World Environment News

Environmentalists say US hijacking UN summit

Date: 08-Apr-02
Author: Irwin Arieff

Organizers of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, opening in Johannesburg in August, acknowledged the meeting could fall far short of what they had hoped, but said it could still succeed if governments wanted.

Greenpeace International accused Washington of trying to use the conference to dismantle "more than three decades of international efforts to protect the environment, enhance social justice and ensure economic opportunities for all."

"The United States' only vision is that this planet should be run like a business park," Greenpeace's Remi Parmentier told a news conference at U.N. headquarters.

Daniel Mittler of Friends of the Earth International blamed Washington - with help from Canada, Australia and OPEC countries including Saudi Arabia and Venezuela - for "two weeks of chaotic negotiations resulting in a long document, strong on platitudes but weak on substance."

Mittler urged governments preparing for the Johannesburg conference to "chuck the fluff" from the action plan as it now stood and drastically rewrite it.

A U.S. official dismissed the criticisms, saying Washington was working hard to make the conference a success and shared the groups' desire for a healthy environment "although we may disagree on the tactics to get there."

"You can have a safe and healthy environment and develop at the same time. We are a good example of that," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We also produce a lot of pollution but we are working hard to reduce it."


The 10-day summit opening Aug. 26 is expected to draw thousands from government, business and interest groups to Johannesburg along with delegations from most of the United Nations' 189 member-nations.

It was timed to fall 10 years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which adopted "Agenda 21," a blueprint for balancing the world's economic and social needs with its environmental resources.

Organizers say part of the problem is that, even at this stage, they have a hard time saying precisely what the conference is intended to achieve.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has described it as an environmental conference teamed with a strategy meeting on how to achieve broad development goals set out by the world body at its 2000 millennium summit.

The millennium goals include halving the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, and reversing the AIDS epidemic by the year 2015.

But many others see it as far broader - a summit in search of a global blueprint for altering the sum total of human activity so that it no longer depletes the world's resources.

"Sustainable development is about human activity and the Earth. It must include every aspect of life," said Carlos Rivera, an activist participating in summit preparations as a representative of young people.

The environmentalists' criticisms surfaced at the close of the third of four two-week preparatory meetings leading up to Johannesburg.

One more preparatory session opens in Bali, Indonesia, on May 27. While preparations have been conducted by low-level envoys to date, cabinet ministers have been invited to Bali.

The action plan began as a 21-page document drafted by Emil Salim, a former Indonesian environment minister who is chairing the preparatory meetings.

By Friday it had ballooned to more than 100 pages, and delegates were far from agreement on a final version, Salim said.

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