Greenpeace Protests Inaction at World Summit
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, September 4, 2002 (ENS) - Unhappy with how world leaders were addressing environmental issues at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, activists from Greenpeace have spent the past two weeks protesting at a variety of sites in South Africa and around the globe. Today, the final official day of the summit, Greenpeace targeted the oil industry in South Africa and Austria.
Early this morning, five Greenpeace activists gained access to a bridge spanning pipelines from the at an oil refinery plant outside Durban, South Africa. Three climbed the 30 meter (98 foot) bridge and hung flags, which read "Clean Energy Now."
"The Earth Summit has failed to take action against dirty energy policies which are fueling climate change," said Paul Horsman from Greenpeace.
The fossil fuel facility outside Durban, jointly operated by Shell and BP, is notorious for oil leaks and toxic air emissions from poorly maintained pipes that run through nearby communities, Greenpeace activists charged. Neither company has accepted any responsibility for the poor health of local people nor have they made sufficient attempts to clean up plant pollution that has continued for 40 years.
"The earth summit was on the brink of bringing corporations like Shell and BP to task, by making them accountable for the damage they do," said Zeina Alhajj of Greenpeace. "But in the dying moments of the conference even that hope has been being undermined. Once again governments are caving in and allowing company profits to dictate government policy."
Throughout the Earth Summit, governments have failed to agree on targets for increasing production of renewable energy, due in part to pressure from the United States and energy industry lobbyists. U.S. opposition also undermined an early agreement to develop an intergovernmental framework that would make corporations accountable for their actions and pollution.
"Big business and polluting governments like the U.S. have joined forces in Johannesburg once again to deny people the right to clean and safe energy," said Greenpeace's Horsman. "Even now in the last few hours of the conference they are also trying to undermine any attempts to make corporations accountable for the devastation they bring not just to the climate but also to local communities."
International oil companies were also the target of Greenpeace activists in Carinthia, Austria this morning, where 70 demonstrators helped to unfurl a giant banner on the Pasterze Glacier in the Hohe Tauern mountains. The banner, which read "Climate change powered by Esso, Shell, BP," covered about 5,000 square meters (about 5,980 square yards).
Pasterze Glacier, situated in the High Alps near Grossglockner, is thinning by about five meters (16 feet) and receding by 20 meters (66 feet) every year. Glacial melting is considered to be one of the most visible and reliable signs of global warming.
Climate change provoked by the emission of greenhouse gases was one of the topics discussed at the World Summit, but the meeting produced few promises for concrete action on climate change.
"Esso, Shell and BP are sending our climate up in smoke," said Karsten Smid, a climate expert with Greenpeace. "At the Earth Summit, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia joined hands with the oil lobby to prevent greater support for renewable energy forms. Esso and its parent company ExxonMobil, in particular, are sabotaging climate protection."
In an August 2 letter to U.S. President George W. Bush, obtained by Greenpeace, oil lobbyists paid by ExxonMobil urged Bush not to attend the World Summit, and applauded his opposition to signing new international environmental treaties.
"The least important global environmental issue is potential global warming, and we hope that your negotiators at Johannesburg can keep it off the table," the letter states.
"On the final day of the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, Greenpeace, through global protests is doing what governments failed to achieve: stopping the onward march of fossil fuels and expanding the use of clean energy, " concluded Smid.
Summit attendees did pledge to take steps to increase energy efficiency, boost the use of renewable energy, and begin to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels, "where appropriate," according to a release from the United Nations (UN). European energy companies signed a range of agreements with the UN to support sustainable energy projects in developing countries.
But for many environmentalists at Greenpeace, those pledges were not enough. Outside the final plenary session today, dozens of protesters wore stickers that said "No More Shameful Summits," and refused to be moved until South African police herded them into a group and propelled them out of the public square.
Today's protests followed a week of worldwide actions protesting the dominance of business interests at the World Summit. Greenpeace activists kicked off the Summit by dropping "Nuclear Power - out of Africa" banners from top of the nuclear reactor at Koeberg, South Africa, criticizing nuclear energy as polluting and unsafe.
"Since the protest at Koeberg it has become apparent that the Greenpeace activists are not the only people who have broken the law," said Mike Townsley of Greenpeace. "The total failure of the plant owners, Eskom, to provide safety, security and evacuation plans should be investigated by the authorities and is yet another reason why this first nuclear facility in Africa should be the last."
In Thailand, Greenpeace launched a Stop Global Warming balloon over the Mae Moh coal plant in Lampang. On the seas off Cape Town, the group's activists tracked down a ship carrying a plutonium cargo.
On the streets of Manila, Greenpeace collected signatures to petition the Philippine's Board of Investors not to invest in dirty fossil fuels. In Australia, climbers hung banners from the nation's flagpole reading "Stop climate change." And in Chile, the group launched a balloon over the crude oil refineries plant at Vina Del Mar.
"Governments failed to do the job," said Greenpeace climate policy director Steve Sawyer. "Now it's up to all of us."
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