Despite passionate advocacy and global negotiations intended to combat global poverty, delegates at the World Summit for Sustainable Development ultimately failed to agree on a document that would have set forth stricter goals and definite timetables for addressing the world's social and environmental problems.
The U.N. gathering, one of the largest ever, ended Sept. 4 after 10 days of meetings in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Summit included representatives of 120 heads of state and 12,000 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from around the world.
The delegation from the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was part of an 80-member ecumenical team organized by the World Council of Churches to attend the Summit and the parallel Global Social Forum for Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organizations. The UCC/DOC delegates were advocating for greater commitments from the global community to reduce poverty and protect the environment.
"All eyes of the world were on the U.S. delegation in the final stages of negotiations," says the Rev. Ron Stief of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries. "But not only was the United States blocking critical timelines and language on corporate accountability, globalization and reproductive rights, but in areas like trade and global warming, the U.S. appeared to be committed to undoing what was accomplished 10 years ago in negotiations at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro."
Stief says a major victory during the Summit was the announcement by Russia and Canada that they will sign the Kyoto Accords on Global Warming, which virtually assures implementation, even though the Bush Administration has rejected the treaty and reversed earlier U.S. promises to participate in the global effort to reduce dangerous greenhouse gases that contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer.
The Rev. Adora Iris Lee and Terry Yasuko Ogawa—both with Justice and Witness Ministries—worked extensively at the parallel "People's Global Summit" on a major commission that emphasized the "cries of the excluded." The commission focused its advocacy work on the interconnected-ness of poverty, racism and the need for sustainable development.
"Our friends in the Ford Foundation, the National Black Environmental Justice Network, Possibilities Unlimited and many others brought some reality to the event, drawing together over 500 people who will make sure that the cry for sustainable development worldwide is addressed through policy and follow-up in their home countries, regardless of the weak language of the final document," Lee says.
Alicia Carmen Nebot of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries agreed that non-governmental commitment to sustainable development was strong, even if powerful governments were less enthusiastic about effectively addressing concerns raised at the Summit.
"The UCC helped bring together women from across the globe, including the Health Ministers of South Africa and Uganda, to tackle the issue of HIV/AIDS in Africa," Nebot says. "The millions suffering from HIV/AIDS cannot wait for the governments to catch up."
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess is minister for communication and mission education with the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.