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S. American, Caribbean Officials Ending Environment Meeting - 2001-10-24

Top Latin American and Caribbean officials are winding up a three-day meeting in Rio de Janeiro aimed at developing a common regional position for next year's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. Some regional Foreign and Finance Ministers have joined the Environment Ministers for the final session.

The U.N. sponsored conference in Rio de Janeiro entered its final phase, as regional officials turned from discussions about the environment and focused on the issue of sustainable economic development.

The officials are expected to draft a common regional position to take to the World Summit on Sustainable Development next year in Johannesburg. That conference is scheduled exactly 10 years after the Earth Summit in Rio in which the nations of the world pledged to do more to preserve the environment.

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said late Tuesday, what is needed now is for all countries, both rich and poor, to form a new partnership. He said the future of the world's environment will depend on the actions we take now, and what we need is to work together globally towards sustainable development to move toward "sustainable globalization."

The Brazilian leader warned countries not to act unilaterally on issues affecting the world environment, citing the 1997 Kyoto protocol on climate change. Without naming the United States, which withdrew from the accord earlier this year for economic reasons, Mr. Cardoso criticized such actions. He said it is clear the world's climate is being hurt by the continuing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Others at the conference also sounded alarms and urged industrial countries to do more to help developing nations on environmental issues. Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr told reporters the problems affecting the environment are mounting faster than solutions. He said the gap between some countries and others is getting wider, which means we need a new formula for development and that is sustainable development.

Coming up with ways to finance sustainable development is a key issue at this conference.

In 1992, industrial nations pledged to set aside a small portion of their gross domestic product to fund environmental and sustainable development projects in the Third World. But most industrial countries failed to meet their targets and the Latin American and Caribbean officials meeting in Rio are trying to come up with other ideas to take to Johannesburg.

Barbados Environment Minister Leonard Nurse said a number of proposals are on the table, adding that next year's summit will provide the opportunity to make a fresh start. "Ten years after Rio, this is an excellent opportunity for all regions of the world to think very seriously about where we will go in terms of resource-management, and humankind in general," he said. "We are all very focused, I am sure, on why we are going to Johannesburg: it is not simply to discuss esoteric environmental matters, it is about human beings, it is about the future of people."

But nearly 10 years after similar rhetoric was heard at the Earth summit in Rio, global warming continues, as does the destruction of tropical rainforest in places like the Amazon. The Latin American and Caribbean officials meeting in Rio this week say these problems add to the urgency for concrete action which they hope will emerge from next year's Johannesburg summit.