Locking the poor out of the summit on poverty

Feature story - 28 August, 2002
As the official negotiations continue in the heart of Johannesburg, tension is building over the issue of access to decision makers. Many ‘unofficial’ ambassadors have been sent here to voice real issues from communities around the world, yet they are excluded from the halls of discussion and the presence of decision makers. On the other hand, business interests seem to get red carpet treatment.

'Unofficial' ambassadors have met at the Global Forum to talk about sustainable development, environmental degradation and poverty alleviation.

The presence of the corporate lobby is overt.

The delegation from the United Kingdom contains Bill Alexander, chief executive of Thames Water, Sir Robert Wilson, executive chairman of mining company Rio Tinto, and Chris Fay, non-executive director of the mining giant Anglo American. Even the landscape reflects the muscle of money: Sandton city square at the heart of the negotiations is completely reserved for displays from the automobile industry.

"No Logo" author Naomi Klein said "I feel something strongly evil in Stanton: marketing it as the summit of poverty and making it into a fortress that keeps poor people out."

Inside the Summit, the presence of business is twisting the outcomes of the negotiations to ensure that corporates do not have to account for their actions. A summit that puts corporate interests first, and ignores the need for change will be worse than no summit at all.

For example, business as usual for the fossil fuel industry is fundamentally unsustainable. Greenpeace is urging Governments to switch to using 'new renewable' energy - with a target of 10% of by 2010. New renewable energy is wind, solar, modern biomass, geothermal, small hydropower and marine energy. It excludes large hydropower dams and unqualified use of biomass like wood, dung, and agricultural waste.

As a voice for change, Greenpeace is considered by the UN as a 'Major Group' - despite the fact that our campaign budget for 2002 is dwarfed by the advertising budgets alone of most of the multinationals represented here. Based in the elite suburb of Sandton, Major Groups have better access than some to the halls of debate. Elsewhere in the city, thousands of ambassadors representing a vast range of issues have come together because they feel the situation is critical.

A summit that doesn't recognize these voices is heading for failure. You can't make decisions on behalf of people whose voices you haven't heard.