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World leaders push for action against poverty

Tuesday, September 3, 2002

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- With world leaders pushing for action, negotiators at the Earth Summit agreed on a plan Monday to protect the environment and fight poverty.

"Humanity has a rendezvous with destiny," French President Jacques Chirac declared. Alarms are sounding across all the continents. We cannot say that we did not know!"

"The focus from now on must be on implementing the many agreements that have been reached," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.

U.S. officials say they are firmly committed to the summit's success.

"We've reached a real breakthrough with the summit in our collective attempt to ensure that this is a successful gathering of the global family," said Assistant Secretary of State John Turner.

After more than a week of bargaining, the European Union lost its push for targets on the use of wind and solar energy -- the last major sticking point in the summit's action plan.

The agreed text includes a commitment to "urgently" increase the use of renewable energy sources and report back on progress, diplomats said.

Developing countries had sided with the United States and Japan against including the targets.

South Africa's environment minister, Valli Moosa, said such targets were a rich country's luxury. "We will not support binding targets for renewable energies for developing countries," he said.

Japanese foreign ministry official Hidenobu Sobashima said: "It is very important for a country to have flexibility."

U.S. officials said the final wording "properly reflects" how a "diversity of clean energy resources" will contribute to sustainable development.

"The document clearly highlights the need to increase access to modern energy services and signals the valuable role renewable energy will play in the future," said Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, head of the U.S. delegation.

Compromises were also reached in three other key areas: climate change, trade and sanitation.

Despite the Bush administration's refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, it accepted language that says nations backing Kyoto "strongly urge" states that have not done so to ratify it in "a timely manner."'

Kyoto got another boost Monday when Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who had been wavering on whether to ratify, confirmed he would submit it to parliament by the end of the year.

But the accord cannot go into effect unless Russia -- the crucial holdout -- signs on too. The EU issued a "solemn appeal" to Moscow to join them in ratifying, but Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said his government was not ready to decide.

Negotiators agreed to texts on trade that urge countries to reform subsidies that are environmentally harmful, such as those for the fishing industry that contribute to overcapacity.

They also committed to reducing the number of people living without sanitation from 2 billion to 1 billion by 2015, diplomats said.

The United States accepted the new timetable despite earlier insistence that the way to get results is through concrete projects, not paper agreements.

Negotiators agreed to emphasize the need for good governance to achieve sustainable development, but did not make it a condition for receiving aid as advocated by the United States, diplomats said.

Turner said the text went "beyond anything the world community had done before" in stressing the need to fight corruption and promote democracy and the rule of law.

A host of civic and environmental groups condemned the compromises, calling some of them a significant step backward from previous commitments.

"Economic interests were allowed to maintain their primacy over other global priorities," said Kim Carstensen of World Wildlife Fund International.

World leaders, who have yet to formally adopt the nonbinding agreement, had insisted the most important measure of success would be whether the summit ends with concrete plans to tackle the problems first identified in Rio 10 years ago.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi announced Italy was prepared to cancel $4 billion in debt to poor countries. Germany offered $500 million over five years for renewable energy projects. Japan promised $30 million in emergency food aid for children facing famine in southern Africa.

"This is not charity, it is an investment in our collective future," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

As delegates finalized their plan, former South African President Nelson Mandela said he had urged the United States not to "introduce chaos in international affairs" by attacking Iraq.

"No country should be allowed to take the law into their own hands," especially the United States, "because they are the only super power in the world today, and they must be exemplary in everything they do," he said.


On the Net:

Main summit site: http://www.johannesburgsummit.org


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