In summer 2002, the "biggest UN Conference of all times" took place - referring to numbers, not necessarily to results or impact. I was in Johannesburg/South Africa for the World Summit on Sustainable Development as head of the ELSA delegation. ELSA (European Law Students' Association) as a non governmental organisation has consultative status with the UN and was thus allowed to send participants to the Summit. We were already quite an international group to go there: with me on the delegation were Eugenio (Italy), Bilun (Germany) and Christian (Switzerland). We were part of some 60.000 people attending the Summit which took place from August 26 to September 4.
Although the outsome of the Summit can hardly be seen as a full success, it was of course an incredible experience to us to be part of this huge process. I will try to sketch my view of the course and the outcome of the summit and some of our activities there.
Backgrund of the Summit
Let me give some historical background information first: The "Joburg-Summit" was the ten-year follow Conference up to the famous Rio de Janeiro "Earth" Summit in 1992. The Rio Summit was special for several reasons: It found a broad participation and succeeded to include policy-makers as well as stakeholders and scientists. Its main accomplishment was the affirmation that the environment and development are linked, and must be considered together. Environmental protection does not work if not linked with the issue of curing socio-economic problems. For an attempt to solve these problems, the principle of "common but differientiated responsibilities" was acknowledged: every country, no matter what other urgent problems they have to battle, has to participate in a sustainable environmental policy, but as greater responsibility for pollution meets the industrialized countries, they have to do a far greater share of "cleaning up". This was decided upon to be done in a sustainable way: Development shall "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
A theoretical framework for coping with environmental and social problems was thus already agreed upon. The Johannesburg Summit was meant as an Implementation Conference, as in practice little effort to realize the aims has been made after Rio, and many people speak of the last ten years as a time of going backwards instead of making progress. An action plan was to be developed to actually carry into effect the Rio Principles.
The Joburg Summit also has to be seen as part of a trias of great recent conferences: The WTO Doha Round on economic questions and the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development. Together, these conferences were meant to deal with the world's problems for the new Millennium.
Johannesburg hosting the Summit
As a city plagued by crime and a high HIV rate, pollution and huge differences between the rich and the poor, Johannesburg, reflecting many of our times' problems, can be seen as an adequate place for a conference with such aims. It was also a symbolic choice, meant to demonstrate the integration of post-apartheid South Africa in the United Nations Community, to acknowledge the Success Story of its - in comparison - relatively unbloody revolution, to draw world attention to the problems of the African continent and to help South African economy. The City of Johannesburg invested much in the Summit: 600 Mercedes Limousines were bought for transportation of the most important delegates (not us!!), a whole new fleet of busses were purchased which after the Summit will serve as a cornerstone for up to now non-existent public transport in Joburg.
The Summit events were devided between different centres in Joburg: The "official" part - where government negotiations took place - was located in Sandton Convention Centre, in a rich Northern part of the city which showed big ugly faux-European style buildings, empty streets and highest security. (our Summit photographs turned out white-yellowish for the camera having been x-rayed about 15 times a day). As the organizers very much feared chaos and failure in canalyzing the masses of summit attendants, they very much restricted access to Sandton Convention centre. As accredited participants due to the special status of ELSA we lucklily succeeded to enter, although quite some hours were spent queuing for "day passes" and arguing with security staff. The result of this heavily criticized policy was that the greatest part of the NGOs were stationed in NASREC, an exposition centre 45 minutes away from Sandton. They had practically no possibility to do government lobbying and felt left out of the negotiation process. Still, one could say the the NASREC centre had quite its own dynamic: disappointment with the official summit results was partly being made up for by the formation of many promising stakeholder/civil society partnerships and action plans.
A place for side events was Ubuntu Village, which reminded us of the style of the Hannover EXPO. I was filled with country pavilions, information desks and souvenir shops. You could find everything there from "alternative" "Amazon Cookies" in the beautiful brasilian Pavilion to lectures and discussion rounds on economy and renewables at the ultra-modern German Stand.
In the huge field of Sustainable Development, Un Secretary General Kofi Annan identified five main focal points for the Summit referred to as WEHAB: Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture and Biodiversity. Two thirds of the world population do not have sufficient access to these resources. Johannesburg was not a "Climate Conference" as one could often hear in the Media. It had a much broader perspective.
Our Activities at the WSSD
Right from the beginning, it was of course clear that we could not move something as "ELSA" or had to defend a specific "ELSA perspective". If we wanted to have at least a small impact, we had to work together with others.
During the Summit, we attended the meetings of the WSSD Youth Caucus. Youth is one of the nine Major Groups in the Summit process. Its role in the dialogue about sustainable development is stressed in the 25th chapter of Agenda 21. Civil Society Groups connected to Youth have organized themselves in this "caucus" to work together and exchange ideas and information.Youth had the possibility to speak at every thematic plenary session and also to deliver a final statement. The Caucus gathered every day and was very valuable to us for the information we received and the contacts we made there. The youth caucus stays in contact through a mailing-list: the messages can be read at
to join the mailing-list write an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .It was a good place for us to make contact with youth from all over the world who were for the main part more than well informed and have worked on sustainability topics in their home countries for a long time in a very professional way. This was an exchange which gave us a lot of opportunities to learn! All the same, the Youth Caucus was sometimes seen in an ambiguous way: People of the North and their interests seem to be overrepresented. Surely the restricted access to Sandton Convention Centre where the Caucus Meetings took place, which especially hit many Youth Organisations from the South, contributed to this problem.
The Youth Caucus split into sub-caucuses to prepare statements, to do press work, to lobby etc. I was part of the sub-caucus for cross-sectoral issues such as education, finance and trade. We worked out a statement as a basis for our contribution to the plenary discussion and a press release.
ELSA was also present at the Implementation Conference, a parallel event to the summit with the aim to bring together stakeholders and to develop concrete action plans and to initiate new partnerships to implement sustainable development aims. We took part in the Freshwater programme. An action plan was worked out concerning women and water. For example, it is a big problem in many parts of the world that women and girls have to spend much of their to carry water from distant wells and thus are detained from receiving education. The Gender and Water Alliance would be happy to let ELSA members cooperate in the form of internships or summer jobs in this field of development assistance.
An important opportunity to receive good and reliable information were the daily briefings the EU held for NGOs from the European Union, chaired by Ambassador Dan Nielsen, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark. The EU related the forthcome of the negociations. NGOs made use of the meetings to ask very precise and critical questions and to do some lobbying. They distributed draft propositions for the Summit implementation plan and thus tried to influence the drafting process.
Together with other European Youth Groups we worked on the contact with the EU through the Danish EU presidency. We took part in 2 meetings in the Danish Headquarters in Johannesburg. Part of the outcome was a letter to the EU presidency.
Bilun and I were part of some youth who had a meeting with the German Minister of Environment, Jürgen Trittin. We discussed the topic of renewable energies. Germany's Chancellor had announced the organisation of an international conference on energy in the year 2003.
We also met Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the German Minister of Development. She offered help in creating a platform for European Youth in the field of Sustainable Development to coordinate the contact with the European Commission (see also eysd).
We took part in an informal breakfast with representatives of the World Bank. Their new methods to include the voice of NGOs in their projects were discussed. Youth brought up the idea of a Youth Advisory Council to the World Bank to represent specific the interests of Youth in their project work.
Outcome of the Summit
The last night of the drafting process for the Plan of Action and the Plan of Implementation we spent for the most waiting in "Ballroom 3" for the final outcome. It was a very impressive atmosphere! All in all, the summit success can not be described to be more than luke-warm. Let me summarize the outcome on the most important topics:
Concerning energy, the percentage of renewables shall be raised "substantially", but no concrete aim was agreed upon, to the disappointment of many. A "better-than-nothing"-solution: An initiative started by the EU at the summit shall be a motor for creating binding commitments. Large hydro has been included in the definition of renewable energy (the definition in the chapeau of § 8 was one of the very controversial subjects as it has a huge impact on biodiversity, indigenous people etc.).
As to climate, the mentioning of the Kyoto Protocol in text was a victory over the U.S. States which have not ratified yet are uged to do so.
The number of people who do not have access to drinking water and sanitary provisions shall be halved by 2010 by a number of concrete measures. Some important Type-II-Measures (voluntary partnerships) have been agreed upon: The European Union announced an initiative based in Africa and Central Asia of 1.4 billion Euro a year. The U.S. committed itself to investments of about 970 Euro. The Asian Development Bank promised 500 Million Euro for the Programme "Water for Asian Cities". (The problem with government monay is that it stays unclear whether this is to be "new" money or just a redistribution of money already designed to these and similar areas).
The loss of natural resources shall be stopped "as soon as possible" and the the loss of biodiversity shall be reduced "significantly" until the year 2010. The decline of fishing stocks shall be stopped not later as till 2015. 32 Rype-II-Partnerships have been anounced with some 100 Million Euro in total.
The Implementation Plan refers to the importance of an open multilateral system of finance and trade and the working programme of the Doha round, especially the necessity to open markets for the least developed countries. International environmental agreements are not subordinate to the rules of the WTO. Distorting subsidies shall be "substantially reduced", but without concrete aims given.
The document refers to the United Nations Millennium Declaration with the aim to halve absolute poverty until 2015. The indistrialized countries are called upon to raise their development aid to 0,7 % of their gross national product, an aim that had already been set in Rio and Monterrey. A "World Solidarity Fund" shall be set up for payments from enterprises and civil society.
Good governance ist acknowledged as essential for sustainable development. A sound economic policy, solid democratic institutions and sufficient infrastructure are necessities for poverty eradication.
Health services shall be strengthened. It is pointed out that in this human rights prevail on cultural and religious values. The battle about this clause went on until the very last night of the drafting, as especially the islamic countries were against this.
Sustainable consumption and production patterns shall be advanced in a ten year plan of action on an national or regional level.
Until 2020, chemicals shall only be produced in a way that minimizes harm on health and environment.
During the negociations, the precautionary principle agreed upon in Rio was questioned. The principle means that counter-measures shall be taken even if there is not yet a 100 % scientific proof about the harmfulness of certain developments. This principle is deleted concerning natural resources. It is included with Chemicals.
What else did we do there?
Especially since the Heads of State arrived in the last days of the conference, we spent time just sitting in the Plenary and listening to famous and interesting people: Mary Robinson, Gro Brundtlandt, Jaques Chirac, Colin Powell… Colin Powell's speech in the Plenary was booed and disturbed which was surprising considering the polite and tolerant atmosphere elsewere during the summit. Suddenly, all translation channels switched to Arabic during his speech… it was quite a thing to witness! We sneaked into the Gerhard Schröder press conference. Our delegation gave interviews to German Radio and Radio Islamique - lots of fun. Fortunately, I was only NEARLY shot by Junichiro Koizumi's guards as a moved over the lawn a little uncarefully.
We took two evenings off to go to Melville/downtown Johannesburg, listening to a jazz. We went to the township Soweto and found this contact with South African reality very necessary, but were sad and disturbed witnessing extreme poverty. After the summit ended, we did a short safari at Pilanesburg, not seeing all of the "Big Five" but loved the elephants, giraffes, rhinos etc. with their babies. The ranch we stayed at in the North of Johannesburg was the perfect place to meet people and make friends with other delegates, sit next to the fire - or in the Jacuzzi :-) Dear Bilun, Christian and Eugenio,I think we had a great time!