End seas of poverty, says Mbeki

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


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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary in Downton Abbey
peopleBut who comes top of the wish list?
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, right, with Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds in Newtown, Powys, as part of her tour in support of the party’s female candidates
general electionNick Clegg's wife has impressed during the campaign
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living