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INTERVIEW - South Africa minister vows Earth Summit to go ahead

Date: 17-Jul-02
Country: SOUTH AFRICA
Author: Nicholas Kotch

Environment Minister Valli Moosa snuffed out suggestions that the gargantuan gathering might be cancelled.

"That is not at all possible," he told Reuters.

"What I can say with certainty is that everyone wants this summit to succeed," Moosa said before flying to New York for 25-nation talks at the United Nations aimed at finding an 11th hour accord.

Many environmental activists say there is no chance of meaningful progress at Johannesburg's August 26-September 4 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

Rather than hollow promises which will not meet the core goal of alleviating world poverty while protecting the environment, such critics say it would be preferable to call off the summit.

"At some point when things are not really moving, it's better to have a failure than a foul compromise," Gerd Leipold, executive director of the Greenpeace group, told Reuters in Amsterdam last week. But Moosa disagreed and predicted positive movement at Wednesday's one-day "Friends of the Chair" session at the U.N.

"The only possibility is that there will be progress on Wednesday. The question is how much progress," he said in a telephone interview.

CHIRAC, BLAIR PLEDGE ATTENDANCE

South Africa says it expects more than 100 world leaders and around 60,000 participants at the WSSD and parallel gatherings of non-governmental organisations and business.

Among Western leaders French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have both pledged to attend.

But there is no expectation that U.S. President George W. Bush will come to Johannesburg. One senior South African official told Reuters last week that Secretary of State Colin Powell was likely to head the U.S. delegation.

"If the U.S. representation went lower than (Powell), we would have a problem with that," the official, who declined to be quoted by name, said.

The summit is seen as a follow-up, 10 years on, to the first great environment meeting held in Rio de Janeiro.

South African organisers and activists want the WSSD to end with concrete and achievable goals on a raft of issues which might allow a ballooning global population to be fed, sheltered, educated and employed without wrecking the planet's shrinking resources.

The final round of pre-summit talks between governments, to agree a text built on such principles, was held in Bali, Indonesia in June but ended unsuccessfully.

"In terms of U.N. procedure no other (preparatory) meeting is planned before the summit starts," Moosa said.

"So it was felt better to do some ground work in New York in order to facilitate an agreement here in Johannesburg."

Key issues that remain outstanding include the thorny one of agricultural subsidies in rich nations, which the developing world claims prevents its farmers from selling their goods to affluent and mature markets.

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