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The Daily Star : Nothing to offer but an empty hand on sustainable development

17 August 2002

Hala Kilani-  Daily Star

Lebanon is going to the Johannesburg summit for sustainable  development empty-handed and will most likely return the same way, as the official delegation has no sustainable development program and civil  society participating in the summit is equally ill-prepared, according to nongovernmental organizations.

“I believe Lebanon will just be an observer, another number in the crowd,” said   Greenpeace’s Lebanon campaigner Zeina Hajj, who is preparing for and will be   attending the international gathering taking place in the South African capital   from Aug. 26 to Sept. 4.

The World Summit, intended to solve global environmental and socio-economic problems     to ensure a future for coming generations, is hosting some 170 heads of state,     including Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who will head the Lebanese delegation.

The prime minister, who will arrive Sept. 2, will be accompanied by Foreign Minister       Mahmoud Hammoud and 30 others, but it is still unclear whether Environment Minister   Michel Musa will go along.

But Hajj said they were going without an agenda or a vision for sustainable development,         taking instead a list of what she called “should-be-done stuff” related to poverty,         water, economy, women and child labor.  “This paper, which was presented to us one month ago, doesn’t reflect the real         picture on the ground it is much more rosy,” Hajj said. “We were even told that         it will be amended to reflect the least negative image possible on the county.”  “But I don’t believe that by presenting a positive image of our country to the         world, we will be able to solve our problems,” Hajj added.

Environmentalists are expecting no changes on the local environmental scene to           follow the international gathering, as was the case after its precursor, the           1992 Rio Summit in Brazil .  “What has been achieved since Rio ?” Hajj asked. “Nothing. Just a look at our           coast and our mountains will tell you how much our environmental situation has           deteriorated.”  The only achievement since Rio that the environmentalist could think of was the           recent integration in the legal framework of the environment code, which Hajj           sees as “positive but not perfect.”  “We didn’t even achieve a waste-management policy,” Hajj said.

Although world leaders agreed in Rio to save natural resources, realizing that             consumption at this speedy rate would leave none for their grandchildren, “we’re             over-using and polluting our water and our quarrying activities haven’t decreased,”             Hajj said.  “Lebanon is witnessing development, but not (it is not) sustainable,” she added.

With available sunlight for at least 10 months a year, Hajj said, Lebanon is               an ideal place to use renewable energy, but less than 1 percent of the country’s               energy sources are solar.  “In a Mediterranean country like Lebanon , this is shameful,” she said. “In Cyprus             and Israel , 95 to 97 percent of energy used for heating is solar.”

Hajj expressed doubt that Lebanon would be able to draw any financial support               as the obvious signs of pollution plaguing the country show that it has failed               to meet its commitments to international agreements like the Barcelona Convention             to protect the Mediterranean Sea and the Stockholm Convention banning toxic emissions.

With Hariri leading the country’s delegation, environmentalists are even more               skeptical that the environmental cause will be lobbied, and they are expecting               Lebanon to follow “blindly” the policies pushed forward by US President George               W. Bush.  “It is questionable to what level he (Hariri) will negotiate issues pertaining             to sustainable development,” Hajj said. “I think he will try to make deals and             get money, but Johannesburg is not about making deals.”  “Will Lebanon stand up for its rights as a developing country?” she added. “Or             will it blindly follow the leadership of the United States , which is willing             to sabotage the summit where issues like climate change and aid to countries             of the south are to be discussed?”

But Hajj is not expecting any of the Arab countries to aggressively fight the               United States during the summit for political reasons linked to the events of               Sept. 11 and the American led “war on terror.”  Hajj also accused the government of failing to coordinate with NGOs, which are             represented in the summit by some 20 activists from the Lebanese Environment             Forum, Green Line, the Arab NGO Network for Development and Amwaj al-Biaa.  The NGOs held a conference to discuss preparations for the summit two weeks ago    and invited officials, but no one attended, according to Hajj.  “In countries like Belgium , the relationship between NGOs and the government      is so harmonious that they are attending the summit as part of the official delegation,”     Hajj said.

Green Line’s Ali Darwish, who will also be attending the summit, said he knew               that Lebanon would play no role in Johannesburg as it did not participate in   the preparatory meetings, which took place in Rome , New York and Bali .  “We all know that Johannesburg is just the theatrical show,” Darwish said. “Real    work for the summit took place in the preparatory meetings, and Lebanon did not   participate in the negotiations there.”

In the last preparatory meeting, held in Bali last June, Lebanon was represented               by an ambassador who did not attend the sessions, according to Darwish.  He also said that change should come from inside a country, not from international  agreements and gatherings.  “If you don’t have an internal policy for change and no serious intentions to   achieve it, no international summit will succeed in bringing it about,” Darwish   said.

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