Ministers fail to agree Earth Summit plan
Author: Dean Yates
Officials made no attempt to hide their disappointment at the result of preparatory talks on Indonesia's island of Bali, but insisted the setback did not mean the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg was headed for failure.
Dubbed Earth Summit 2, the conference in Johannesburg is being billed as the largest-ever U.N. gathering. More than 100 heads of state and 60,000 delegates are expected to attend.
Environmental groups pinned much of the blame on the United States, accusing it of being reluctant to commit to some targets for action at home in the interests of business profits, charges members of the U.S. delegation here have denied.
"We came to Bali to seek concrete agreement with timetables and targets that could save human lives, eradicate poverty...We have not achieved that, or at least not been able to achieve as much as we wanted," Spanish Environment Minister Jaume Matas told reporters after negotiations ended near midnight.
Some 120 ministers holding environmental and development portfolios had met since Wednesday, following 10 days of inconclusive talks between government negotiators.
The Johannesburg summit opens on August 26 and falls a decade after the landmark Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which put environmental issues on the global political agenda.
ROOM FOR DEBATE
Emil Salim, a former Indonesian environment minister and chairman of the Bali talks, left open the way for further debate before Johannesburg, or said a deal could be reached there.
He said the meeting failed to reach agreement on "essential" areas in the action plan such as timebound commitments and ways of financing pledges in the draft. He gave no specific details.
About 80 percent of the action plan was agreed, he added.
"This is not a disaster, of course personally I'm disappointed. It's a battle, a conflict of interest between developed and developing countries," Salim said.
Even before the setback in Bali, officials had struggled to kindle enthusiasm for Johannesburg amid a never-ending cycle of summits and a draft action plan that covers everything from poverty, water and energy to cleaning up the polluted planet.
Aware of the importance of getting key leaders to Johannesburg, U.N officials had urged ministers to inject political clout into the preparations to ensure Johannesburg avoids Rio's fate - lofty goals, but few results.
Environmentalists were scathing, saying what had been agreed at Bali would do little to help three billion people - half the world's population - who live on less than $2 a day.
"The U.S. and its friends might as well come from Mars for all they care about the future of our planet," said Daniel Mittler, head of the Friends of the Earth delegation in Bali.
Several European ministers briefed the media after the talks ended, but U.S. officials were not available for comment.
POOR NATIONS WANT MORE HELP
One of the key sticking points had been that poor nations wanted additional aid that was pledged at a summit on financing development in Mexico's Monterrey in March to be linked to Johannesburg, but that the U.S. was seeking detailed conditions.
Washington raised its aid at Monterrey in return for poor nations doing things such as fighting graft and opening markets.
Despite the differences, officials here have said there was too much at stake politically to let Johannesburg fail, arguing world leaders would get on board, even at that last moment.
Nevertheless, some doubted U.S. President George W. Bush would show, putting a dent in the summit's credibility.
"I have to tell you it will be a happy surprise if he was there but I certainly am not expecting him to be there," said Mark Malloch Brown, head of the U.N. Development Programme.
Some officials have said Bush might not want to get boxed in by criticism of Washington's decision to reject the Kyoto Protocol and recent moves such as hiking agriculture subsidies.
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