The earth summit was last night breaking up in bitter disagreements as governments
and business declared the largest meeting ever convened a resounding success,
while charities lined up to declare it the "worst political sellout that the world
has seen in decades".
Environment secretary Margaret Beckett, Britain's lead negotiator at the 10-day
meeting, which was attended by more than 100 world leaders, said that the result
was a "victory for everyone".
publicly preached the message of sustainable development but instructed their
negotiators to do trade deals above all else. This is the worst political sellout
"The overall result of the summit is truly remarkable. We had to give it our
best shot to get the best deal we could and we did. I am in no doubt that our
descendants will look back on this summit and say we set out on a new path."
But Oxfam said the outcome fell far short of what was needed to address global
problems of poverty and environmental degradation. "After nine days of bluster
the world gets some gains on a few issues and on sanitation for the poor. But
overall the deal is feeble. It is a triumph for greed and self interest, a tragedy
for poor people and the environment," said Andrew Hewett.
Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said the summit was a damning
indictment of world leaders. "They publicly preached the message of sustainable
development but instructed their negotiators to do trade deals above all else.
This is the worst political sellout in decades."
The most significant achievement is recognized as the target of halving the
number of people - 1.2 billion - who lack access to safe water and sanitation.
This is expected to save millions of children who die each year from diarrhea
Other achievements are recognized to be targets for reversing the extinction
of species and restoring fish stocks. Both have been hailed by governments, but
criticized by environment groups for being weak and unenforceable.
Andy Atkins for Tearfund, a church-based charity, summed up the disappointment
of many British groups: "In the race to tackle worsening global poverty and environmental
destruction, the summit merely inched forward when a giant leap was needed. Some
politicians have played poker with the planet and the poor, trading progress in
areas such as sanitation against other areas like energy".
However, there was good news last night from China and Russia, which both answered
Tony Blair's challenge of the previous day to ratify the Kyoto agreement on climate
change. This means the treaty is on course to become law by the end of the year
and further isolates the US, now with Australia the only rich country to refuse
to sign up.
The EU, which fought hardest for a binding agreement on renewable energy, but
was finessed by a coalition of Opec and US industry interests, said last night
it would rally like-minded countries to increase the use of renewable energy and
set strict deadlines.
Early analysis suggests that no new money has been pledged for aid or debt
relief, two of the issues that have most exercised leaders of developing countries.
"This summit has delivered absolutely nothing of any substance that will offer
hope to the half of the planet that lives on less than $2 a day," said Barry Coates
of the World Development Movement.
However business, which has been promoted to a central position in world development
by the UN, was cheerful about its new role. "Business and industry is determined
to play its part in making the priorities for action and targets on sustainable
development work," said a spokesman for Business Action for Sustainable Development,
a grouping of the world's largest companies.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002