fter 10 days of contentious negotiations, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) concluded Wednesday, September 4, 2002, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Worldwatch Institute has been monitoring and analyzing World Summit preparations over the past several months. Seven members of the Institute's staff and board were non-governmental delegates to the Summit. Christopher Flavin, the Institute's President, and several of his colleagues have returned to Washington and are prepared to provide analysis and commentary on the Summit's outcome. The Institute's assessment includes:
- The agreement reached in Johannesburg is weak on targets and timetables. It will also be more difficult to enforce as it lacks sanctions for noncompliance. (To the contrary, such sanctions were included in a world trade agreement struck last year.) The question now is whether government leaders will enact and enforce laws needed to make the vision of a sustainable world a reality.
- World Summit deliberations revealed widening splits between nations. Europe, for example, is now far more willing than the United States to adopt tough new environmental standards. The divide is even greater between industrial and developing countries on the question of economic assistance for reducing poverty. The next few years will reveal whether progress over the past two decades toward multilateral cooperation on pressing environmental and social issues will continue.
- A vigorous debate over renewable energy lasted right up to the end of the Summit, with Europe and several Latin American countries arguing for a firm commitment to move away from fossil fuels. Although the United States, China, and OPEC were ultimately successful in weakening this provision, the fact that the debate progressed as far as it did reflects strengthened confidence in the ability of new energy technologies to move quickly into the marketplace, a perspective that was shared by many industry representatives in Johannesburg.