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'The future of the Earth is in our hands'

‘Each of you is preoccupied with issues at home – important issues, sometimes urgent issues. But let me submit to you that none of these will be nearly as important to the future of your people as the issues here... The future of the earth as a secure and hospitable home for those who follow us is in our hands.’ (Maurice Strong speaking to assembled world leaders at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 1992)

Ten years on from the Rio Earth Summit and thirty years from the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the world’s governments, corporations and ‘civil society’ are once again being roused from day to day political and economic survival to talk about the future of all our people, our home planet, and the other species we share it with - at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. But the indications are that just as in Stockholm and Rio, reordering the international economy is off the Western corporate agenda, so despite all the global hype and new initiatives, nothing much will change.

I make this prediction largely on the basis of the findings presented below. The subject of this story is the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a publicly funded multi-billion dollar green aid fund created in the World Bank by Western governments in 1991 - just in time for Rio. GEF was charged with financing protection of the ‘global environment’ and, thereby, ‘sustainable development’, and has supported thousands of international conservation projects, mostly justified under the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Biodiversity. Yet as an avowedly ‘non-political’ body, the GEF’s governing Council does not challenge the often anti-environmental priorities for international investment, extraction and trade in natural resources of its donor governments or the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organisation (WTO).