World Summit action plan

4 September 2002

After more than a week of tough behind-the-scenes bargaining, over 100 heads of state and government at the World Summit on Sustainable Development have agreed on a plan of action to eradicate poverty and protect the environment, finally concluding negotiations that have taken place over nine months and on three continents.

Negotiators at the Summit in Johannesburg finally reached on renewable energy sources, the last major stumbling block in the action plan. The agreed text calls on all countries to: “With a sense of urgency, substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources, with the objective of increasing its contribution to total energy supply” – but without setting any percentage target or target date.

The European Union had been pushing for a target of making 15% of energy come from “renewable energy” sources such as windmills, solar panels and waves by 2015. The US and Opec oil-exporting countries, however, were opposed to such targets.


Children of the world present a message to the Summit (from left to right): Analiz Vergara (Ecuador), Liao Mingyu (China), Justin Friesen, (Canada), Julius Ndlovena and Tiyiselani Manganyi (South Africa). (Photo: UN Johannesburg Summit)

The plan of action, together with a political declaration, was formally adopted at the close of the Summit.

Among the provisions agreed on are commitments to increase access to clean water, proper sanitation and energy services, to improve health conditions and agriculture, particularly in drylands, and to protect the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

Environmentalists scathing, politicians upbeat
Environmentalists have slammed the plan as toothless, criticising it for, among other things, failing to set targets for the use of renewable energy sources, failing to ensure accountability of multinational corporations, and making no mention of the “ecological debt” that resource-greedy richer nations owe less developed nations.

Ministers, however, have praised the plan, describing the environmentalists’ expectations as unrealistic.

South Africa’s Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin told the Star newspaper that issues such as getting the United States and Japan to agree on specific renewable energy targets had been politically impossible to resolve, adding: “But we brokered a deal. There are no targets, but there’s no question about it – renewable energy is now a new issue on the sustainable development agenda.”

Erwin said that South Africa’s technical and brokering skills in chairing the “Johannesburg Process” that led to final consensus had been appreciated by the world’s trade and environment ministers, adding that the plan contained “about 41 substantial agreements relating to the environment in one way or another”.

Johannesburg Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai said that renewable energy targets had been a worthwhile goal, “but the reality is that, with sustained action, we can build up the renewable energy industries to the point where they have the critical mass to compete with fossil fuel-generated energy. We have a commitment to make it happen, and now we need the follow-through.”

South African Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Mohamed Valli Moosa said the Summit had made some very significant advances. “In some areas, it has made seminal advances.”

Valli Moosa said the breakthroughs came during three days of round-the-clock ministerial negotiations. The idea of ministers sitting for days dealing with the “nitty-gritty” of the issues involved was a surprise, he said. “It represents the seriousness with which the [Summit] is taken by developing and developed countries.”

The high-level negotiations were necessary, he said, because the remaining issues needed to be resolved at the political, not technical levels.

Sustainable production and consumption
Countries have agreed to establish a voluntary world solidarity fund to eradicate poverty and promote social and human development that, without duplicating existing UN funds, will encourage the role of the private sector and individual citizens.

Also agreed on was a provision that encourages countries to develop a 10-year framework of programmes to shift towards sustainable consumption and production – that asks countries, in other words, to live within the means of their supporting ecosystems.

Desai, detailing some of the commitments, said that country agreements on water and sanitation were backed up by a United States announcement of an investment of $970-million in water projects over the next three years, and a European Union announcement to engage in partnerships to meet the new goals, primarily in Africa and Central Asia.

The UN had received 21 other partnership initiatives in this area, with at least $20-million in extra resources.

In energy, Desai said countries had committed themselves to expanding access to the two billion people that do not have access to modern energy services. He added that while countries had not agreed on a target for phasing in renewable energy, they had commited to green energy and the phasing out of subsidies for types of energy that are not consistent with sustainable development.

Bolstering these commitments, Desai said, a group of nine major electric companies had signed agreements to undertake sustainable energy projects in developing countries, while the EU had announced a $700-million partnership initiative on energy, and the US had announced investments of up to $43-million for energy in 2003.

On health issues, in addition to actions to fight HIV-Aids and reduce waterborne diseases and the health risks due to pollution, countries had agreed to phase out, by 2020, the use and production of chemicals that harm human health and the environment.

Proposals for the Global Environment Facility to fund implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification have already been adopted, and will have a major impact on improving agricultural practices in drylands. The United States had said it would invest $90-million in 2003 for sustainable agriculture, Desai said, and 17 partnership submissions to the UN contained at least $2-million in additional resources.

There were many commitments made to protect biodiversity and improve ecosystem management, Desai said. These include commitments to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010; to restore fisheries to their maximum sustainable yields by 2015; to establish a representative network of marine protected areas by 2012; and to improve developing countries’ access to environmentally sound alternatives to ozone-depleting chemicals by 2010.

These commitments were supported by 32 partnership initiatives submitted to the UN, with $100-million in additional resources, and a US announcement of $53-million for forest management in 2002-2005.

“It’s impossible to know just how many resources the Summit has mobilised”, Desai said, “but we know they are substantial. Furthermore, many of the new resources will attract additional resources that will greatly enhance our efforts to take sustainable development to the next level, where it will benefit more people and protect more of our environment.”

Boost for Kyoto Protocol
On Kyoto, countries agreed in the Summit plan that states that have ratified the Kyoto treaty on global warming “strongly urge states that have not already done so to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in a timely manner”.

The Protocol received a huge boost at the Summit, with Russia, China, Canada and Japan announcing their intentions to ratify the treaty, leaving the US and Australia as the only major powers holding out.

Minister Valli Moosa told the Star that Russia’s surprise decision meant that the anti-global warming pact could now come into force, as it would bring a “big chunk” of carbon dioxide emissions into the equation.

‘There is still the other half’
The commitment to a target of 2015 for reducing the numbers of people who lack access to proper sanitation followed the already agreed upon goal of halving the proportion of people who lack access to clean water, one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.

“It is hard to imagine how we can implement sustainable development when two billion people lack proper sanitation facilities”, said Desai. “This is an historic commitment, because for the first time the world has made the issues of water and sanitation a high-level political priority. We need this political commitment, and now we need the practical measures and partnerships to ensure that the new goals are met.”

Desai cautioned, however, that the new targets, if met, would only bring clean water and proper sanitation to half of the people who lack these necessities. “There is still the other half, and we cannot stop until everyone benefits.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter. Sources: Johannesburg World Summit 2002, United Nations: Johannesburg Summit 2002