BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 2.06.02

Film: EARTH SUMMIT FILM. Paul Wilenius reports on proposals for the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in August. What needs to be done to protect the environment and reduce poverty in the third world?

PAUL WILENIUS: Anti-globalisation protesters attack a symbol of capitalism during last summer's riots. Western police forces are braced for another long hot summer of clashes this year as world leaders gather for the Earth Summit in South Africa and the World Economic Summit in Canada, under pressure to do less for big corporations and more for the environment and the poor. The government wants to be seen to be green by supporting measures which protect the environment and help the poorest countries. However, campaigners say this will never succeed unless the government is prepared to take on big global business. The first Earth Summit in Rio ten years ago appeared to forge agreements to save the planet and map out a better future for developing countries. Although Britain has just signed up to the Kyoto Treaty aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, campaigners say it means nothing while the Americans remain outside it. Environment Ministers are off to Bali this week to pave the way for the second Earth Summit in Johannesburg, but environmentalists are pessimistic about its chances of success. ZAC GOLDSMITH: The Earth Summit was the biggest ever meeting of world leaders to deal with the environmental crisis ten years ago and everyone, I can safely say that everyone's hopes were huge at that time, they thought the problem was going to be solved. Actually what's happened is that none of the goals set at the World Summit have been met, on the contrary the environment is in a worse condition, more people are living in poverty and so on and so it has been a failure. TONY JUNIPER: We've seen a shift in political and diplomatic commitment after Rio away from global sustainable development treaties towards the promotion of trade liberalisation and global economic deregulation and that's where this summit in Johannesburg is going to have its biggest test. Are the governments turning up there going to recommit to the sustainable development priority that they said they signed up to in Rio de Janeiro or are they going to continue with the process of corporate globalisation which is doing so much damage across the globe. WILENIUS: There appears to be as much environmental damage and global poverty now, as there was then in Rio, but activists are more prepared to take on big business to help clean up the planet. Environmental protesters are running a campaign to stop Esso - owned by the US oil giant Exxon - as they blame it for helping to torpedo the Kyoto global warming treaty. They say voluntary rules to try to control the actions of such big global corporations are not strong enough. For them, the only way to stop such protests is for the next Earth Summit to come up with a tough, legally binding agreement to put the environment before trade. Protesters have been blockading Esso forecourts, backed by stars from Jonathan Creek and Absolutely Fabulous, to try to hit the company's sales. STEPHANIE TUNMORE: 'Stop Esso' recently had a day of action in the UK where they picketed four-hundred petrol stations in the UK and the campaign has also gone global, we have 'Stop Esso' campaigns now in Canada and in the USA and recently in Germany. For a long time people have been angry and upset about climate change, but it's a very complex issue, it's very difficult to point at somebody and say it's your fault. Having pointed out what Esso is doing, their role in this, it's given the customer a choice, it's given them something to do, it's given them someone to blame and we are getting a lot of support from customers. PAUL MERCER: There is a tendency to believe boycott campaigns are relatively unsophisticated but in reality they're run by very professional campaigners, they pick out very limited objectives that they know the companies can agree to without having to suffer too great a loss, and what they aim for because markets are very competitive these days is only a few percentage change in sales, because they know that will force the company into backing down and agreeing to their demands. WILENIUS: Despite the protests, there's little sign of Esso backing down. The company's defiant, bluntly refuting the accusations levelled at it by the campaigners that is doesn't care about the environment. GORDON SAWYER: The charge that somehow we determined the US Government's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol is frankly rubbish. Anyone who knows our company knows that we operate to the highest ethical standards wherever we are in the world. Of course we take the issue of climate change seriously and we're taking action in our company. We are taking actions to improve energy efficiency in everything that we do today and we are also investing in energy solutions for tomorrow. WILENIUS: The nerve centre of the 'Stop Esso' campaign is inside the London HQ of Greenpeace, but it's also backed by the Friends of the Earth. These groups want legally binding corporate accountability rules from the forthcoming Earth Summit, to force global companies to behave better. They want big fines to give them real teeth as they feel the existing voluntary controls have failed. GOLDSMITH: There's no sign yet that voluntary methods have worked and this was first proposed during Rio by Bush Senior who promised that America would voluntarily reduce, cut its greenhouse emissions to nineteen-ninety levels by the year two-thousand. In fact by the year two-thousand emissions had increased by twenty per cent. JUNIPER: The Bali agenda and the Johannesburg agenda will be dominated by calls for voluntary agreements, for partnership arrangements but what is actually needed is some really tight regulatory frameworks which can start bringing some of the errant players in the sustainable developments sphere back to the table in a way where they're going to start behaving in a, in a way which is more aligned with some of the treaties and speeches of politicians. RUTH LEA: I don't think the way forward is to have these international agreements being forced on global companies because at the end of the day what is that saying? It's saying that for the, particular