South Africa: Earth Summit Plan of Action Adopted

JOHANNESBURG -- Negotiators for 191 countries attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development have agreed upon a Plan of Action to alleviate poverty and conserve the Earth's natural resources. Summit delegates are expected to adopt the action plan, with a political declaration, at the conclusion of the summit on Wednesday.

For months leading up to the summit, it appeared as if agreement could not be reached, with developed and developing countries at odds over trade and over financing for clean water, clean energy, and climate change. But late Monday, delegates resolved a final sticking point - agreeing to drop targets and timetables for the installation of renewable energy.

The compromise is a loss for the European Union and a win for the United States and petroleum producing countries. The European Union had been pushing for a target of 15 percent of global energy coming from renewable sources by 2015. The United States opposed the setting of targets, judging them unrealistic and arbitrary.

The summit's plan of implementation is a 71 page document that is intended to set the world's environmental agenda for the next 10 years, and is expected to be a model for future international agreements.

Addressing heads of state and government at the summit Monday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the world must face an "uncomfortable truth" and resolve to make positive changes.

"The model of development we are accustomed to has been fruitful for the few, but flawed for the many," he said. "A path to prosperity that ravages the environment and leaves a majority of humankind behind in squalor will soon prove to be a dead-end road for everyone."

Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai said most of the summit's objectives have been met, including affirmation by the international community of the United Nations 'Millennium Development Goals', and reaffirmation of its support for implementing Agenda 21 - the blueprint for sustainable development outlined at the Rio Earth Summit 10 years ago.

The issue of a target for renewable energy was a worthwhile goal," Desai said, "but the reality is that with sustained action, we can build up the renewable energy industries to the point where they have the critical mass to compete with fossil fuel generated energy. We have a commitment to make it happen, and now we need the follow through."

To promote cleaner energy, the United Nations Environment Programme used the summit to launch a global network of 10 sustainable energy centers. The new Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development, will help promote the research, transfer and take-up of green and cleaner energy technologies to the developing world.

"The summit was also intended to accelerate implementation of sustainable development, and from the announcements of significant new resources and partnerships, that has happened," Desai said. "We sought to put sustainable development back on the international agenda and in the global consciousness, and without question, that too has happened."

Christie Whitman, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a delegate at the summit, told reporters today that the focus on these issues would not have been the same "if there had not been a world summit - if you hadn't gotten world leaders, if you hadn't gotten delegates from around the world here to hammer out" an agreement.

The Kyoto Protocol on climate change is assured of entry into force, even without the participation of the United States. At the summit, Canada, Russia and China have all announced that they will ratify the international agreement to limit the emission of six greenhouse gases.

The Kyoto Protocol will not take effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations responsible for at least 55 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990. Ratification by Russia, the last major industrial signatory, is vital, because pushes the numbers beyond 55 percent.

"Russia has signed the Kyoto Protocol and now we are preparing for its ratification. This ratification we hope will occur in the very near future," Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said at the summit today.

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said the Canadian Parliament would be asked to vote on ratification of the protocol "before the end of this year."

In his address of fellow heads of government and state, Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji said China deposited its instrument of ratification with the United Nations on August 30.

The protocol covers 37 industrialized nations, setting targets and a timetable for limits on the emission of six greenhouse gases linked to global warming. The next round of negotiations is expected to set targets and timetables for limiting the emissions of developing nations such as Brazil, India and China.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday that his government is doing its utmost to see that the document is universally ratified. Japan ratified the protocol earlier this year. World leaders have used the summit as a platform to announce their commitments to conserve and protect the Earth.

Brazil and the World Bank signed an agreement in Johannesburg Tuesday on the summit sidelines to triple the area of the Amazon rainforest that is protected. "Saving the forest is crucial for sustainable development," the theme of the summit, said Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

With the new agreement in place, the protected area of the over-exploited Amazon rose to 50 million hectares, an area equal to 3.6 percent of the world's tropical forests.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Turner said the United States has announced partnership packages that include about $10 billion in pledges to alleviate poverty, fight hunger, increase housing for the poor, increase access to fresh water and clean energy, and promote health care and education.

In his speech to summit delegates, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres suggested the planting of a billion trees in the Middle East region over the next 10 years to help ease the effects of climate change. Peres suggested building a canal to bring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and the establishment of a "regional water bank" to "facilitate planning and technological application processes for water production, water recycling, water transportation and water usage conservation."

Costa Rica announced a moratorium on offshore oil exploration.

Canada is committed to the establishment of five new National Marine Conservation Areas in the next three to five years, Prime Minister Chretien announced.

The United Kingdom announced it will raise its commitment to development aid to Africa to 1 billion a year by 2006 and its overall levels of assistance to all countries by 50 percent, Prime Minister Tony Blair told the summit plenary session.

Blair stressed that the increase in aid is not charity, but "an investment in our collective future." In a joint statement on Monday, the UK Department for International Development and the South African government's Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, announced the extension of a comprehensive water and forestry development program worth 19.8 million or approximately $US33 million, financed by the British agency.

Stressing the need for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by all nations, Blair said that "the consequences of inaction on these issues are not unknown, they are calculable. Poverty and environmental degradation, if unchecked, spell catastrophe for our world, that is clear."

Summit spokeswoman Susan Markham said that the United Nations so far has received submissions from 17 biodiversity partnerships between governments, non-governmental organizations and international groups with almost $100 million in financial resources to support actions throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The summit ministers also agreed to reaffirm the so-called "Rio Principles," including the precautionary principle which asks people to take action before the effects are seen, as in the case of ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere.

On Monday, former South African Prime Minister Nelson Mandela and Queen Noor of Jordan jointly announced the 2003 World Congress on Protected Areas will be held in Durban, South Africa, next September 8 to 17 under the auspices of the IUCN-World Conservation Union. The two dignitaries will share patronage of the Congress entitled, "Protected Areas: Benefits
Beyond Boundaries."

Mandela expressed "particular pleasure and pride in the new international partnerships between neighboring states to create transboundary protected areas and peace parks." Some environmental groups were disappointed in the summit outcome, saying that the Plan of Action leaves out many important safeguards for the Earth and its poorest inhabitants.

Greenpeace Executive Director Gerd Leipold said, "Many heads of states have made fine speeches saying that climate change
was the number one challenge facing our planet. What has this summit done about it? Absolutely nothing. By its own standards, the WSSD has failed."

"Our challenge now is to shine a spotlight so that everyone can see the forces that are responsible for that failure. And that's the unholy alliances between big business and governments that allow our planet's future and the poverty of humanity to take a back seat to the corporate bottom line."

The IUCN's Achim Steiner said that environmental conditions have degraded over the past 10 years, and the official discussions really re-negotiated what had been agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. He argued that the UN Millennium Development Goals are being short-changed by agreements on trade. Far from the conference venue, Steiner said, the real spirit of Rio is alive at the social events, meetings and announcements going on in civil society venues.

"The test," of the Johannesburg Action Plan said Summit Secretary-General Desai, "is whether governments, along with civil society and the private sector, can pursue the commitments that are in the document, and take actions that achieve measurable results."

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