INTERVIEW - Envoy says earth summit back from the brink
Author: Jeremy Lovell
"President Bush cannot afford not to be there, nobody will understand if he doesn't show up," said Jan Pronk, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy to the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
Unlike more than 100 other world leaders, Bush - who has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions - has still not said he will attend the summit in Johannesburg that starts on August 24.
"It would be a great pity if he does not come," Pronk told Reuters in an interview. "Many others are coming. The Europeans are coming in big numbers, along with Third World countries, eastern European countries and central European countries."
Environmental activists have said the absence of the U.S. leader - whose negotiators have already been accused of trying to weaken the summit - would undermine the entire process.
Former Dutch environment minister Pronk has travelled the world unceasingly since his appointment last September, urging government ministers and heads of state to help make the summit a success.
As recently as last month, his efforts appeared to have been in vain as what were supposed to have been final talks in Bali to draw up a plan of action and a political declaration descended into bickering between the rich north and poor south.
But Pronk said there had been considerable movement since Bali and he was now confident the meeting - intended to build on the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 - would not be the failure many predicted after the Indonesian island row.
"I have good hopes that there will be agreement on a plan of action, and secondly there will be commitments...to specific programmes and resources," he said. "Many informal discussions have taken place and now we can be optimistic."
Annan has identified five areas for action - water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity - and Pronk said he expected concrete plans in all five following a meeting in Washington on Friday about plans for water projects.
He said summit host South Africa was working hard to make the meeting a success with more than 60,000 people expected to come.
But he accepted that the underlying aim of halving world poverty by 2015 - a goal Pronk said was ambitious but not overly so - also needed some short term measures as up to 14 million people in southern Africa faced immediate famine.
"There is a request of about $600 million in order to make resources available to help the 12-13 million people which may be a victim of this famine," Pronk said.
"Those resources will have to be made available before the conference otherwise there is a credibility gap. We have to be very concrete," he added.