Corporate Giants Join Greens

Agence France Presse
August 29, 2002

An unlikely alliance between Greenpeace and US corporate giants has joined forces at the Earth Summit here to attack the United States for ditching the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Delegates at the 10-day summit were stunned Wednesday to see the environmental group join forces with a corporate lobby, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), whose ranks include firms that have been vilified by green activists.

Just hours earlier, Japan appealed to the United States, its ally, to become a Kyoto ratifier. Greenpeace International political director Remi Parmentier stood side-by-side with BCSD President Bjorn Stigson, and both men read separate paragraphs from a joint statement, appealing to government leaders meeting in Johannesburg next week to combat the global warming threat.

Without naming the United States or President George W. Bush, they declared uncertainty about Kyoto's future was creating "a political environment which is not good for business, and indeed it's not good for humanity." "Despite our well-known differences, we have found ourselves frustrated by a lack of political will and decisiveness of the governments to fulfill their commitments under the (1992) Rio (Earth Summit) agreements," they said.

They added: "Given the seriousness of the risk of climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we are shelving our differences on other issues on this occasion, and we call on governments to be responsible and to build the international framework to tackle climate change on the basis of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol. (...) We are also calling on governments to put their own differences aside and to cooperate more fully to make the goals of greenhouse gas emission reductions a reality."

Earlier, Japanese Environment Minister Hiroshi Ohki said that the protocol, agreed in the Japanese city of Kyoto in 1997, was the cornerstone of efforts to curb greenhouse-gas pollution blamed for climate change. "Japan calls upon the United States of America, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to ratify the Kyoto Protocol," Ohki said at a seminar here. Japan was a close US ally in the talks to complete Kyoto, and has repeatedly appealed to Washington to back the charter.

The WBCSD has been a powerful voice for business in the arena of sustainable development -- the idea that economic growth and protecting the environment should go hand-in-hand. It has clashed with environmentalists many times over such issues as monitoring of corporate activities that affect the environment, and whether environment problems should be tackled by voluntary or regulatory means.

Its rollcall comprises 163 multinational corporations, more than two dozen of them American. US-listed members include ChevronTexaco and Conoco in oil and gas, as well as DuPont (chemicals) and Alcoa (aluminium), and the German-US car behemoth DaimlerChrysler. Others include the British oil giant BP, Japan's Honda and the French tyre firm Michelin.

The Kyoto Protocol requires rich industrialised countries to trim output of carbon-based gases by a deadline of 2008-2012. Bush abandoned it in March 2001, shortly after taking office. He complained it would be too costly for the US economy and unfair because it did not require big emerging countries such as China and India to make targeted reductions in their own pollution.

The accord will take effect once it has been ratified by at least 55 countries accounting for at least 55 percent of carbon dioxide pollution as of 1990 levels. Ratification by Russia, the last major industrial signatory, is vital, but experts at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg say this is unlikely to happen before 2003.

The United States accounts by itself for around a quarter of global emissions of greenhouse gases, much of it generated by cars.

Earth Summit negotiators said the gap between rich and poor nations on how to save the planet had narrowed, but conservationists said core issues had neither been addressed nor resolved.

Their discontent was mirrored by anti-privatisation and anti-globalisation activists, who met in nearby Alexandra, South Africa's poorest slum, and vowed to march on Saturday to the adjoining upmarket quarter of Johannesburg where the summit is being held.

The United Nations said a key deal had been struck to restore the world's fisheries to their maximum sustainable yield by 2015. Currently three-quarters of the world's fishing grounds are overfished. And Danish Environment Minister Hans Christian Schmidt told journalists that negotiators had made "significant progress" on development aid for the Third World and on global trade.The UN announcement gave no details of how the fisheries goals would be achieved.

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