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PSPD    People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

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  • 2003.11.08
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Does WSSD Stand for the 밯orld Summit on $hameful Deals??

Lee, Yujin


International Cooperation, Green Korea United

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) is over--not just over, it is dead. The huge world summit, which was held in Johannesburg, South Africa with 40,000 participants from various sectors (government, NGOs, farmers, laborers) is fading away from people's memories, and the memories that do remain are a disappointment. As the conference progressed, participants began to wonder if there was no hope for the planet. I am still thinking about why the results were so distorted. Why are international NGOs so disorganized? What should be the strategies of civil society? As a NGO activist, what should I do to prepare for the next ten years? So many questions are in my mind. One thing that is quite certain is that we should find answers to the above questions.


Korean civil society groups organized 'the Korean People's Network on Rio+10' last March to prepare for the WSSD. The Korean People's Network sought to evaluate how far sustainability has expanded and progressed in Korean society, especially at the government and civil society levels, over the last ten years. Despite civil societys efforts regarding sustainable development and some noteworthy outcomes in the past ten years, Korean society still has not realized sustainability due to huge challenges such as the dominant growth-centered developmental paradigm, social inequality, deepening poverty, the violence of militarism, and threats against peace. For four years environmentalists and local people struggled against the Saemangeum reclamation project, which will destroy one of the largest tidalflats in the world. Nevertheless, the government is still pushing ahead with the project under the name of 'economic development'

Additionally, Korea has 765 large dams, the seventh largest dam count in the world. 132 dams are currently being constructed, and twenty-seven dams are also planned. The Green Belt, an initiative which supported environmental consciousness, was dismantled by Presidential decree. What is more, the construction of nuclear power plants (currently, sixteen reactors in four sites are in operation, four are under construction, and eight are in the planning phase) makes production and consumption of energy excessive and worsens people's suffering and environmental degradation.

Since the 1997-1998 economic crisis, the government's neo-liberal pro-globalization policies have exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor in Korean society. As of 2000, irregular workers represent 52.4% of the total work force. 70% of these are women. Many disabled people cannot even access their job adequately and are forced to live in absolute poverty while experiencing social discrimination. Moreover, the hegemonic strategies of U.S. militarism stand in the way of Korean reunification and more realistic defense expenditures. There are also the problems of crimes and environmental accidents committed by U.S. forces in Korea. It was never an easy task to evaluate the past ten years and establish sustainable future strategies. While evaluating the sustainability of Korean society, the civil society had an excellent chance to meet and discuss among various groups such as women, the disabled, poor people, adolescents, laborers, farmers, and civil groups.


Before starting for Johannesburg, the Korean People's Network on Rio+10 released a position paper about the implementation plan for WSSD. We showed our deep concern about the rapid progress of globalization and the strengthening of international trade and financial institutions such as the WTO (World Trade Organization) and IMF (International Monetary Fund). These institutions are further increasing the disparity in wealth between developed and developing countries as well as inequalities within individual countries, resulting in a further deterioration of the earth's environment. Looking to secure a sustainable development, we stressed the need of prioritizing all multilateral environmental agreements over multilateral trade regimes, including the Doha Development Agenda, and emphasized that Doha Development Agenda should be readjusted from a sustainable development standpoint. To solve the problem of rising poverty we urged developed countries to establish the World Poverty Fund and increase Official Development Assistance (ODA) beyond the Montreal Agreement, as a means to settle the ecological debt owed to developing countries.

We also emphasized that by 2010, the world's share of new renewable energies should be increased to 15% of total primary energy, and urged such countries as the United States, Canada, and Australia to ratify the Kyoto protocol. Even though there were disappointing results from the past four PrepComs, we anticipated that the WSSD could be one way of solving the problems that we all confront.


During the United Nations WSSD held in Sandton Square, South Africa, the Global Civil Society forum was held in the nearby city of Narsrec from August 24 to September 3, 2002. Almost 200 Korean NGO activists participated in the Global Civil Society forum. Korean People's Network on Rio+10, with 47 Korean NGOs participants, prepared various symposiums and events in Nasrec. September 28 was Korean Day. Korean folk singer Jang Sa-Ik brought people together in peace. As a divided country, Korean NGO activists wanted to show how Koreans are eager for peace and reunification. Environmental activist and artist Byoungsoo Choi had an ice carving performance about 'floating continents' which shows climate change causing disastrous flooding all around the world.

