TCS Daily

U.S. Says No To WEO

By James K. Glassman - August 27, 2002 12:00 AM

A top U.S. State Department official has all but rejected a proposal to establish a World Environmental Organization, similar to the World Trade Organization. The official went further, stating, "Since the 1992 Rio Summit, experience shows that the international community does not need new treaties, new bureaucracies, or new government-to-government aid commitments."

The comments -- which are certain to provoke controversy as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) gets underway this week in Johannesburg -- were made by Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, in an interview Aug. 22 with

Many of the delegates at the summit favor establishing a WEO to set global rules for environmental protection and to balance the powerful World Trade Organization, and, according to an earlier report in Earth Times, "the European Union is vigorously pushing for such an organization."

A study released earlier this year by a United Nations think tank, the UN University Institute for Advanced Studies in Tokyo, concluded, "A well constituted WEO could act as a check or counterweight to overreaching by the WTO." And Earth Times reported earlier that Klaus Toepfer of Germany, who heads the UN Environment Programme, and Nitin Desai of India, Secretary General of the WSSD, are the leading candidates to head a WEO "if such an agency is created."

But, asked about a prospective WEO in her interview, Dobriansky said: "Our view is that sustainable development begins and ends at home--hence, our emphasis on domestic good governance, on economic reforms and investment in people. In Johannesburg, we are not looking at the creation of new bureaucracies. There are existing institutions, like the Commission on Sustainable Development, which can be well used."

Dobriansky will be the highest-ranking U.S. State Department official at the WSSD until the arrival of Secretary Colin Powell later in the conference.

In the interview, conducted in Washington before her departure for the Johannesburg summit, Dobriansky elaborated, "What is needed are concrete initiatives, concrete actions that take place on the ground -- when you have a commitment to good governance, when you have investments in health and education, and you have economic policies that encourage private-enterprise development.

"That is what is going to facilitate sustained development, not the creation of new bureaucracies."

Also in an interview with last week, a U.S. government official who requested anonymity defended President Bush's decision not to attend the Johannesburg summit. The president, said the official, "will be visiting Africa in 2003" and has already attended "two summits this year with a very significant focus on development: the UN-sponsored conference on financing for development, which was held at Monterey, Mexico, and then the G-8 meeting." The official also pointed to other recent meetings on sustainable development in which the U.S. has played a key role, including the Doha Summit, with its focus on liberalizing agricultural trade, and the Food Summit in Rome.

Moreover, said the official, the U.S. is sending a "high-level, multi-agency delegation." In addition to Powell and Dobriansky, it includes Christine Todd Whitman, who heads the Environmental Protection Administration; James L. Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality; and Andrew S. Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The official also pointed to a U.S. decision to boost development assistance by $5 billion, or 50 percent, by 2006; to a "new international mother-and-child prevention initiative for Africa and the Caribbean, a $200 million five-year education initiative in Africa that basically supplies some 4.5 million textbooks--and the 25 percent increase in US AID funding for agricultural development assistance," announced in Rome in June.

In addition, the official stressed the importance of trade, noting that the U.S. "brings in some $450 billion worth of purchases from developing countries--every year. This amount is more than eight times the amount developing countries receive in aid from all sources."

The official also clarified the general U.S. posture for Johannesburg--an emphasis on "co-accountability, co-responsibility in development"; on public-private partnerships, such as a recently announced $40 million initiative, backed by US AID and the Conrad Hilton Foundation "to provide potable water and sanitation to rural villages in Ghana, Mali and Niger; and on the principle that "there is a direct correlation between economic growth and environmental stewardship."

The official said that the U.S. wants to help developing nations improve their economies, but added, "What is crucial here is that you have to have development in countries that are willing to make a commitment--to ensure they are committed to good domestic governance, to economic freedom and to an investment in their people. You have to have that kind of foundation."

Asked about the issue of climate change, which dominated UN meetings over the past two years in The Hague, Bonn and Marrakech, Morocco, the official said, "Our view is that the summit in Johannesburg is broadly about sustainable development. Climate change is one component of that in a broader whole.

There is a separate forum which we remain committed to. We're part of the framework convention. We remain committed to the framework convention. That is the appropriate forum to discuss at great length and extensively the issue of climate change."

Finally, the official stressed that the U.S. goes into Johannesburg "with the intent of seeking and wanting a constructive and successful summit."

This article originally appeared in The Earth Times

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