World: Environment Ministers Plan for Rio+10

MEXICO CITY, Mexico -- The focus was on deforestation, bioprospecting, watersheds, natural disasters and global warming as the environment ministers for Latin American and the Caribbean nations met at a forum held in Mexico City this week.

The ministers are getting ready for Rio+10, a global meeting of world leaders 10 years after the historic 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio+10 is expected to build on Agenda 21, the plan of work agreed upon at the Earth Summit to conserve the environment.

To guide and evaluate regional cooperation, to get regional points of view of the environmental international agenda, to evaluate and approve action plans are the goals of this meeting of environment ministers.

Opening the ministerial forum on October 2, Klaus Toepfer, executive director of United Nations Environment Programme, said that the Earth Summit 2002, Rio+10, will be a landmark international meeting on sustainable development. "We know environmental protection is related to the poverty of the majority of people on Earth and the consumption of the minority of the people," he said.

"The goal of this preparatory meeting to Rio+10 was to analyze the achievements of Agenda 21 and to develop a Regional Plan of Action," said Ricardo Snchez Sosa, regional director of United Nations Environmental Programme.

Latin American and Caribbean ministers have met every two years since 1982 to exchange opinions and sign agreements that promote the care of nature and the environment.

In the eight years since the Earth Summit at Rio, representatives from Chile, Argentina, Peru, Cuba and Mexico told journalists here that they have identified positive actions, institutionalized environmental protections, and have also worked out regulations and policies.

"Priorities were identified," said Jos Luis Samaniego, coordinator of international affairs of the Mexican Environmental, Natural Resources and Fisheries Agency (Semarnap). "The general situation in Latin America keeps showing worrisome symptoms," he said.

The annual rate of the deforestation in the region is six million hectares, mainly rainforest, Samaniego said. He mentioned the growing urbanization of the area -- 75 percent of the population now lives in cities -- and the vulnerability of thousands because of natural disasters related to global warming.

Bioprospecting is an emerging issue in this environmental forum which is just coming to grips with the problems created when multinational companies discover valuable living creatures in remote areas and exploit them commercially.

Luis Campos Baca, director of the National Environment Council of Peru, said, "It has created awareness that the collective knowledge of indigenous people must be belong them. We are making political efforts to achieve that they would be the beneficiaries, not only the multinationals," Baca said.

But they have not got equity yet, nor have ways to compensate the native communities been established. "In the United States of America a patent has permitted to one or two people, but we have to fit the concept to communities," Baca explained.

Worries were also expressed about the negative potential impacts of biotechnology processes, on the ecosystems of the region.

The environment ministers showed their interest in the planting of forests which absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as so called "carbon sinks." The forests can also be considered as biodiversity banks.

"There is an argument about mixed borders of environment and economics," said Samaniego.

In his view, some people in industrialized countries think, wrongly, they cannot agree to make an effort to combat global warming unless people from developing countries are making the same efforts.

"It is true that if developing countries do not decrease their pollution emissions - greenhouse gas emissions -- the Kyoto Protocol would fail effectively," said Samaniego.

"But this is not the current situation. The present situation is that developed countries are in the main responsible for the greenhouse emissions into the environment, and it is legitimate that they start showing specific actions of mitigation, Samaniego said."

For the next regional meeting of ministers slated for 2001 in Brazil, all the ministers of economy will be invited. "We can produce the revolutionary joining of economists and environmentalists," said a representative of Argentina.

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