Green Korea United (GKU) held a photo exhibition under the title of 'We prosecute the U.S. Troops in Korea' which showed inhabitants living around U.S. military bases in South Korea suffering in many ways; people and livestock are killed, crops are driven over, heavy metals and gunpowder run into rivers, and groundwater is polluted by oil. GKU emphasized militarism and U.S. overseas military bases as one of the largest environmental polluters and obstacles to sustainable development in Korea. Delegates representing the Korea Women's Environment Committee on Rio+10, a network of 17 women's organizations in Korea, issued a peace march appeal to honor the deaths of two South Korean girls hit by a U.S. armored car on June 13 of this year. There were many workshops organized by Korean NGOs such as Zero Waste No Incineration, Energy, Sustainable Consumption, and Environmental Justice. Korea Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) prepared various environmental campaigns such as 'STOP BUSH' 'STOP GMO? and 'STOP NUCLEAR' Through the summit, Korean NGOs have been able to make many connections and have learned how to network with NGOs in the world.

The NGO leaders of Korea had an official meeting with the government and urged those leaders to participate in a more responsible manner and set an example to save the sinking earth. Unfortunately, representatives of Korean government pretended like they were not there. This means the Korean government's position is just between developed and developing country. As public officials they do their best to address the interests of Korea, but as citizens of the world, they neglect to work for the earth.


The result of WSSD has drained all hope from the people. There was a reason why WSSD was held in Johannesburg. We should feel and understand how African people live in such poverty, hopeless, and pain. There are still no strong commitments to finally achieve the 0.7% overseas aid target promised 30 years ago. No country has been willing to pay the money to erase poverty for the people who are dying of starvation and famine. 'we agree with the seriousness of poverty, but it cannot be solved with money from my pocket' seemed to be the slogan. We could not see the realization of the 'common but differentiated responsibilities'already agreed on in Rio in 1992. All the promises that we believed; they will prevent or relieve destruction of the environment; changed into vague words. We all knew who led this disastrous result. It was the U.S.'s Brandon MacGillis (National Environmental Trust) said it best in an interview with the Washington Post: 'if you were taking score, you'd have to say the U.S. just got everything they wanted. The environmental lobby is extremely disappointed. The Bush administration won this ballgame 44-0.'

At the summit, the U.S. insisted that signatories not be held to firm commitments on funding, timetables, and concrete targets. The axes of environmental evils, the U.S. and JUSCANZ (Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) continued to block progress at the Summit. The U.S. persuaded the European Union to agree to reintroduce language allowing countries to use not only solar and wind power as substitutes for petroleum products, but also large-scale hydroelectric sources, or dams. It was a step backward from the starting point.

The plan of implementation was filled with vague and meaningless words. The following is one such passage: 'take joint actions and improve efforts to work together at all levels recognizing the role of national and voluntary regional targets as well as initiatives where they exist'(from paragraph 19 about renewable energy). They are not talking about what kind of efforts and actions they are going to do. What is the meaning of 'Voluntary regional targets, where they exist, and if possible??There are no concrete targets, and if they do not exist or are not possible, then it seems they don't need to even be attempted.

The WTO and economics were prime topics of discussion at the summit, rather than sustainability. Our world is going on the principle of 'for economics, of economics, and by economics.' The WTO ruled over multilateral environmental agreements at the summit. Environmental agreements should never be overruled by trade rules. I asked myself again and again during my stay at Johannesburg, 'Am I here to work for our precious and fragile earth, am I doing my best?' I also asked, 'Are the people who were at the Sandton conference thinking about the future of earth at least once during their participation in WSSD, or do they know or recognize that our earth is in a really endangered situation?' If we thought about the earth at least once, the plan of implementation would not be what it is.


