WASHINGTON, May 29 - The United States, Canada and Australia are blocking progress on a global plan of action to protect the environment that is being prepared for the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development, environmentalists charge.
As the fourth and final preparatory meeting on the Summit completed its third day on Indonesia's resort island of Bali, advocacy organizations were pessimistic that the gathering would lead to concrete action if the three nations have their way. The countries have not officially responded to the charges.
Activists say the nations have focused on voluntary measures and opposed proposals that would require mandatory action by corporations. The three wealthy countries were also consistently blocking proposals for specific timelines, targets and goals, they add.
"It is truly depressing to read the texts produced for the Summit so far," said Kim Carstensen, CEO of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Denmark, who has been at the two-week preparatory conference. "If they are not changed substantially over the course of the next two weeks, governments will have failed utterly to fulfill the responsibility given to the Summit by the U.N. General Assembly."
In 1999, the General Assembly decided the Summit should focus on taking decisions that would lead to action on a broad range of development and environmental issues, including improving sanitation and access to electricity, reducing poverty, preserving ecosystems, and reforming consumption patterns.
The Summit, to be held in Johannesburg South Africa, Aug. 26 - Sep. 4, falls a decade after the landmark Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where nations agreed to balance the world's economic and social needs with environmental protection. But most of the objectives adopted at Rio have not been met, according to UN and environmental groups, which were counting on the upcoming Summit to reinvigorate the process.
A draft of the political declaration that nations will sign at the Summit was expected to be completed in Bali. Most of the hard negotiating is expected to take place June 5 - 7 when hundreds of government ministers will arrive. More than 2,900 people from 144 countries have been participating in the preparatory conference.
Environmental groups say Washington's decision to not send a representative of ministerial rank to Bali proves it is not serious about the Summit's issues. Paula Dobriansky, undersecretary of state for global affairs, will lead the U.S. delegation in ministerial-level talks next week.
The United States wants "to avoid signing up to binding international agreements on quite a wide range of areas on which other people might want to see progress", said Ian Willmore, spokesperson for Friends of the Earth.
The international environmental group has been pushing for an agreement that would bind companies to adhere to high social and environmental standards wherever they operate.
Ricardo Navarro, chair of Friends of the Earth International, said that key paragraphs on corporate accountability were deleted from a document titled 'Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development', which had been negotiated during a two-day dialogue between environmental organizations, farmers' groups, indigenous people, business and local authorities.
Navarro accused the United States and Australia of deleting the relevant text.
"These two countries have consistently worked to gut every proposal being put forward by civil society throughout the entire preparatory process," he said.
Other nations, including the European Union, were also to blame for lack of leadership in Bali, added Dewi Suralaga, program director at WWF Indonesia.
"So far this conference has neither leadership nor vision," said Suralaga. "We are looking to the Indonesian chair of the preparatory conference, Emil Salim, and the government of Indonesia to take the lead in ensuring that this conference can really resolve some of the issues facing the world today."
Environmental groups warn that if no concrete steps are taken in Bali, the World Summit will probably not produce measures to halt environmental degradation.
"This is their last chance to prove that (governments) are prepared to take a lead and not simply hand control of the planet's populations and resources over to the corporations," said Remi Parmentier with Greenpeace International.
UN officials were more optimistic about the outcome of the preparatory negotiations.
It is too early for pessimism, said Nitin Desai, UN under-secretary general for economic and social affairs, who is chief of the World Summit. The aim in Bali, he told Agence France Presse, is to "see whether we can come up with a program of action which is clear in terms of goals, in terms of activities to be undertaken and in terms of resources".
Copyright 2002 Inter Press Service