World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

WSSD wrap-up report

07 June 2002

Ecumenical Team (ET) involvement in the 4th PrepCom for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Johannesburg

Bali, Indonesia, 27 May -7 June, 2002

Participants in the 4th and final PrepCom before the World Summit on Sustainable Development gathered on the beautiful, spirit-filled island of Bali, Indonesia. The climate was tropical, the Balinese people were gracious and welcoming. The venue for the meeting was sumptuous. The irony of meeting in a place of such opulence to look for ways to wipe out the scourge of poverty was not lost on many who gathered.

I SUMMARY OF THE TWO WEEKS

1. The Meeting: The task of the meeting was to continue negotiation on the Revised Chairman's Paper that began during the informal consultations that preceded PrepCom IV.

After the plenary session the work was divided between 3 working groups.
Working Group I dealt with the introduction; poverty eradication; changing unsustainable patterns of consumption and production; protection and management of the natural resource base for economic and social development.
Working Group II continued its work on sustainable development in a globalising world; health and sustainable development; Small Island Developing States; Africa; means of implementation.
Working Group III began negotiation on the Vice-Chair's paper on Institutional Arrangements for Sustainable Development which was circulated on 27 May. The word Arrangements in the title was agreed to be changed to Frameworks.

Issues that the Working Groups could not agree on were handed across to Contact Groups. At various stages during the PrepCom Contact Groups were established to struggle with the issues of Energy, Good Governance, Globalization, Africa, Oceans, Finance, then Trade and Finance, Regional Initiatives.

In the second week a great deal of attention was given to Partnerships. Consideration of ideas was gained through informal consultations. It became clearer as time went on that "Partnerships" were being seen as the new beast of burden to carry much of the load of progress in Sustainable Development.

Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues a CSD tradition were a feature of the first 3 days of the PrepCom. MSDs were held on Governance, Partnerships and Capacity Building. Very early on, issues were referred to by various of the Major Groups which were to become the refrain of the meeting: calls for corporate accountability and governance, respect for indigenous territories, traditional knowledge and self-determination, gender mainstreaming, targets for action with specific timelines. Members of the Ecumenical Team drew attention on the first day to the need for corporate accountability as voluntary initiatives rely only on goodwill and peer pressure.

The last 3 days of the Bali PrepCom were taken up with the Ministerial Segment of the preparations for the WSSD.

2. Negotiations:

Most of the work of the meeting was being carried on in Contact Groups which often met late into the night or even through the night. Progress was painfully slow on agreements in the Plenary. Negotiations were often heated, becoming increasingly bitter as the week wore on. In some areas they broke down. NGO representatives continued to lobby for changes to the text right to the very end.

3. Official Outcomes:

A decision was taken in Bali to send the text as it was on Friday, 7 June, to Johannesburg. So, there will be no changes to the text before Johannesburg and any work done in between will have to be put forward by delegations once the WSSD begins in August. (Discussions will take place at the UN in NY, perhaps on a weekly basis.)

As to the state of the text, 73% has been agreed and 27% remains bracketed. Almost all of the bracketed text is in the chapters on globalization and means of implementation, especially those paragraphs dealing with trade and finance. Other outstanding issues include: time-bound targets, principles, GEF replenishment, the GEF and desertification, governance, human rights and labor standards.

The first issue of ECO at Bali said: "The Chairman's text for PrepCom 11 was bad, but it showed some promise. The Chairman's text for PrepCom 111 was worse, but there were some positive initiatives introduced which could have moved it in the right direction. The Chairman's text for PrepCom 1V is a disaster, the lowest common denominator which does not even begin to fill the mandate that the UN General Assembly gave to the WSSD".

4. Ecumenical Team Composition and Meetings:

The majority of the ET were housed at Bali Gardenia. This made for good interaction with each other and also with many of the delegations from developing countries who were also staying there. (See attached for list of ET members in Bali.)

There was a very fruitful day of reflection and planning prior to the opening of the PrepCom. There was time to reflect on the bigger picture of our response as part of a dynamic universe. ET members were reminded of the various stages of the evolution of the Commission on Sustainable Development post Rio. There was a presentation to refresh everyone on the content and elements of the Chairman's Paper. We were further helped to link the 2 processes of Financing for Development and WSSD - from Monterrey to Johannesburg.

It also allowed members to be reminded that we wished our contribution to the meeting to be inclusive, gender balanced and founded on ethical values.

The Team met at the Conference Center each morning from 8 to 9h during the PrepCom. A brief time of prayer, reflection and/or song led into a sharing, planning and/or strategy meeting.

5. Documents: In addition to the Background Document and Poster.  

  • Talking Points. These were revised for the first week and became a 4 page document which considered some of the critical issues facing the WSSD - governance, trade, energy, militarisation, health, education, water, finance inasmuch as they are linked to the consolidation and expansion of political and corporate power.
  • Fact Sheet on Water: "Streams of Justice". Team members drafted this fact sheet to support what turned out to be a successful Side-Event on Water which the ET organised.
  • "Justice - the heart of sustainability" - Drafted by team members this 2 page document was widely distributed as a contribution towards the political declaration.

