Noah's Ark or Jesus's Cross? UNCED as a Tale of Two Cities (W-1)

Noah's Ark or Jesus's Cross? UNCED as a Tale of Two Cities (W-1)

Publication details

  • Tuesday | 01 Sep, 1992
  • Tariq Banuri
  • Working Papers
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This paper looks at the various perspectives and experiences brought together at UNCED. The focus of the analysis is on differences in perceptions between the North and the South, as exhibited in the four "sites" of UNCED: intergovernmental negotiations, the NGO mela (festival or fair), the exercise in adult education through the mass media, and a forum for the excercise of political leadership. The argument is that while the first three events were successful, the fourth was a total failure. As a result, while the process help identify and consolidate national positions, it did not make progress towards creation of a political or moral community, without which global collective action is inconceivable.

When Chou En Lai was asked what he thought the effect of the French Revolution had been on world history, he replied, "[I]t is too early to tell." UNCED may not be in the same class as the French revolution (although many hoped that it would be a major turning point in our history) but even in its case three months are hardly sufficient to assess its impact. Nevertheless, now that it has come and gone we can at least begin to unravel its strands without fear of prejudicing the most immediate outcome.

UNCED can be approached from two different though inter-related directions: from the contrasting perspectives with which the north and the south, NGOs as well as governments, approached the event; or the various processes in which these participants and perspectives encountered each other.