Earthly Summitry
by Earthly Summitry, November 13, 2002

A decade after his father attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, President George W. Bush has declined to attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa, largely because of all the heat he would take as an opponent of the Kyoto Protocol and other efforts to address climate change. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky claims that “The United States is the world’s leader in sustainable development. No other nation has made a greater and more concrete commitment.’’ Yet on several issues at the summit, particularly water and sanitation, the United States has opposed statements of binding commitments, prompting widespread criticism from the Europeans among others. The only areas where the administration seeks concrete commitments are those of trade and investment liberalization and commitment to strengthening the private sector’s role in defining and advancing sustainable development through “partnerships.”

The war on terrorism has rolled back respect for right-to-know and participation principles in the U.S. Public information about environmental, industrial, and public health hazards on numerous public web sites has been blocked. On October 12, 2001 Attorney General John Ashcroft reversed administration policy on interpreting the Freedom of Information Act. The heads of all federal departments and agencies are now discouraged from disclosing information unless refusing it is illegal—a significant departure from previous policy. Industry groups and municipal water suppliers are actively lobbying to amend FOIA and other laws to exempt energy, chemical, and water facilities from public disclosure. At the WSSD, the administration is blocking human, environmental and freedom of information rights from being enshrined in the plan of action in order to protect multinational companies from litigation and protests by the poor. These trends highlight how the Bush administration’s rejection of international law abroad mirrors a growing assault on democracy at home.

- John Gershman is a senior analyst at the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC)

See new IRC Commentary online at:

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IRC “Working to make the U.S. a More Responsible Global Leader and Partner” (
Americas Program “A New World of Ideas, Analysis, & Policy Options” (
Foreign Policy in Focus “A Think Tank Without Walls” (
Self Determination In Focus “Exploring the Future of Self-determination, Sovereignty, & Governance” (