6. Translation: The Team Interpreter, Yolanda Samayoa provided an invaluable service to assist the smooth functioning of the team as well as provide for Spanish speaking team members to communicate with the larger NGO community.

II COMMUNICATIONS

1. Planned prior to Bali and sponsored by the Fiji Mission to the UN, the ET organised a Press Conference on the first Tuesday which highlighted ecological debt, energy and expectations of the SACC for the Johannesburg summit.

2. Taking Issue, the publication of the Sustainable Development Issues Network [SDIN] carried an account of the ET press conference. "A Double Challenge - Sustainability and Justice"

3. Side Event entitled "Let Justice Flow". Organized by the ET on water as a strategic, but also social good. The panellists were a Sarah Timpson, UNDP expert on water and sanitation; Moises Gutierrez of the ET who spoke of the struggles of the Indigenous Peoples of Cochabamba against the privatising of water; and Lilia Ramos, Regional Coordinator for SE Asia, WSSCC and former WCC Church and Society Commissioner. The event was made more poignant and pointed as part of a video, showing the devastating effects of water privatisation, featured people from Alexandra in South Africa ...just an open drain away from the WSSD Conference Centre in Sandton. It was held at the Grand Hyatt Auditorium with quite a number of members of delegation attending.

4. The ET's statement towards a Political Declaration was published in Taking Issue on the last day of the PrepCom.

III PARTICIPATION BY ET

Immediately following the daily meeting of ET, members participated in the morning meetings of the Sustainable Development Issues Network. (SDIN). A very helpful summary of the proceedings of the previous day's Plenary was given and strategies for the day were planned.

1. Caucuses

NGO Caucus:

The role and focus of the ET, with its emphasis on ethics, was appreciated among the NGO community and also by several Ministers and Delegation members. ET members spoke on behalf of major groups. ( NGO, Indigenous Peoples) in the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues .

Energy and Climate Caucus: ET members were active in this Caucus and monitored closely the Contact Group on Energy. In the negotiations one group [ US, Canada, Australia, Japan] tried to weaken the text and insisted on using only CSD 9 language. Another group, led by Tuvalu, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, wanted to move beyond it to include more sustainable language. This was one of the most bitterly fought issues of the PrepCom. After a week little was changed in the text. So decisions on the most controversial issues such as targets and timeframes for introducing renewable sources of energy and phasing out harmful subsidies will rest with the heads of State at the Johannesburg summit.

Indigenous Peoples' Caucus: Three members of the ET participated very actively in the discussions and activities of this caucus. One of the Indigenous ET members was chosen to take part in a breakfast meeting with Latin American Ministers. The ET has very consciously chosen to support the critical issues facing Indigenous Peoples in the entire process of preparing for the Johannesburg summit.

Women's Caucus: Several of the members of ET played a very active role in the continuing deliberations of the well organised Women's Caucus.

Health Caucus: Again, because of the expertise of one of the ET we were able to be represented and make a significant contribution to the activities of the health caucus.

2. Lobbying activity: Many of the members of the ET were actively engaged in direct lobbying with delegations. Some of these were Russia, South Africa, Australia, Canada, US, Japan, China. Considerable work was done with and support given to the various Pacific Island delegations and those of other nations who were resident in the same hotel as ourselves. As the meeting moved on, more time was given to talking with Ministers, members of delegations and members of UN departments on the ethical underpinning of the process of sustainable development.

The Talking Points that were prepared certainly reflected very well what were to become the most contentious issues in the negotiations and anticipated accurately the major dynamics and outcomes. The ET introduced the concept of Ecological Debt and found strong support in the Friends of the Earth. They are also focusing on Ecological Debt and the influence of the corporate agenda on the WSSD.

The significance of the Ecumenical Team was highlighted by the decision to include members of the ET in the International Steering Group (ISG) As the PrepCom moved on the ISG gathered momentum.

IV ATMOSPHERE OF THE MEETING

1. Participation and Access

The multi-stakeholder dialogues, creation of the CSD process, took place again. But even as they were being held, participants were reminded by the Chair that the real work of the PrepCom was being done in the Plenary meeting.

Most of the negotiation of the contentious material was done in small Contact Groups. It was often hard for civil society to get into these meetings either because of the size of the room or the lateness of the hour. As the meeting proceeded there seemed to be a subtle attempt to make it harder for NGOs to be present at the plenaries and other sessions.

There was a sense of gloom that deepened daily among the majority of NGO participants. Several times the issue of whether the time had come to boycott the proceedings had come was discussed. But the NGO community persevered to the end.

The transparency of the process and the chance for participation by civil society seemed to deteriorate as the meeting proceeded. Business, as one of the Major Groups, seemed to have no trouble participating in the ongoing discussions.

