A new wave of reaction to Agenda 21 threatens to confound the public and undermine efforts toward global cooperation on both environment and development. Meanwhile, those who raise the alarm about Agenda 21, a non-binding agreement, are silent about negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a binding agreement that would grant corporations new rights to interfere with our democracy.
I was part of the United Methodist delegation to Rio de Janeiro in 1992, during the historic United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or “Earth Summit,” where Agenda 21 was signed. The agreement was negotiated openly in advance, with input from governments, corporations, and civil society. Its purpose was to suggest principles, policies, and guidelines that could help the nations of the world move cooperatively into the 21st century (hence the name) in ways that could both protect the earth and raise poor nations out of poverty.
Agenda 21 is not a treaty, so it was not ratified by the Senate. It does not have the force of law. It is non-binding, to be enacted voluntarily as governments see fit. Some jurisdictions in various countries, including the United States, have enacted policies based on Agenda 21′s suggested principles, such as protecting biodiversity, controlling pollution, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the progression of global warming, combating poverty, strengthening the role of marginalized groups, etc. Agenda 21 does not infringe upon national, state, or local sovereignty. Its goal is not to abolish private property or take away our freedoms or create an “eco-dictatorship,” regardless of what Glen Beck or Fox News have to say.
Now let’s look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. It is being negotiated secretly, behind closed doors. The public does not have access to the draft, yet corporations have not only seen it but are helping to write it. Portions of the document have been leaked, so we know that this so-called “free-trade agreement” deals with far more than trade. If enacted, its reach will extend into every aspect of our lives.
Unlike Agenda 21, the TPP would take precedence over U.S. law, and would bind us far more than any treaty. The enforcement mechanism of treaties is internal to each country, but the enforcement of trade agreements is external. If our government refuses to change a federal, state, or local law that is ruled “illegal” under the TPP, fines or tariffs would be leveled against us. The position of the U.S. government is that we will change our laws to comply with the terms of trade agreements. This has resulted in many of our democratically-enacted laws being overturned through World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) tribunals.
The TPP incorporates the worst of the WTO and NAFTA, and expands corporate rule even further. With the WTO, a corporation has to convince a government to file a dispute against (sue) another country. With the TPP, as with NAFTA, a corporation can sue a country directly for lost profits, past, present, and future. In other words, if people in a particular town rise up to prevent a corporation from building a power plant, the corporation can sue the federal government for profits they might have realized if the project had gone ahead.
The TPP not only threatens U.S. sovereignty, it places corporate profits above the democratic process. Why the silence on the TPP? Why the alarmist rhetoric about Agenda 21? I agree with Thom Hartmann’s analysis: “It’s a sleight-of-hand technique to keep us focused on bogeymen, while the ranks of Texas oilmen, outsourcing CEOs, and Wall Street banksters carry out the true destruction of the United States of America: the pillaging of the Middle Class at home and the construction of a WTO-style one-world corporate government to promote unfettered capitalism and free trade everywhere on the planet.”
The major challenges facing humanity will require global cooperation, through open negotiation and the input of civil society. It’s a big mistake to abandon our precious world to agreements like the TPP, a corporate bill of rights that would result in the consolidation of corporate rule.
The damage caused by free-trade agreements motivated me to write Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization, which includes an overview of the global economy, a description of its rule-making institutions (such as the WTO and NAFTA), nonviolent resistance to global corporate empire, and globalization from below.
For more truth-telling about Agenda 21, see Thom Hartmann’s “Agenda 21: The Latest Sleight of Hand Trick by Corporate Elite” or the scholarly article on “Property Rights and Sustainability” by ethicist Donald Brown.