Earth Summit notes

Issue 

Earth Summit notes

MADRID — Greenpeace Spain says the Earth Summit is in danger of becoming a carnival used by some governments to "greenwash" their image on environmental questions. Spokesperson Marie Luisa Toribio accused transnational companies, organised in the so-called Entrepreneurial Council for Sustained Development, of putting international trade ahead of environmental issues. She said the companies were working against efforts to stop toxic waste exports to developing countries and limit controls on exploitation of natural resources. She also said the now abandoned Earth Charter had been reduced to "a fragmentary and regressive text", and Agenda 21 was silent on important issues such as regulating the biotechnology industry, measures to control toxic waste exports, and directives for the development of clean production.

HAVANA — Cuban representatives to the UN-sponsored Earth Summit are discussing issues they want to raise at the gathering. Topics under consideration include the link between the environment and Third World development, the responsibility of developed nations to repair damage caused by their activities in underdeveloped countries, experiences with organic fertilisers in agriculture, and the use of sugar cane by-products to produce paper.

WASHINGTON — US president George Bush says his decision on whether to attend the Earth Summit will depend on the likely economic cost of agreements to be signed at the conference. "I'm not going to go and do a bad deal", he said on April 21. "I won't sign an agreement that does not protect the environment and the economy of this country." White House spokesperson Marlin Fitzwater outlined more US thinking, claiming the country was leading in environmental clean-up, and had achieved the summit's proposed targets on CO2 and sulphate emission 20 years ago. He added the government was reluctant to accept new costs in dealing with the environmental crisis, and the US was now at the stage of tackling the difficult remaining 10% of pollution, having dealt with the more tractable 90%. The US is unlikely to sign the proposed summit agreement on climate change.

LONDON — However, members of the Brundtland Commission, meeting in London on April 22-23, accused the US government of political manoeuvring over the Earth Summit. The commission, chaired by Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, was the first body to use and popularise the term sustainable development, beginning with its 1987 report Our Common Future. Opening the gathering, Brundtland said proposals in the original report had been gradually watered down, but now "the era of procrastination and half-measures must come to its close", and George Bush should "realise that there are ways of taking responsibility for the environment without doing damage to the American economy".

  • UNCED secretary general Maurice Strong told the Brundtland meeting in London that the developed world would have to meet 80% of the estimated $125 billion annual cost of sustainable development. The commission closed its two-day meeting with a declaration that poverty lay at the root of the world environmental crisis, and called on industrial nations to take the lead in a "massive attack on mass poverty". The declaration called for to include population growth, and criticised Earth Summit delegations which opposed calls for universal availability of modern family planning. The meeting also pinpointed the debt crisis as a major factor "retarding and distorting" Third World development.

KUALA LUMPUR — Non-government observers are concerned that the Group of 77 (G-77) Third World nations could go to the summit divided on vital issues following a meeting here of high officials from 35 states. "There are countries that are willing to accept peanuts", said Gurmit Singh, president of the Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia. The meeting was a preliminary to a gathering of environment ministers from 45 countries in the last week of April. The South needs "to go to Rio with a common position on core issues", said Datu Sathiah Renji, a deputy to the Malaysian foreign minister. Topics at the ministerial talks are expected to include the seven main areas of deadlock between North and South: financing, technology transfer, international institutions, climate change, forests, biological diversity and sustainable development. Malaysia is expected to propose an agreement that all countries keep at least 30% of their land area for forests. Also up for discussion will be the USA's so-called Green Initiative announced during George Bush's recent Asian tour. There are suspicions the project may simply be a way to promote US business interests in the region.

  • So far, heads of government or heads of state from 75 countries have indicated they will attend the Rio conference. This includes 18 from Europe, nine from Asia, 18 from Africa, seven from the Pacific, one from North America, 16 from South America and six from the Caribbean. Developed countries represented will include Japan, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway and Australia.

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