2. Substance: contentious issues emerging:

a) During the ET meetings a concern was raised on more than one occasion about G77/China's representation in the negotiations. Some ET members spoke with African representatives and found that they felt their interests were not being represented. This was very obvious in the energy contact group. Iran spoke on behalf of G77. One African delegate, an expert on energy and a first timer was surprised to hear what G77 was talking about. He said "We are too poor to afford fossil fuels. What are our G77 reps doing speaking about fossil fuels? This is not a sustainable development negotiation." There is a serious concern that those who control the G77 push their own agenda to the detriment of many of the African states and the SIDS members of G77.

b) NGOs spoke out strongly and with a common voice about their concerns that the promotion of Type II partnerships may undermine the objectives of sustainable development. The fear is that, in the absence of clear definition and lines of accountability, they could allow governments to evade their commitments towards sustainable development. They could also exacerbate unequal power relations across gender and North-South lines and so undermine transparency, accountability and participation.

"Everyone openly laments the lack of political will to implement sustainable development. But many NGOs see strong political will in other parts of the international system. There is political will in the WTO to set specific time frames and obligations and failure to comply triggers a powerful enforcement machinery that comes with sanctions.

There is political will to enforce decades of repayment in debt servicing by indebted countries where interest payments fare exceed the original sum borrowed"

NGO Statement at closing plenary of MSD [Chee Yoke Ling] May 30 Issue 2


c) Sticking points that prevented an agreed text were related to trade and finance, globalisation and the relationship between multilateral environmental agreements (MEA) and the WTO rules being very high hurdles. Trade and finance discussions were off limits to NGOs.

The process seemed to degenerate from a shared attempt to achieve a workable text with some concrete proposals for action to begin to address the issues of world poverty, unsustainable styles of production and consumption, energy, water, sanitation etc. into a thinly veiled attempt by a coalition of rich countries to derail the entire process. Hence, from the first day, rogue countries came to be named in a range of publications for their obstructiveness. The States that spoke most frequently and were named most often were the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia.

Theirs was an undisguised corporate agenda. They blocked any language in the text or in the Contact Groups which contained targets and timetables. Directive language was softened to more suggestive language. For ‘secure' read "improve", "ensure" became "promote or support", "develop programmes" was weakened to "support initiatives".

As the weeks wore on the countries that seemed intent on keeping some substance in the text were Switzerland, Hungary, Tuvalu, St. Lucia, Norway and New Zealand.

Early in the first week Greenpeace said "Not only do governments thus far seem unwilling to agree to concrete, time bound action plans to deliver on the landmark 1992 ‘Agenda 21' agreements; if anything, they seem to be moving backwards."

"As several NGO sources noted, PrepCom IV has highlighted a growing awareness among the sustainable development community that the ‘blind pursuit' of trade liberalisation needed to be checked. A number of sources agreed that the added value of WSSD and its influence on related discussions in other fora, including the WTO, might not lie in the details of the texts to be adopted in Johannesburg, but rather in encouraging the questioning of the underlying paradigms of globalisation and the legitimisation of anti-globalisation concerns through the intergovernmental process of WSSD" (BRIDGES summary)

Perhaps this is one of the biggest challenges that is thrown out to us as we prepare to complete the journey from Monterrey to Johannesburg.

"The problem is not time, but finding common ground. This is the challenge for Johannesburg".

V LESSONS LEARNED

We continue to learn. We tried to schedule our press conference prior to Bali. Upon arrival, we discovered a "snafu" and Fiji willingly accommodated our request on short notice. If we are to do a press conference in Jo'berg, then those involved could begin writing their statements that first weekend. We did learn from PrepCom III and had written material ready much earlier in the week. ET documentation was helpful in our work of lobbying governments.

VI GOING FORWARD TO JOHANNESBURG

For the Johannesburg preparations, continued good and close cooperation with The South African Council of Churches is crucial.

The ET had a working dinner to finalise plans for Johannesburg and have started to take the practical steps to translate the plans into action. It promises to be a very busy time, but also one that is clearly focussed and targeted. The time is short, just one week for negotiations. The second week will be a heads of state/ministerial meeting.

19 August - 4 September. WSSD Civil Society Global Forum. For further information and/or web site: info (at) worldsummit.org.za or www.worldsummit.org.za

The ET plans to have three side events, two of which will be in the format of "town hall meetings" (see PrepCom III wrap up): ecological debt, corporate accountability and one on solidarity with those most affected by climate change (the latter will be accompanied by a press conference).

Saturday, 24 August. All-day ET meeting at Cedar Park: Reflection, orientation, strategizing and division of labor. Possible UN registration, dependent on scheduling.

Sunday, 25 August. SACC is preparing an opening worship.

Sunday, 25 August. UN Secretariat (Aydin and Adams) orientation for NGOs.

1 September. SACC, WCC and others have been invited by UNEP to plan and participate in a day of interfaith events.

To keep yourself informed and up to date, please visit the various WSSD web sites:

UN WSSD Secretariat (UN documents and other relevant info): www.johannesburgsummit.org

South African Government: www.joburgsummit2002.com

(Compiled by Kevin Dance, June 2002)