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World: Earth Summit To Review Environmental Progress

  • Elizabeth Weinstein



Washington, 20 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - United Nations' reports contend that the global environment is deteriorating as toxic pollution and solid waste increase and freshwater resources diminish.

But 70 world leaders will meet in New York next week to chart a course of action to combat those problems. The meeting, called "Earth Summit Plus 5", will look at environmental and economic actions countries have taken since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development met in Brazil five years ago.

The main goal of next week's summit will be to expand what the UN calls Agenda 21, the blueprint for managing a sustainable global environment. But financing Agenda 21 may be a major roadblock at the summit.

UN officials concede that since 1992, countries in the northern and southern hemispheres have differed on how to pay for new environmental technologies. Some countries have been able to commit more or less money to environmental action depending on local economies.

But leaders who will attend the conference, including heads of state from eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, the United States and South America say that Agenda 21 "is more urgent now than ever" and that "we decide to move now from words to deeds."

Besides financing environmental improvements, the summit leaders will look at where natural resources need the most help. Oceans are a top priority. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says that 70 percent of commercial fisheries are overfished or depleted.

Another UN study says that two-thirds of humanity will suffer shortages of clean freshwater within 30 years unless countries take action. A draft document will urge summit leaders to possibly eliminate government subsidies for fishing.

The summit will mark a deadline for governments to begin negotiations for a legally binding recommendation about deforestation, or to establish an Intergovernmental Forum on Forests to look at new ideas about how to manage the problem. Countries with large forest preserves like Russia, Canada and Malaysia favor a legal recommendation. But other countries like Brazil and the United States are opposed to a binding document and want to look at other options.

Leaders will hear some good news as well. Besides working out environmental problems, they'll hear success stories from around the world about how Agenda 21 is working. Overall, growth of the world population is slowing, food production is rising and people are living longer, healthier lives. Among other improvements, the UN has found that fossil fuel use and population growth are stabilizing.

The stage will be set in New York to make changes in managing the global climate. In December members of the UN will meet in Kyoto, Japan to sign a climate change treaty. But not all governments have agreed on the provisions of the treaty. Earth Summit Plus 5 will help the European Union and the Alliance of Small Island States work out one major disagreement - how much to reduce potentially damaging gases and carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2005.

The United States has said that it wants governments to adopt "the strongest possible agreement" including legally binding agreements at Kyoto.

The same world leaders will meet again in 2002 to discuss how Agenda 21 is working. Summit leaders have adopted an agenda that will include major civil society groups involved in environmental development, including business representatives, women, children, farmers, trade unions and indegenous people. These groups will forward their observations and recommendations about sustaining the environment to the commission.
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