The prospects for embarrassing failure at next month's Earth
Summit in Johannesburg will dominate a preparatory meeting at the United Nations
next week in which delegates from 25 countries will attempt to forge an agenda
for heads of government.
"Basically, this will be a rescue operation for the summit," one Western diplomat conceded yesterday.
point when things are not really moving, it's better to have a failure than a
The South African hosts are growing increasingly concerned that the meeting will unravel even before it starts, with the possibility that some heads of government will stay away rather than participate in a meeting that threatens to embarrass them.
Billed as the World Summit for Sustainable Development, the meeting is meant to be the largest United Nations gathering in history. It was designed to give new momentum to a process that began with the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992.
However, disagreements over proposals to set concrete targets for protecting the environment from the effects of industrial development led to deadlock at a preparatory ministerial meeting in Bali in June. It is those differences that delegates will try to overcome next week.
Gerd Leipold, the head of Greenpeace, suggested yesterday that his group would rather see the summit collapse than adopt a compromise text without proper teeth. "At some point when things are not really moving, it's better to have a failure than a foul compromise," he said.
Already, the summit is shaping up as yet another showdown between the United States and the rest of the world. While European nations support clear targets to contain the impact of development on the environment, notably global warming, the US is resisting them. It prefers a vaguer formula that would leave it to groups of countries to set their own environmental standards.
The White House indicated that it might be five years before the US has completed
research into the effects of global warming and finalized a strategy of its own.
A senior official also defended the decision by President George Bush to withdraw
from the Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming. James Connaughton, chairman
of the White House council on environmental quality, said: "The Kyoto Protocol
would have cost our economy up to $400bn [£257bn] and caused the loss of
up to 4.9 million jobs."
Next week's meeting will involve senior officials, but not ministers, from
25 countries deemed "friends of the chair" by South Africa.
© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd