 by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria) listed a large number of conventions, protocols, and agreements that had been signed by African governments but which were never implemented, or at best, implemented only partially and perfunctorily. Tolba noted that secretariats and organizations were established, meetings held but very little useful actions have been taken. “If a long list of previous commitments had been implemented, Africa would already have been on its way to sustainable development", Tolba stated.

Can we expect any better from the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development? James Wolfensohn who, as the President of the World Bank, has been relentlessly pricking the social conscience of the rich nations of the world, in a commentary published on August 21, 2002 by Prime-Tass, posed the question “What should the world expect from Johannesburg?” He wrote that the best way to answer the question was to look ahead and imagine what kind of world we wanted, not just now, but for our children and our children’s children. “Are we going to leave as our legacy a poorer globe that has more hungry people, an erratic climate, fewer forests, less biodiversity, and is even more socially volatile than today?”, Wolfensohn asked. He acknowledged that “misguided policies and weak governance have contributed to environmental disasters, growing income inequality, and social upheaval in some countries, often resulting in deep deprivation, riots, or refugees fleeing from famine or civil wars”. He pleaded: “Developing countries need to promote democracy, inclusiveness and transparency as they build the institutions needed to manage their resources. Rich countries should increase aid, support debt reduction, open their markets to developing country exporters, and help transfer technologies needed to prevent diseases, and especially to increase energy efficiency and bolster agricultural productivity.”

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations reminded participants at the Johannesburg Summit that "We live on one planet, connected in a delicate, intricate web of ecological, social, economic and cultural relationships that shape our lives. If we are to achieve sustainable development, we will need to display greater responsibility --- for the ecosystems on which all life depends, for each other as a single human community, and for the generations that will follow our own, living tomorrow with the consequences of the decisions we make today. Wolfensohn optimistically remarked : “More than ever today, a new wind is blowing through the world of development transforming our potential to make development happen." However, given the historical record, no one can be blamed for being skeptical about the ultimate outcome and impact of the mammoth Johannesburg jamboree. The phenomenon of a large number of global and regional summits leading to conventions, protocols, resolutions, blueprints, etc. that subsequently amount to nothing is real and incontrovertible. It reminds me of what Prophet Isaiah was permitted to foresee spiritually for the times in which we now live --- the period of the purification of the world before the God-willed Millennium. Here is Isaiah's statement from three different versions of the English Bible:

“Take counsel together, but it will come to nought;
speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us”

(Isaiah 8:10, Revised Standard Version)

“Devise plans as you may: they will come to nothing!
Make what pronouncements you like; it will not come about!
For God is with us!”

(Isaiah 8:10, The New Jerusalem Bible).

“Make your plans! But they will never succeed. Talk
as much as you like! But it is all useless, because God is with us.”

(Isaiah 8:10, Good News Bible, Today's English Version)

“God is with us” should be understood in the sense of the anchorage of Divine Power on earth and the outpouring of spiritual power on earth to an extent never before experienced. Only those plans and initiatives, which are rooted in true love and justice and that arise from the genuine volition, conviction, and commitment of the human spirits concerned can be successfully implemented. All conventions, protocols, plans, blueprints, resolutions, etc. are in vain, if they are the result of hypocrisy, political or economic expediency or hatched for mere material advantage, without the foundation of a genuine volition to do that which is pleasing to God. This implies that we must strive for genuine conviction in everything we do. Our first step should always be to ascertain that our intentions, decisions, plans etc. are in tune with the Laws of Creation, which express the true Will of God. For this and other reasons, the foundation for sustainable development has to be built on the Laws of Creation, which can be observed in life and which are explained and illustrated extensively in the three-volume work “In the Light of Truth”, The Grail Message.