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POLITICAL ECONOMY
Rio's message of gloom will follow absentee leaders
by Staff Writers
United Nations (AFP) June 16, 2012


Green groups worried as Rio+20 pact is diluted
Rio De Janeiro (AFP) June 17, 2012 - Activists voiced fears on Sunday that a master plan to cure the world's sick environment and end entrenched poverty was being undermined by time pressures at the UN's "Rio+20" talks.

Brazil on Saturday took over efforts to forge a communique on the planet's future which will be issued in Rio de Janeiro on Friday after a three-day summit.

But non-governmental organizations (NGOs) said the craving to avoid a bust-up over issues ranging from the green economy to funding could badly dilute the keystone document.

The draft deal put forward by the summit hosts "is a more streamlined text, more likely to be agreed, less likely to deliver sustainable development," said Oxfam.

"It has been skillfully constructed to avoid controversy and promote consensus, but even if agreed it would not reorient growth towards putting people and planet first."

Delegates said memories of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit -- which became a near fiasco when world leaders were presented with a deadlocked document -- were seared into many minds.

Brazil says it is determined to wrap everything up by Tuesday, when an expected 116 heads of state or government are to start jetting in.

They will be joined by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has called sustainable development "my number one priority."

The 50-page compromise text put forward by Brazil has no figures for funding sustainable development, though developing countries are calling for $30 billion a year.

It sketches the objective of "Sustainable Development Goals" to replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals after they expire in 2015, but defining them will be left to a later conference.

The text is "pretty acceptable," Ecuador's minister for heritage, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, told AFP, adding that her country still had a number of concerns.

Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth said the world was faced with "a triple planetary crisis -- from climate catastrophe, deepening global inequity and unsustainable consumption driven by a broken economic system."

"The text is neither ambitious enough nor delivers the required political will needed to fix our broken planet," he said.

WWF's Lasse Gustavsson said Brazil's draft was larded with fudge, especially its section on energy, "which could have been written by the oil and gas industry."

"We see a lopsided victory of weak words over action words -- with the weak words winning out at 514 to 10," he said.

"'Encourage' is used approximately 50 times, while the word 'must' is used three times. Apparently, negotiators really like the word 'support' -- they used it approximately 99 times -- but can't bear to use language like 'we will,' which appears only five times."

The Rio Conference on Sustainable Development is the 20-year followup to the Earth Summit, where UN members launched offensives to roll back climate change, desertification and species loss and work to root out poverty.

But the outlook in 1992 was far different then.

The great meeting took place at a time of post-Cold War euphoria.

Prospects of cuts in defense spending encouraged governments to open up their wallets for the environment and the world's poor.

Today, many western governments are mired in fiscal and budget crises, and key leaders -- including US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- will be conspicuous in Rio for their absence.

President Barack Obama heads a list of high profile absentees for the Rio sustainable development summit this week where UN leaders say some tough decisions will have to be taken for the future of the planet.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and China's President Hu Jintao will also go to the Group of 20 rich nations summit in Mexico but then head straight home before the Rio de Janeiro event starts Wednesday.

The US presidential election, the debt crisis in Europe and China's looming leadership transition have all weighed heavily on acceptances to the Rio summit that will seek to set some ground rules for global growth that helps the poor and does not wreck the environment.

Helen Clark, who was prime minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008 before she took over the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in 2009, says she can understand the pressures.

"It is always great to have the G8 leaders there," Clark, who has played a key role in bringing together the summit, told AFP.

"I have been a leader in election year where you look very carefully whether you are going to travel anywhere four months out from an election. That is a very practical consideration -- where are you most needed. So I am not prepared to criticise anyone for not coming."

The summit will still be attended by presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Francois Hollande of France, Jacob Zuma of South Africa alongside Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh of India and China's Premier Wen Jiabao.

And the shadow of the global troubles to be debated will follow the absent leaders home, Clark said.

"The toxic combination of falling incomes, social unrest and environmental degradation. This is reality. We have got a common problem here. We need to have a shared vision of how to tackle it," she said.

"We are heading for chaos if we don't tackle these issues."

So the summit, where corporate chiefs and grass roots activists will take the total attendance to 50,000 people, has an ambitious agenda.

Tempering the voracious consumer appetite of rich nations, saving oceans and mountains, how to keep cities livable in a world of seven billion people, how to measure human development alongside economic prosperity will all be debated.

The UNDP says its message is that each policy and investment decision must take into equal consideration its economic, social and environmental impacts.

"I think there is a high level of awareness that the planet is in peril to put it bluntly," said Clark.

The absentees all insist they do take the topic seriously. The United States will still be represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Development is profoundly in the interests of our economy and our national security as well as obviously the interests of the people around the world," said Todd Stern, the US Special Envoy for Climate Change.

"It makes business sense for the United States, and it makes national security sense," he added.

Britain's Cameron is a co-chairman of a high-level UN panel that wll make recommendations on Sustainable Development Goals -- a broad set of global targets to protect the environment and reduce poverty.

And the industrial world's agenda and concerns will be strongly put by the leaders who do go.

According to French diplomats, President Hollande will call for major steps toward a new vision for development to counter the "extremely alarming" degradation of resources and the environment.

The so-called rich leaders can expect to hear many complaints however from their counterparts in struggling nations who say that past promises to help with money and technology have not been kept.

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