Earth wins: first setback for WTO since Seattle

Summit removes language that would have put trade first, Earth second.

Feature story - 2 September, 2002
Yesterday evening, while the industry lobbyists were eating sushi and drinking champagne around a spectacular swimming pool, Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations were taking action inside the halls of the Earth Summit.

Daniella Rosche with leaflet she was arrested for distributing at Earth Summit

The lobbyists are here under the auspices of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, and their party at the Hilton Hotel was probably ill timed.

In a measure of how repressive regulations around the summit have become, the bold illegal act which Greenpeace, WWF, the Third World Network, and a half dozen other environmental groups took was -- distributing a leaflet. Our demand: remove language making environmental regulation secondary to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements and trade considerations.

Greenpeace activist Daniella Rosche was momentarily arrested and her UN pass confiscated for handing pieces of paper to Ministers as they entered the meeting hall.

The leaflet read: "Don't betray the UN system, the world's people, and planet Earth." It was headlined "Para 17: Take out "While Ensuring WTO Consistency."

How did the most important environmental victory of the Summit so far come about? Inside the meeting room, it began with Norway requesting that Paragraph 17 remain open due to the controversy over the WTO Language. Tuvalu and a handful of other countries echoed the call.

Then, in an example of what African leadership at this conference should be, Dr. Tewolde Egziabher of Ethiopia made one of the great speeches of the Summit. He called for removal of the WTO language on the basis that WTO regulations unfairly benefited the rich, unfairly favoured trade over environmental protection, and ran counter to the principles that the Earth Summit had been convened to stand for.

The G77 then stood up to say that while they had agreed not to reopen this issue, they were repeating their demand to have the language removed now that others had reopened it.

And when the EU delegate stood up, the entire room knew that the WTO's house of cards had fallen.

By 3am this morning when the session broke, we'd won the first really significant victory of the Summit, and the first check on WTO's hegemony since Seattle. Hope that sushi was good, boys.

In other late night developments, the Summit pushed through language on corporate responsibility which is "as good as we could have hoped" in the words of Greenpeace political director Remí Parmentier, and kicked over to Heads of State the question of renewable energy. What the Heads of State do with energy policy remains one of the key determining factors on whether this Summit will be a success or not. "The only thing left on the table is the one thing they didn't want to talk about" said Parmentier.

Negotiators from the United States delegation, which numbers 300, have been so bloody-minded in their attempts to get renewable energy off the table that they've effectively been pushing for an energy plan which would amount to a ban on solar power.

"The US backroom boys, under instruction from the Whitehouse, are prepared to allow millions to have their lives and livelihoods threatened by the impacts of climate change -- and all to protect the oil industry back home," said Steve Sawyer, Greenpeace's climate policy advisor.

"We call on Blair, Schroeder, Chirac, and Cardoso to take a strong stand to protect the climnate by securing an action plan on energy for the poor and a kickstart for the clean energy revolution. The fate of this Summit rests in their hands," said Sawyer.