EU warns Earth Summit agenda unrealistic
Author: Dean Yates
In comments clearly at odds with United Nations officials convening final meetings in Indonesia before the Johannesburg summit, EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said a draft action plan for the event had to be shorter and more focused.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg - dubbed Earth Summit 2 - is being billed as the largest U.N. conference ever, with 100 heads of states and 60,000 delegates expected to attend.
"I still have the impression this is a fragile and very difficult thing we have entered into. The success is not given," the EU's top environment official said in an interview, adding it would be hard to sell the summit because it covered so much.
"We won't have time to go and solve all problems."
Wallstrom is part of 120 cabinet-ranked officials from around the world arriving on Indonesia's resort island of Bali to put political weight into planning for the summit.
They will meet from Wednesday to Friday to draw up an agenda and the outlines of a declaration that world leaders will make to underscore their political commitment to the process.
Ministers are not expected to get involved in the action plan's detail, which has been negotiated by senior officials since May 27. It covers everything from measures to cut poverty, improve sanitation, preserve natural ecosystems, reduce pollution and boost energy supplies to poor people.
Johannesburg opens on August 26 and has been timed to fall a decade after the landmark Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which put environmental issues on the global political agenda.
For it to succeed, two weeks of preparatory meetings that end here on Friday have to raise the summit's profile and reach a credible plan on how to make inroads in cutting poverty while protecting the earth's natural resources, officials have said.
Environmentalists have already accused rich nations of dragging their feet on measures intended to help the world's 1.2 billion people living in poverty and of putting trade liberalisation ahead of efforts to clean up the polluted planet.
SUMMIT CAN'T FAIL
Echoing the views of U.N. officials, Wallstrom said the summit had to succeed.
Asked what would happen if it flopped, she said:
"I'm afraid that the ultimate loss could be the loss of this whole concept of sustainable development because people would then be able to say it doesn't work, it doesn't work in practice, you cannot translate it into something concrete."
U.N. officials said while last week's deadline for finishing the action plan was missed, the key elements had been agreed.
Despite calls from Wallstrom for a shorter draft, they said outstanding issues on implementing and funding the deal would likely be handled separately by negotiators as ministers met.
Emil Salim, a former Indonesian environment minister who heads the U.N. preparatory committee drawing up the plan, insisted it was a draft that governments could be proud of.
"It's not pie in the sky. We are not promising things that cannot be implemented," Salim told a news conference.
One way to streamline it would be to focus especially on bringing clean water and energy to the world's poor by 2015, Wallstrom said.
So far, environmentalists have staged only minor protests, but foreign and local groups have said they plan rallies on Wednesday to coincide with the opening of the ministerial meeting and World Environment Day.