USA: Promises Fall Short of Performance Says U.N. Head

UNITED NATIONS -- The international community has fallen short of promises to prevent deterioration of the global environment, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday.

The pledges were made at the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992. There, world leaders promised to eradicate poverty, change patterns of consumption and production, save the world's ecosystems, and prevent global deforestation.

"Some progress has been made in adopting measures to protect the environment," Annan said in a 69-page report released here. "But the state of the world's environment is still fragile and conservation measures are far from satisfactory."

Annan also said there have been no major changes in the "unsustainable patterns of consumption and production."

Some 15 percent of the world's population, mostly in rich countries, account for 56 percent of the global consumption while the poorest 40 percent, in low-income countries, account for only 11 percent of consumption, he said.

"In some respects, conditions are actually worse (now) than they were 10 years ago," Annan noted.

The study was released Monday to coincide with the start of two-week preparatory talks for the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD), scheduled to take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug. 26 - Sep. 4.

Kenny Bruno, U.N. Project Coordinator for the U.S.-based non- governmental organization CorpWatch, said one of the primary reasons for poor implementation following the Earth Summit was the failure to confront the growing power of multinational corporations.

"That power resulted in corporate-led globalization that sidelined Agenda 21," the document that embodied the Earth Summit pledges, he told IPS. As a result, he said, the environmental agenda became subservient to trade and investment rules, rather than the other way around.

Bruno's group is among vocal opponents of the U.N. Global Compact, a partnership between the world body and leading multinational corporations. Designed to promote respect for human, environmental, and labor rights, the initiative is seen by critics as providing corporations opportunity to cleanse their image without holding them to any firm and enforceable commitments to improve their practices.

The deterioration of the global environment has been reflected in several developments over the last 10 years, according to Annan's study.

Freshwater is becoming scarcer in many countries due to agriculture, which accounts for 70 percent of consumption. Only 30 percent of the water supplied is actually used by plants and crops - the remainder is wasted.

More than 11,000 species are now considered threatened and 800 have already become extinct due to loss of habitats. Another 5,000 species are potentially threatened unless efforts are taken to reverse their population declines, the study said.

About one-quarter of the world's fisheries are over-fished and half are fully utilized. Marine catches from the Atlantic Ocean and in some parts of the Pacific Ocean reached their maximum potential years ago. Only one percent of the world's oceans are protected reserves.

The study also said that natural forests are being converted to agriculture and other land. The rate of global deforestation during the 1990s is estimated at 14.6 million hectares per year, a net loss of four percent of the world's forests in the last decade, mostly in developing countries. Net deforestation rates were highest in Africa and South America.

Additionally, about 27 percent of the world's coral reefs have been lost due to both direct human impacts and the effects of climate change, and it is estimated that another 32 percent of the reefs may be functionally destroyed within the next 30 years, if no corrective action is taken.

The greatest increase in energy use occurred in transportation, where 95 percent of the energy consumed was derived from petroleum. Global carbon dioxide emissions from this sector are expected to rise 75 percent through 2020.

The study said several key international pacts came out of the Earth Summit, including the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification and the U.N. Convention on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.

The study said only "very limited progress" had been made in reducing poverty, however, and globalization by itself had not benefited most people.

Overall poverty in developing countries, based on an income poverty line of one dollar a day, declined from 29 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 1998. The total number of people living in poverty dropped slightly: from 1.3 billion to 1.2 billion, out of a total world population of about six billion.

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