Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

The UN World Summit for Sustainable Development was a wasted opportunity to help the poor

By Andrew Hewett - posted Tuesday, 8 October 2002

For more than ten days in Johannesburg thousands of official government delegates were closely observed by the world’s media and tens of thousands of members of civil society and business representatives have laboured over a lengthy implementation plan.

The Summit was supposed to build upon the historic Rio conference held 10 years ago and give an impetus to efforts to tackle the crises of world poverty and environmental degradation. But aside from a few noteworthy achievements, the overwhelming assessment is that it has delivered little for the poor or for the environment. And indeed the lack of real progress raises fundamental questions about the political commitment to build a sustainable future.

The Summit’s Plan of Implementation can hardly be considered a coherent "program", let alone an action of implementation plan. Its positives are few. A time-bound target to improve sanitation provision, a recognition that the private sector is accountable for their social and environmental impacts and some useful measures to protect the oceans are the most noteworthy. And of course some governments did pledge significant resources.


But these few gains are overwhelmed by the lack of commitment to tackle the scandal of more than two billion people living in absolute poverty, denied their basic human rights to such things as access to education, healthcare and clean water.

When it comes to tackling poverty the Summit’s implementation plan and declaration are marked either by silence, backsliding on long-standing commitments or high sounding rhetoric with no back-up in resources or definite timetables.

On one of the most central issues for poverty reduction worldwide – reform of international trade – Summit outcomes were neither here nor there. Without crucial adjustments, the current system of rigged trade rules will continue to clash with social and environmental values.

Volatile commodity prices – a major concern for many developing countries and cause of much poverty and vulnerability – are also left unaddressed at a global level. There was no progress on the urgent need to reduce rich country agriculture subsidies which often result in the dumping of produce on vulnerable developing country markets.

Long-standing commitments to increased foreign aid levels have been weakened. And notably, there is no new commitment to tackle the crippling debt crisis.

So why is the Summit characterised more by failure than success? Why has it failed to deliver on its own theme of "Poverty Eradication through Sustainable Development"?


The essential problem is a lack of political will on the part of the world’s leaders, especially on the part of those from the rich world. Some, like United States’ President George Bush and Australia’s John Howard, did not even attend the Summit. This was a clear indication of their lack of interest in the issues being discussed at the Summit and their contempt for the process underway. President Chirac of France did attend and made a speech with high-flown rhetoric about "the house burning down" and that the world must act. Yet it is France opposing real reform of European Union agricultural subsidies - $40 billion per annum that depresses world prices and devastates the livelihoods of farmers in poor countries

Most world leaders, however, did attend. But the fine sentiments and grand rhetoric in their speeches were not reflected in their negotiating positions. Far too many countries were looking to turn back the clock, overturn principles agreed to at the Rio conference and roll back previous commitments.

When push came to shove, a concern for keeping spending down had priority. A narrow trade agenda triumphed. It was as though the world’s rich countries had virtually all adopted a fortress mentality.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Andrew Hewett is Executive Director of Oxfam Australia.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Andrew Hewett
Related Links
Oxfam Community Aid Abroad
World Summit on Sustainable Development
Photo of Andrew Hewett
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Latest from OXFAM Australia
 The Aussies and Kiwis shouldn’t leave island neighbours high and dry
 Australian miners 'lacking transparency'
 Take the pace out of PACER
 Asian Development Bank - hindering or helping?
 Humanitarian work - not for the faint hearted

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy