The Road from Mexico to South Africa
By Diego Cevallos*
Although environmentalists will play a peripheral role at the upcoming Conference on Financing for Development, in Monterrey, Mexico, they are expected to define key aspects there of what will unfold at the Rio+10 Summit in August.
MEXICO CITY - Those staking their bets on the success of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (known as Rio+10) to be held in South Africa should pay close attention to the this month's International Conference on Financing for Development, in Monterrey, Mexico, because they could find answers to their questions - or at the very least some signs of promise.
The Mexican event, Mar 18-22, will bring together more than 50 presidents as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and business groups. Their mandate is to boost the dwindling flows of financing for development, and attend to problems related to foreign debt and global trade, goals that were laid out 10 years ago at the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro.
The difference between these international conferences is that in Brazil the environmental sector called for global funds for development totaling 125 billion dollars a year, while today, from the financial world, talk is of just 50 billion dollars.
"Beyond the differences in figures and origins, there is a direct line between Monterrey and South Africa, because if there is no solution to the problems of financing, there will be no sustainable development," Ricardo Sánchez, Latin American director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), stated in a conversation with Tierramérica.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development, Aug 26-Sep 4, will define channels for meeting the goals set at the Earth Summit, which in most spheres, including development financing, have not seen much progress.
International development aid stands at around 25 billion dollars a year, which is not enough to reverse situations like the fact that one fifth of the world population currently lives on less than one dollar a day, according to UN figures.
Furthermore, in recent years the possibility has been waning that the industrialized North will comply with its objective of helping the developing South with the equivalent of 0.7 percent of its average gross domestic product (GDP), a goal that was reiterated at the Rio Summit a decade ago.
From 1992 to 2000, international aid dropped from 0.3 to 0.2 percent of GDP, and the United States, considered the leader of the wealthy nations, has persisted in its refusal to meet the recommended goal.
It is estimated that of this aid, just five percent goes toward protecting the environment, at least that is the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a joint study by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), a UN regional agency.
As occurred in Rio 10 years back, the U.S. government, which earmarks the equivalent of 0.1 percent of GDP for development assistance, will be the target - in Monterrey and then in South Africa - of exhortations to meet the 0.7-percent GDP mark.
It is expected that the United States will increase its development aid following the Monterrey conference, and we hope that it will reach 0.7 percent, Christian Ossa, UN Secretariat advisor for the meeting, told Tierramérica.
According to Friné López, head of 'Espacio Autónomo', a Mexican organization that is part of the steering committee for the Global Forum of NGOs meeting prior to the Monterrey Conference, the U.S. government is falling behind and into isolation with its stance against the 0.7 percent development aid goal.
A diverse cross-section of NGOs, which will be represented by more than 2,000 people at the Monterrey meet, have complained that the final document to by signed at the end of the event, the draft of which is already complete, is too weak, particularly on environmental matters.
The "Monterrey Consensus", a text full of recommendations and promises, but short on quantifiable commitments or definite timelines, states that the governments' objective is to "eradicate poverty, achieve sustained economic growth and promote sustainable development."
Although it mentions the environment several times, the document has left aside two recommendations from the High-Level Panel on Financing for Development, a forum led by Mexico's former president Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000).
Under an initiative from UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, Zedillo, with 11 experts from the world of economics, drafted a document that includes dozens of recommendations, among them the application of an international tax on emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and the creation of a World Environment Organization.
The High-Level Panel said that creating the new tax would serve to curb global warming and gather funds based on the "polluter pays" concept.
According to statements from several government delegations, the consensus prior to Monterrey is that major environmental issues will be left for the South African summit to deal with, said the UNEP's Sánchez.
But he maintains that the Monterrey document is a step in the right direction because it provides an important conceptual basis that should be followed through at the Rio+10 Summit.
Though at the Monterrey conference, which will have more than 6,000 participants, the world's environmental NGOs will play only a peripheral role, Sánchez and López agree that the meeting this month will lay the groundwork for the summit in Johannesburg.
In fact, they pointed out, the participants at the third and final preparatory meeting for the Sustainable Development Summit, slated for Mar 25-Apr 5 in New York, will bear closely in mind the outcomes of the Conference on Financing for Development as they begin drafting the final Johannesburg declaration.
* Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent.