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Rio Action Plan Asks Industrial Nations to Honor Environmental Commitments - 2001-10-25

Top Latin American and Caribbean officials have ended an environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro by calling on industrialized countries to fulfill the commitments made at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The call was part of a resolution approved Wednesday, which sets out a common Latin American position on achieving sustainable development and preserving the environment.

Regional foreign and environment ministers approved a 10 page document Wednesday outlining a series of principles and measures for protecting the environment and achieving sustainable economic development.

The resolution, called the Rio de Janeiro Action Plan, came at the end of a three-day conference in Rio sponsored by the United Nations. The document represents a common Latin American position in anticipation of next year's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The main thrust of the Action Plan is a call on industrial nations to honor the commitments made almost 10 years ago at the Rio Earth Summit. Developed countries at that conference pledged to set aside .7 percent of their Gross Domestic Product to fund environmental and sustainable development programs in the Third World.

But U.N. figures show this target was never met. Instead, industrial nations spent just .2 percent of GDP on funding these programs.

At a news conference Wednesday closing the meeting, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Lafer said the region's nations are demanding the pledge be honored, and they will take this demand to Johannesburg.

"We're going to demand this," he said. "When you deal with various creditors and various debtors, there are some which are privileged and some which are secondary. Our objective is to makes these payments, which are credits belonging to humanity, be viewed as privileged payments and not as secondary ones."

But Mr. Lafer also acknowledged there is no way to force the world's rich nations to meet their commitments.

However, the Brazilian official said the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States shows the need for acting multilaterally. "We are always working between what is achievable and unattainable," he said. "But I think the post-September 11 world, while full of difficulties, is a world in which it is clear that without joint action, without multilateralism, a whole host of problems of nations, and of humanity, will not be resolved. So I see this as an opportunity."

Among the other appeals in the Latin American Action Plan is a call on all nations to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. Earlier this year, the Bush administration withdrew the United States from the accord citing economic reasons and the need for more study on the effect of greenhouse gases. On Wednesday, Latin American and Caribbean countries called on those nations that have not ratified the Kyoto Protocol to do so in time for next year's summit in Johannesburg.

This week's conference was held in the same huge convention center outside Rio, where delegates from around the world attended the 1992 Earth Summit. Despite the promises made then, environmental problems such as global warming, continue. Participants at this just concluded conference are now pinning their hopes on next year's Sustainable Development conference in Johannesburg, which they are calling "Rio plus 10." The hope is that next year the rhetoric about preserving the environment and achieving sustainable development will be translated into concrete actions.