06 September 2002

Reflections on the Earth Summit

Reflections on the Earth Summit

The following reflections are by the Rev David Deeks, Co-ordinating Secretary for Church & Society, after the conclusion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in South Africa:

"It's a lovely dream that the whole world can gather in one place and sort out its problems. But it's not real life.

Everyone knows the rules of decision-making in assemblies where everyone has a voice. (They apply to Church groups as much as to gatherings of politicians and economists).

  1. The broader and more diverse the membership, the harder it is to agree on a plan with specific actions. Conflicting interests cannot easily be reconciled.
  2. The larger the assembly, the more diffuse its outpourings.

This knowledge should have set realistic expectations for the WSSD. It went more or less as we might have predicted:

A very small number of action plans were agreed (but 2 cheers for the deal to halve the number of people lacking clean drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015).

A large number of local agreements were made between particular governments, NGOs and companies, which promise significant progress.

But the large, global assembly - for all its frustrations to the activists - has some symbolic value. It reminds us, for example:

Some problems really do affect everyone on the earth.

It is only by an ongoing commitment to the long slog of negotiating fair rules and of confronting the seriousness of some issues (like the sources of energy, environmental blight, debt, healthcare and education for all) that we shall make progress as a human family towards just dealings and the eradication of abject poverty."


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