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Earth Summit must set real targets, say experts

Date: 19-Jun-02
Country: SWEDEN
Author: Anna Peltola

Around 250 scientists, government officials and environmentalists from 66 states met in Stockholm to mark 30 years since 114 nations agreed on a common duty to protect the global environment.

The participants gave a Viking helmet to Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson - who has repeatedly called for more action and fewer empty words on the environment - and urged him to take along some "Viking spirit" to the Johannesburg summit.

"When you meet in Johannesburg... keep in mind it is your children and their children that will suffer if action is not taken now," Afifa Raihana, president of Bangladeshi environment youth organisation STEP, told the conference.

But since a final preparatory meeting in Bali ahead of Johannesburg ended without agreement on a draft action plan, conservationists have said the meeting's draft text is on the contrary all talk and no action and the meeting is shaping up to be a major flop.

Larsson said he expected the main struggle in Johannesburg to take place around finance and trade issues.

He said in Bali there was a logical demand from the developing countries' group, the G77, for the United States to open up its markets for their products.

"The European Union is not a saint in this area," Larsson said, but he added that the odds of the EU and the G77 countries striking agreement on trade issues were much higher than the United States finding a common note with the poorest nations.

But Dianne Dillonridgley, director of U.S. renewable energy provider Green Mountain Energy, said the wording of the summit's final declaration was not as important as bringing sustainable development into the international limelight.

"The real story of the Johannesburg Summit is not about the text at all. It is to draw the attention of people and sectors who haven't looked at sustainable development," she said.

Sweden has for decades been a world leader in environmental issues, making the initiative for the world's first conference on the global environment which was hosted by Stockholm in 1972.

It is also one of the few countries living up to a promise made in the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit that states spend 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product as development aid.

"During the last 30 years, 15 developing countries have halved the number of citizens living in extreme poverty," Sweden's Development Cooperation Minister Jan Karlsson said in the draft text of his speech yesterday.

"Never ever have so many people left poverty behind as during these decades. But we can do more and we have to do it faster," Karlsson said.

The United Nations aims to halve the number of people living in poverty by 2015.

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