End seas of poverty, says Mbeki

Earth Summit told to overturn world order based on the 'savage principle of the survival of the fittest'

A A A

Thabo Mbeki, the South African President, called yesterday for concrete measures to lift billions of people out of poverty and misery, while saving the planet before its dwindling resources were squandered. Opening the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg, he told representatives of more than 160 governments that it was time to overturn a world order based on the "savage principle of the survival of the fittest".

The conference, to be attended by up to 40,000 delegates over 10 days, represents the best opportunity in 20 years to address the problems of dire poverty and environmental degradation at the same time. But it already faces breakdown because preparatory negotiations which were supposed to outline broad agreement ended in disaster in Bali, in June.

As President Mbeki spoke, delegates were starting the tortuous process of trying to eliminate more than 400 points of disagreement in a so-called "Plan of Action" to be agreed by the conference. Starting with the least contentious topics, they managed to resolve a few points regarding the environment of small islands, and the Global Environment Facility, the main fund for financing environmentally friendly development, launched at the Rio Summit in 1992.

But they have not even begun to address the big divisions over setting a target to provide sanitation for more than a billion people by 2015, increasing the amount of renewable energy used in developed and developing countries and providing more aid to finance sustainable development. The most basic dispute is over whether to put specific new targets into a Plan of Action rather than relying on generalities. The European Union is almost alone in pressing for the targets and Britain is playing a pivotal role. Hardline countries such as the United States, Australia and Japan, fear the targets would involve them spending more money in aid.

Developing countries do not believe any more money will be forthcoming and so do not want to be landed with commitments they believe they cannot fulfil.

President Mbeki said on Sunday that "global apartheid" between rich and poor must, like white minority rule in his own country, be swept away. Yesterday he used the opening speech of the UN's largest summit so far to attack the failure of the global community to act on agreements reached at the Rio Earth Summit.

"A global human society based on poverty for many and prosperity for a few, characterised by islands of wealth surrounded by seas of poverty, is unsustainable," Mr Mbeki said.

"It is as though we are determined to regress to the most primitive condition of existence in the animal world, of survival of the fittest. It is as though we have decided to spurn what the human intellect tells us, that the survival of the fittest only presages the destruction of all humanity."

Poverty, underdevelopment and inequality within and between countries, plus the worsening ecological crisis, summed up "the dark shadow" under which most of the world lived, he said. The world must strive for shared prosperity.

President Mbeki and his ministers are key players in the summit, representing the most developed of the developing countries.Mr Mbeki himself has been repeatedly criticised for his failure to take a firm stance on critical governance issues which relate to sustainable development. His failure to condemn Zimbabwe's controversial land seizures that have resulted in food shortages have often been highlighted as indicative of his "weak" leadership.

But he has taken hold of the talks, to try to kick some life into them. South Africa has said it will settle for nothing less than an ambitious plan of action and timetable which binds industrialised countries to deliver on the phasing out of trade and agricultural subsidies, and accepting the principle of shared and differentiated responsibility in rescuing an ailing planet.

Leading non-governmental organisations last night threatened to walk out of the summit, accusing the organisers of sidelining them in negotiations.

Delegates described it as a "closed summit" at which people who held contrary views to large corporations were being kept out of the main forums of discussions.

The summit is being held in Sandton, Africa's glitziest commercial district whose palatial marble-and-glass towers loom over the squalid township of Alexandra.

Delegates are sealed off in the fortress like complex by concrete barriers and metal fences. An 8,000-person security force is deployed to help prevent the kind of violence seen in recent international meetings in Seattle and Genoa, Italy.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links