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Time to cut the knocking copy and get real

24 August 2002

Sustainable Development Commission raps Jo'burg squabblers

On the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Jonathon Porritt, Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission (the Government's principal advisory body on sustainable development) has expressed deep concern at the confrontationalism and partisan intolerance of so many of the leading protagonists.

" Far too many people are exploiting the Summit to grandstand their own sectoral self-interest. In the process, the benefits of a wide range of crosssectoral partnerships that have come into being since the Earth Summit 10 years ago are being ignored, and the opportunity (through the Action Plan
under discussion in Johannesburg) to put such partnerships at the heart of international efforts for sustainable development appears to have been
sidelined.

- Government Ministers are inclined to inflate the Government's five year record (which is good, when set against the record of most other governments, but not that good), rather than telling it as it really is, warts and all. What's more, New Labour's naive adulation for the big business blinds it both to the limitations of the "voluntary approach" it so adamantly espouses, and to the strength of NGOs and the public sector (particularly at the local level) in delivering solutions on the ground.

- Environmental NGOs are still hell-bent on demonising all multinationals as the wicked agents of planetary destruction - wilfully ignoring the huge changes in both the policies and performance of dozens of global companies since the Earth Summit in Rio ten years ago. To deny the importance of that contribution is dishonest and highly damaging to the whole of cross-sectoral partnership.

- Business champions of sustainable development refuse to acknowledge in public the grave damage being done to the global environment and social cohesion by the worst excesses of growth-at-all-costs globalisation, and fail to offer any serious rebuttal of the intellectually defective material put out by rightwing think-tanks and self-serving 'contrarians' that purport to speak on their behalf.

- Much of the media take self-indulgent advantage of this unfortunate sectarianism, favouring personal abuse of politicians, debilitating cynicism about the Summit as a whole, and superficial coverage geared to the rows rather than to the issues.

As a result, few people are prepared to take time out from their demeaning squabbles to look at some of the much more positive aspects of the
Johannesburg Summit

- Many of the solutions to the problems being addressed in Johannesburg can only be brokered by a radically different approach to cross-sectoral partnerships at every level of society.

- Thousands of organisations, big and small, are already engaged in partnerships of that kind, delivering real solutions to millions of peoples' real problems in communities all over the world.

- There is now far more to be gained by learning how to expand that "common ground" laboriously built-up over the last decade rather than endlessly seeking to belittle everybody else's efforts."

In a hard-hitting article in this Sunday's Observer, Jonathon Porritt reaffirms the critical importance of the Johannesburg summit, sets out to separate fact from fiction in assessing the Government's record on sustainable development over the last five years, and to move beyond some of the negative confrontationalism. He also deplores the US Administration's outright hostility to sustainable development, declaring George Bush's decision not to go to Johannesburg as a 'blessed relief''.

His article ends with a plea to the Prime Minister to take a far more emphatic leadership role in promoting sustainable development, both in his speech in Johannesburg and on his return to the UK.

Notes for editors:

The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the Government's independent sustainable development advisor, reporting to Tony Blair and the devolved administration leaders. www.sd-commission.org.uk

SDC's remit is to advocate sustainable development across all sectors in the UK, review progress towards it, and build consensus on the actions needed for further progress. SDC is currently working in the areas of climate change, energy policy, food, health and agriculture, and regeneration.

Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life, while ensuring that the natural resources upon which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of future generations.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) takes place in Johannesburg from 26 August-4 September inclusive. Two Commissioners, Maria Adebowale and Professor Tim O'Riordan are members of the UK delegation and five other Commissioners will be present representing their own organisations. They are Nicky Gavron, Deputy Mayor of London, Professor Rod Aspinwall, Deputy Chairman of the Enviros Group, Charles Secrett, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, Alan Knight, Head of Social Responsibility, Kingfisher, and Derek Osborn, Chairman of the Stakeholder Forum for Our Common Future.

The Commission is holding two events during the Summit. A workshop on Communicating Sustainable Development will be held at the Barbican Centre on 27th August. On 3rd September, Jonathon Porritt will speak at a debate on food procurement in local and global food production chains. This will take place at the Institute of Material. The Commission will hold further events on environmental justice later in the year.

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