INTERVIEW - World Bank VP urges more leadership on environment
Author: Nick Antonovics
The United Nations' World Summit on Sustainable Development, due to start in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 26, is a follow up to the 1992 "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, that put environmental issues on the global political agenda.
Ian Johnson, World Bank vice president responsible for environmental issues, said in an interview the run up to the summit "has not yet quite ignited the fires that Rio did 10 years ago".
He blamed "system overload" - noting that other international summits on trade and development issues this year had put a strain on negotiators. The lack of a "cohesive political agenda" was also to blame, he said.
A more than 100-page preparatory summit text has been slimmed down to around 40 pages ahead of a final round of pre-summit negotiations that begins in Bali, Indonesia, next week. But he was critical of the document.
"There is a common denominator process that has to be overturned and the only way it can be overturned is if we have real political leadership coming to Johannesburg," Johnson said.
He hoped a political declaration accompanying the main text would drive home "in a much less bland way the centrality of these issues to social and economic well being for this generation and the next".
The United Nations said last week it hoped the Johannesburg summit would produce "concrete results" on providing clean water and sanitation and energy to developing countries, and health, agriculture and biodiversity issues.
Many German politicians have said they expect the September 11 attacks on the United States to give new impetus to the debate about jointly tackling global problems, like development.
Johnson said he had seen little evidence of that so far.
"It's not clear to me that September 11 has galvanised the urgency for collective action across the world, not just by the north and the south but at a global level. One hopes it will. That is what Johannesburg is about, collective action."
He expected "globalisation" to be one issue at the summit.
"I think one of the themes that will emerge at a political level in Johannesburg is how to make globalisation work for poor countries - how to make it work in a way that allays the fears of those who do have fears about globalisation," he said.
Johnson said he believed globalisation had brought benefits to some people but admitted progress on tackling some global environmental problems had been slower than many had anticipated in 1992. However, he said he believed public support for action remained strong.
"There's quite a lot of evidence to suggest that public opinion is concerned about many of the issues that will be raised at the Johannesburg summit and politicians have yet to grasp how important it is to many people," he said.
Johnson was speaking on the margins of a conference organised by the World Bank and Germany's Development Ministry to discuss the summit agenda with non-governmental organisations and businesses.
The conference coincided with protests in Berlin, ahead of a visit to the city by U.S. President George W. Bush, against U.S. policies that some see as harmful to trade and the environment, as well as the U.S.-led "war against terrorism" in the wake of the September attacks.