The civil society also has a responsibility for the summit results. The Global People's Forum was an opportunity to strengthen the voice of NGOs, faith groups, indigenous people, youth, people with disabilities, elderly people, children, women and everyone working for people and nature-driven development. In Narsrec, it was really difficult to think this is the place where NGOs can make a strategy and common voice to fight against the government and corporations. I anticipated a series of rallies, workshops, and events prepared from various NGOs around the world. There were not many actions and few NGO activists themselves. We also found out that many NGO leaders went to the Sandton UN conference. Compared to the Rio summit in 1992, NGOs had more of a chance to lobby in the UN conference this time. But what was the result of this lobby? Failure. It means the people who went to Sandton should have instead contributed to the people's power and voice from Nasrec. There was no balanced strategy between NGOs, lobbying groups who worked inside of the UN, and action groups who supported the lobby groups in Nasrec. Furthermore, lack of organization and preparation in Nasrec made NGOs fail to gather power and work efficiently.

On the last day of the summit, NGOs prepared a rally to appeal to the summit's shameful results. We promised to wear black suits and gather in Sandton Square. However, only approximately 200 people gathered. There are limitations with what can be done with 200 people.


If somebody asks me about my impression of the WSSD, I will say that it was a "counter-attack by multinational corporations." In Rio, multinational companies were pointed out as main polluters of the earth by environmental NGOs. This year they came back and declared war against NGOs with the concept of 'Eco-business (environmentally-friendly company)' and globalization. I was totally exposed to the commercial advertisements during my participation in the summit. I never saw so much advertising during such a short time period in my life. In order to enter the conference center we had to go through Sandton shopping center, where BMW displayed 'Clean cars' and billboards for De Beers diamonds emphasized 'Water is life.' Multinational companies started to fund the summit, lobby to government representatives, and speak at the summit. Nowadays no company says they profit from the development of nature. Instead they say, 'To protect the environment we use and develop environmentally friendly technology.' The problem is that they are not satisfied with making money from selling airplanes, computers, and cars any more. They now deal with water, oceans, food, and mother nature itself -the essential factors for human survival. Nearly one billion people cannot drink safe water. Major multinational water companies get the permission of public water suppliers to raise the price of water. Finally, many poor families cannot afford to pay their water bill. For example, Buenos Aires's water supply prices increased by more than 20% after privatization. Privatization of water delivery systems often cause water supply crises where ratepayers are unable to pay higher rates.. Building large dams and reserves while developing underground water will cause an imbalance in the water cycle.

"We don't want to be rich, we want access to the sea"is the shout from fishermen on the Western Cape in Narsrec. South African coastal waters are being apportioned through quotas, which at $500 for a subsistence permit, is putting the livelihoods of those who work in the fishing industry at risk. The government is making it increasingly difficult for them to get permits to catch crayfish,a staple product for those who fish by favoring multinational corporations instead.

As a representative of the U.S, Colin Powell blamed several governments in southern Africa for not accepting U.S. food assistance by rejecting biotech corn. The U.S. is asking the African people to choose between death or eating GMO (genetically-modified organism) food. In the background of this lack of humanity there is a multinational cooperation named Monsanto. The company's disregard for corporate social responsibility is summed up in a quote form Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communicaions, made to the New York Times, October 25, 1998: "Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's job." Actually, since almost all food produced in the U.S. is GMO food of some kind, Powell was basically saying that GMO food is all the U.S. has to offer. His comment tells us that if we cannot stop multinational corporations, there is no future for the next generation. With over 100 people in Johannesburg, Friends of the Earth International had a campaign about corporate accountability and emphasized corporate-related environmental pollution. Environmental NGOs should prepare for a long journey to fight against such corporations.


After coming back from Johannesburg, I found out that the processes and results of WSSD were not publicized in Korean society. Most of the media did not show their interest in the WSSD. Just a short remark about the result or one cut of a photo, and that was all that I could find. People could not recognize the importance of WSSD. This is what Bush really wants.

We have to be careful with thoughts like this, "It is useless to participate in WSSD. The result is always nothing." All the people who participated in Johannesburg should help people understand and know the meaning of WSSD and become key partners in the preparation for the next step. WSSD is one of the rare chances people have to think about the future of the earth apart from their busy daily lives. WSSD is not the end. We must found out about the next conference and what its aims will be. Keep going on.
Lee Yujin
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