UN gets ready for a second Earth Summit next year

by Thalif Deen

New York, 14 Mar 2001 (IPS) -- The United Nations is planning a series of preparatory meetings - beginning next month - to finalise an agenda and a programme of action for a major World Summit on Sustainable Development scheduled to take place in mid-2002 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The meeting, which will assess the successes and failures of the groundbreaking Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, will also address new environmental issues that have emerged since that meeting.

“One thing we have learned over the years is that doom-and-gloom scenarios are not enough to inspire people and governments to act,” says Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The Rio Earth Summit, he says, did indeed sound an alarm. But it also set out a positive vision of a sustainable future, as well as a detailed road map - Agenda 21 - for integrating environment and development.

As a result of the Rio Summit, there were legally binding conventions on climate change and bio-diversity, adding to a previous treaty to protect the ozone layer. The Summit was also responsible for a treaty on desertification.

“Despite these achievements, we have gone on with business as usual in far too many ways. Moreover, some damaging myths have taken hold,” he points out.

The UN Commission on Sustainable Development - which meets annually to monitor and follow-up on the pledges and agreements made at the Earth Summit - will co-ordinate the preparatory work for the upcoming summit, also dubbed ‘Rio Plus-10’.

The first preparatory meeting will take place in April/May, followed by similar meetings in January and in March/April 2002. A final preparatory meeting - at the ministerial level - is scheduled to take place in May next year in Indonesia.

The actual dates for the Summit are yet to be determined, but the meeting is likely to take place between June and September next year.

UN Under-Secretary-General Nitin Desai, one of the architects of Agenda 21 and head of the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs, says that “Rio Plus-10 comes at a crucial point, when we need to generate new momentum toward socially and environmentally sustainable development, to ensure a viable future for our planet.”

According to Desai, the Summit will also seek to adopt time-bound measures to overcome some of the obstacles to the implementation of Agenda 21, and also figure out some of the new financial and institutional needs of developing nations.

The United Nations is seeking input from a wide range of groups and interests - such as local government, business, environmental activists, women, youth, farmers and scientists - and is also urging governments to set up national preparatory committees.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), says “the second Earth Summit raises a lot of expectations.”

“It is my hope that governments will take advantage of the time between now and then to revitalise the sustainability debate, and to prepare the ground for the adoption of concrete and meaningful actions by that time.”

Toepfer said that alongside failures of governance, negligence and greed, poverty is one of the causes of the ecological crises confronting the world today. “The Summit should address this issue, in order to find a way of breaking the vicious circle of environmental degradation and increased poverty,” he said.

Recalling a declaration adopted at the Millennium Summit last September, Toepfer also called for the adoption of “a new ethic of conservation and stewardship in all our environmental actions”.

Addressing a meeting at the International Conference Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh Wednesday, the UN Secretary-General said that this stewardship must come from countries big and small, rich and poor.

“It would mean that the more industrialised countries should re-examine their consumption and production patterns. It would mean that in our effort to eradicate poverty, we look at democratic governance, institution-building and community-based development.”

Annan also said that this would mean upholding international commitments to provide developing countries with the finance and technology they need.

“And it would mean placing the advancement of women and the education of girls at the very centre of these efforts. In short, sustainable development requires equal treatment of the three pillars of sustainability: economic growth, social development and environmental protection.”

Annan said that at the upcoming Summit world leaders would have an opportunity to show that they take the idea of stewardship seriously.

“But they need not wait until then: indeed they must not. One immediate test of resolve is the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse [gas] emissions, but which has yet to enter into force.”

The burden of leadership at this juncture falls on the industrialized countries, and in particular the United States, the European Union and Japan, he added.

“They are responsible for most of the world’s past and present carbon emissions. And they are best placed, both economically and technologically, to move ahead with their own reductions and with assistance for the developing world. To abandon this process now would set back the global climate treaty for many years.”