By now it is fairly common knowledge that the United Nations has called for a global conference on environment and development to be held in Brazil in June, 1992. This conference – "ECO ’92" – will take place during the 20th Anniversary of the Stockholm Conference, the last major global environmental gathering. Maurice Strong, Secretary General of that conference, will once again fill this role in Brazil.
Strong has called for as broad a participation by citizens and the "independent sector" (any non-governmental organization, or "NGO" – women’s groups, youth, trade unions, religious groups, etc.) as possible. For that reason, it is important for any non-profit or non-governmental organization to learn how that group can participate in national and regional input for this conference.
Transboundary global problems such as desertification, unsustainable development practices and the depletion of the ozone layer were parts of the central focus of the World Commission on Environment and Development. In 1987, the WCED produced the Brundtland Report, Our Common Future. Immediate changes in the perceptions of individuals, nations and institutions were called for.
Following the report the WCED disbanded and The Centre for Our Common Future was formed. The Centre, under the direction of Warren (Chip) Lindner, has been serving as a channel for information both to and from its working partners on ways in which the concept of sustainable development can be implemented locally, regionally and globally. (Contact the Centre at Palais Wilson, 52 rue des Pacquis, CH1201, Geneva, Switzerland, Tel. 022/732 7117, Fax 022/738 5046.)
The Brazil Conference will elaborate strategies for implementing sustainable development – and, it is hoped, pronounce time frames in which specific actions must occur for humankind and the planet to have any future.
All NGOs should be aware of the background of preparations for the conference during the past year. In December of last year, the United Nations mandated the conference to coincide with World Environment Day, June 5, 1992. Preparatory meetings within the UN are being held every six months.
Regional meetings are also being held. For example, one for the European Community took place last March in Vienna and Budapest, with working sessions taking place on a boat on the Danube River. When the NGO delegates from 35 nations were not busy in working groups, the views of the pollution in and around the river were obvious spurs for finding solutions to common problems.
That four-day conference produced a document, Bridging the Gap, which the NGOs presented to the governments, who were to meet two months later in Bergen, Norway to issue a ministerial declaration on actions the governments would take to solve environmental and developmental problems. Bridging the Gap was considered by NGOs to be the floor from which governments should act. Many governments, however, felt that Bridging the Gap was a ceiling up to which they could go – with many reservations.
One of the most popular parts of Bridging the Gap was a charter for nature rights, and some delegations, including most notably the Soviets, were in favor of some treatment of this topic at Bergen and eventually in Brazil. But the US and the UK blocked a great deal of specificity regarding aid to the developing world for cleaning up their environment and for pushing ahead for reductions in CO2 emissions. As Fran Spivy-Weber, Director of International Programs at National Audubon Society in Washington, DC, noted: "To organize a meeting that seeks broad-based, informed citizen participation is an ideal that is hard to achieve. What [we] learned from Bergen is that the meeting itself is secondary to its being a deadline by which time groups must think through … their goals and objectives for the future."
It is extremely important for all groups in society – whether focused on environment, development, peace and justice, human rights, business women, or any other issue – to participate in this process. Small citizens’ groups and even advocates of those who are homeless should join the process now. Don’t wait for an invitation – just act. To give an example of democracy in action, our small grass-roots organization in New York City, Concerned Citizens Speak, participated in the Danube Conference and was an observer in Bergen. Anything is possible for any group if they realize that they are as distinct a voice as a group with 20,000 members.
The ’92 process is one of crucial importance in teaching all of us ways in which to act together to solve common problems. Just one thing: this invitation requires an RSVP- NOW!
Richard Jordan is Vice President of Concerned Citizens Speak , 26 Gramercy Park, New York, NY 10003, 212/673-9398. Other groups to contact are the United Nations Association of the USA (202/347-5004), Global Tomorrow Coalition (202/628-4016), and Interaction (202/822-8429).