ENGEO Masters students at the World Summit

30 September 2002
Report by MPhil students Mike Wood and Peter Houston

TWELVE intrepid students of the MPhil in Environmental Management course recently returned from the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). With 47 000 delegates and 195 countries being represented, the World Summit was meant to change the world. However, governments, NGOs and businesses will possibly still be debating the “achievements” of the Summit until the next one arrives.

For those of us who attended the Summit, our world has certainly changed and the irony of the occasion has not been lost on us. Some students attended the launch of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) at Summer Place in Hyde Park where businessmen in Armani suits, eating smoked salmon with dill, patted themselves on their backs for their contribution to sustainable development.

Another student joined the Landless People's March on the lack-lustre streets of Jo'burg, where thousands of people were marching and fighting for their rights to water, health and sanitation as well as employment and land. We had to grapple with some stark contrasts!

What about the accessibility of the summit? We had access to all of the venues, including the Sandton Convention Centre, where heads of state and ministers delivered their addresses. But we were not allowed access to the committee rooms. It was behind these closed doors that government delegations debated the global text. “If we sign off on a deadline for adequate sanitation, we want the text on renewable energy removed.”

Wasn't the organisation of the Summit a logistical nightmare? Jo'burg and JOWSCO, the organising committee did an excellent job and should be commended. South Africa received an enormous amount of praise from the delegations and received an amazing amount of press, which can only help in boosting our image overseas. As South Africans, we have a reason to be proud.

The entire experience was quite surreal; meeting so many people from around the world, hearing some of the most amazing people in the world speak and being exposed to every facet of “sustainable development”. We are back to the reality of lectures, exams and research. But the question hanging over us is: “So what does it all mean?”

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