national governments, they cannot decide what sort of relationship they want with particular global companies. In other words it's stripping away national sovereignty from national governments. WILENIUS: For the campaigners running the Esso boycott the fate of the planet is much more important than the sovereignty of national governments. For them, Western governments must move in the direction of putting the environment before trade. JUNIPER: It seems quite logical to us given the way in which the globalisation experiment is harming the environment that there needs to be a clear political statement that the environmental rules take precedence over the trade rules. We're very, very far from that being the case but again this is one of the jobs that the governments have to do in Johannesburg is to rebalance the international machinery so that the environment does get a chance. WILENIUS: A coffee bar in the Bluewater shopping mall in Kent seems an unlikely place to find a trade battleground. Yet the fair trade coffee on sale here is part of a growing campaign to persuade environmentally concerned consumers to pay a little more for goods from Third World producers. The choice for many coffee drinkers is between a cafe latte and capuccino, but many environmentalists prefer coffee from a fair trade producers. Indeed, they feel it helps poorer countries to develop, by buying agricultural products from companies that care for the environment and their workers. They also accuse Western governments of hypocrisy, for insisting that Third World governments open up their markets, while spending billions supporting their own agriculture. A new batch of coffee arrives at the Cafe Direct plant. The slightly higher prices for the coffee, is used to give producers who respect the environment and their workers more cash. Yet there's no sign the West is ready to scrap tariff barriers or even cut the huge subsidies given to its own producers. Some campaigners believe it's better to help small farms rather than encourage large scale production. GOLDSMITH: Eighty per cent of all malnourished children in the world today actually live in countries whose agriculture has already been geared towards export exactly as they were told to by the world bank and the IMF. So it's not helping alleviate poverty, what's happening is that environments are being degraded across the board by bad agriculture, we're seeing countries plunged into debt in order to keep this, this lunatic economic system going. LEA: Companies are for good, trade is for good, economic growth is for good, wealth creation is for good. And if you compare say countries in South-east Asia, countries like South Korea or Thailand or whatever, how did they grow out of poverty? They grew out by trade. WILENIUS: Despite the contribution made by companies like Cafe Direct this can only have a limited impact as campaigners say the global food market is rigged to favour the rich countries. Farmers can produce cheap food and then send it out to undercut Third World producers, because they've been given huge subsidies by their own governments, in Europe and America. JOHN CRYER MP: We keep hearing time and time again that the Common Agriculture Policy is going to be tackled not just by the British government but by the other governments in Western Europe and it simply never happens, it just carries on - that's deeply damaging to the developing world because we keep dumping this cheap food on the Third World. LEA: And the problem with all this protectionism is that it keeps out developing countries food exports to the developed world and of course it's through exports, it's through free trade in those particular products that should enable some of these developing countries to grow and grow out of poverty. WILENIUS: Campaigners say the problem for Western governments is they are inextricably linked to big global corporations. So many protest groups have decided the only thing these companies and governments listen to is direct action. Now there's a growing threat of more mass demonstrations here in Westminster and consumer boycotts. MERCER: The reason direct political action is growing is because of a perception that large corporations are now more powerful than a lot of national governments and that one can't effect or increasingly one can't effect political change by campaigning within party political structures, one actually has to then target those corporations and that's the reason for the growth and the more that people perceive these corporations to be all powerful then the more that they're going to get targeted. WILENIUS: But the first step for many is to try to persuade politicians to do more to help the environment and promote sustainable development. Both young and old campaigners are preparing for what is expected to one of the biggest ever lobbies of Parliament on June the nineteenth. Tens of thousands are expected to call for a fair trade system. JUNIPER: We're hoping that thousands of people will turn out to the Houses of Parliament to bring to their MPs attention a set of concerns that are rarely debated in the democratic institutions in this country and that is about the assumption that free trade will end poverty, that free trade will protect the environment and that a deregulatory approach on the global economic stage is the right way forward. WILENIUS: Protesters limber up for the big day with a dance in Leeds. The environmental campaigners are all joining forces to demand changes to the world trading system and more action to save the planet. But there are fears this government may not be truly, madly, deeply committed to green policies and helping the poorest countries in the face of the might of the global corporations. CRYER: The idea that globalisation is sort of a fact and you can't do anything about it, it leads to this, it leads to, to a feeling amongst Ministers I suspect that you can only kind of, play around at the margins, you can't do anything fundamental and you can. WILENIUS: Tony Blair's government will need to do a lot more to convince campaigners that it's serious about green issues and helping the Third World. Although the minority of violent protesters might be contained by the police, it could be a lot more difficult to extinguish the passion of those battling for the future of our world.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.