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Ministers to add muscle to Bali Earth Summit talks

Date: 03-Jun-02
Country: INDONESIA
Author: Dean Yates

The World Summit on Sustainable Development planned for August in Johannesburg - dubbed Earth Summit 2 - is being billed as the largest United Nations conference ever.

More than 100 heads of states and 60,000 delegates will pledge to drag millions of people out of economic misery while protecting the earth's natural resources.

But organisers have struggled to generate the sort of enthusiasm that preceded Johannesburg's genesis, the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago, and environmentalists are predicting a flop.

The United Nations hopes the arrival in Bali of ministers holding environment and development portfolios will change that. They meet from June 5-7.

"Our view has always been that Bali is the key to Johannesburg, no question," Gerry Morvell, a senior U.N. official, told Reuters on the sidelines of the two weeks of preparatory talks that began last Monday.

"The other side is that this becomes the launching pad politically for Johannesburg. If the buzz that comes out of Bali is good, then all of the world leaders who up until now have been saying we'll wait until we see what the agenda is before we decide, will come on board and say yes we are going."

A deal was reached in Rio to balance the world's economic and social needs with the environment, but most of the goals have not been met. Johannesburg aims to kickstart that process.

TOO IMPORTANT TO FAIL

Delegates in Bali have agreed 80 percent of a draft action plan for Johannesburg, leaving ministers to mainly work on a political declaration to be endorsed by world leaders and the summit's agenda.

The draft calls for cutting poverty, improving sanitation and access to electricity, preserving natural ecosystems and changing harmful consumption patterns.

Some targets were agreed at the U.N. Millennium Summit, which called for halving by 2015 the number of people living on less than $1 a day and who have no access to clean water.

"There is a concern in the U.N. that Johannesburg must be successful. The issues are too important to fail," said one Western negotiator.

In a recent article, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Johannesburg would be seen as a historical turning point for the poor and the environment if commitments were made on five key areas; water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity.

He chided the rich for not pulling their weight since Rio.

"Developed countries, especially, have not lived up to promises they made - either to protect the environment or to help the developing world," he wrote.

A key element of raising Johannesburg's profile will be getting the United States on board.

Environmentalists have been scathing of Bali's progress so far and say Washington's decision not to send a cabinet minister to the famous island shows it is not serious about Johannesburg.

Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky will lead the U.S. delegation at the ministerial talks.

BUSH KEEPING AN EYE ON BALI

A member of the U.S. delegation said last week that President George W. Bush's attendance at the summit would partly depend on Bali and whether nations pledged to promote good governance.

Bush agreed earlier this year to increase U.S. aid flows to poor nations, but on the condition they promoted sound policies.

Environmental activists have accused the United States and other rich nations of putting corporate profits first.

While they have a direct voice in the talks, they say delegates are ignoring their fears and plan some public protests in Bali this week, despite tight security around the luxury resort complex at Nusa Dua where negotiations are taking place.

The main contentious issues in the draft action plan are over the implementation and financing of initiatives in Johannesburg along with references to trade and good governance, where there were still differences between rich and poor nations.

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