TCS Daily

'Actions Are Better'

By James K. Glassman - August 30, 2002 12:00 AM

JOHANNESBURG -- The top U.S. State Department official here at the giant United Nations Earth Summit came out swinging today, sending a strong message that the American delegation, which seemed timid and obscure at the last few environmental meetings, has restored its confidence and its mission.

"Much attention has been placed on the text of the Johannesburg Plan of Action, which now runs to some 30,000 words," said Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky this afternoon. "Words are good. Actions are better."

Action has been the U.S. theme at the World Summit for Sustainable Development. For example, there's been an intense debate between U.S. and European Union delegates over a requirement that 15 percent of the world's energy be generated through renewable sources by 2015.

The Americans, who at last seem to have learned their lesson from a bad experience with the Kyoto Protocol - a document that set similar targets - have been saying "no" over and over to the renewables requirement.

Instead of numbers and deadlines, the U.S. is pushing specific projects as the route to economic development that, in turn, will improve the world's environmental health.

In her speech, Dobriansky cited five such projects:

  1. An investment of $970 million by the U.S. Government, plus another $1.6 billion from the private sector, over three years, in the "Water for the Poor Initiative," to expand access to clean water and sanitation services.

  2. Over $400 million from government and private sources in 2003 to provide "millions of people with new access to energy services and reduce respiratory illness associated with air pollution."

  3. An "Initiative to Cut Hunger in Africa," which will spur technology in agriculture starting next year.

  4. A "Congo Basin Forest Partnership" to support forest management and a network of national parks in central Africa. The U.S. Investment will be backed by contributions from the European Union, the private sector, environmental organizations and host governments.

  5. A commitment to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in developing nations with $1.3 billion from the U.S. Government in 2003.

And those are just for starters. The U.S. is helping to set up partnerships that will provide more information to monitor the global environment, build housing for 90,000 South Africans, strengthen "principles of sound science in decision-making" (bringing together the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Academies of Science and the American Chemistry Council), assist small-scale coffee growers (this one is sponsored by, among others, the Smithsonian's Migratory Bird Center and Starbucks Coffee) and mitigate problems caused by invasive alien species.

Such partnerships - which involve other nations, non-governmental organizations, U.S. Government agencies and private companies and trade associations - are at the heart of the effort here to turn words into action.

"These partnerships," said Dobriansky, "are key elements in the new approach to development that President Bush embraced with other national leaders at the Monterrey Conference in March." It's an approach that requires a foundation of free-market democratic institutions on the part of countries targeted for help.

Dobriansky said that, in the years ahead, the world will be hearing a lot about such partnerships. "Hold us accountable for the initiatives we identify and for their successful implementation. At the same time, hold all governments - in developed and developing countries alike - accountable for implementing concrete actions to improve the lot of all our citizens."

Dobriansky was not the only U.S. official to treat conference delegates and the press with bluntness and forcefulness. Andrew Natsios, who heads the U.S. Agency for International Development, gave a powerful defense of the American position.

At last, it seems, the U.S. is not apologizing. In a report titled, "Working for a Sustainable World," distributed here at the Summit, the US AID recited some impressive figures: Core development assistance will be increased by $5 billion, an increase of 50 percent over current levels, by 2006, and expenditures for climate-change-related programs will be boosted by an expected $653 million.

Meanwhile, in 2001, the U.S. provided $2.5 billion in humanitarian and food assistance along with $11 billion in development assistance. More important, the U.S. imported $449 billion in goods from developing nations and made $4 billion in private charitable contributions to such countries. Between 1997 and 2000, annual private capital investment in developing countries averaged $36 billion.

Of course, none of this is good enough for the green activists who tend to dominate events like Johannesburg. They are especially unhappy about the partnerships - which, they fear, will strip them of power to implement a global regulatory scheme. Reuters reported today that "environmentalists say partnerships, meant to involve local communities, companies and other groups, may let business cash in on providing essential services like water or electricity, while letting governments shirk their responsibilities."

Governments, said Greenpeace climate policy director Steve Sawyer, "are supposed to be working up an action plan with targets and timetables and the means of implementation. We can talk about partnerships after they've done that."

Actually, the conference is talking about partnerships right now. The U.N. has already received notice of 218 proposed partnerships in areas ranging from health care to renewable energy, and the U.S. is taking the lead

But the grousing comes not merely from radical greens but, sadly, from the few U.S. Congressmen here on the scene. Rep. George Miller(D-Calif), one of the most fiercely partisan members of the House, blasted U.S. partnerships as "a recycled idea and recycled money."

In the end, however, the partnerships will pale in importance next to steps to liberate the economies of developing nations through free trade and capital investment. Fritz Vorholz wrote today in the weekly Die Zeit of Hamburg, Germany, that, "if Europeans, Americans, and Japanese stopped sinning against free trade,...millions of poor people would be better off.... If they stopped their anti-market activities, carbon dioxide emissions would sink. These people who like to improve the world should at least agree on correcting the failure of politics.... If this dispute remains, we can only say after the summit: forget about Johannesburg."

Those sentiments were echoed in the National Post of Canada, which editorialized on Wednesday: "If the leaders gathered... in Johannesburg really want to save the environment, they should concentrate less on eco-rhetoric and more on promoting the free-market conditions that permit poor nations to become rich. The simple truth is that countries grow cleaner as they grow wealthier - no matter whether they've self-consciously dedicated themselves to 'sustainable' policies (whatever those are) or not."

What's encouraging about this conference is that the central idea that increasing wealth leads to a better environment is gaining broad currency. Steven Sawyer of Greenpeace, in an interview with Ron Bailey of Reason magazine, admitted, "The priority has to be getting energy access to poor people, no matter what the source."

As Bailey concluded, "It is indeed progress that radical groups like Greenpeace now recognize poor people can't be overly choosy about how they cook their food and light their homes."



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