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Johannesburg Summit Opens on Monday - 2002-08-25

Delegates from around the globe begin meeting in Johannesburg Monday for the U.N.-sponsored World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The Johannesburg meeting takes place a decade after the landmark U.N. Earth Summit in Rio first brought governments and environmentalists together to talk about how to use natural resources wisely, so they will be there for future generations to enjoy. Such a meeting had never taken place before; now it is happening again.

This conference is not being called an Earth Summit. And it is not just the name that is different. The secretary-general of the summit, Nitin Desai, says the focus has changed in the last 10 years.

"I think in Rio our focus was very much on trying to change the way people thought about development," he said. "In Johannesburg, what we are trying to do is change the way people act on development. That is why we say, this is a summit about implementation."

Mr. Desai says the world has changed, too. A decade ago, he says, delegates did not really understand how the AIDS epidemic would affect development of the world's most impoverished nations.

And, he says, globalization was not a factor to the same extent that it is today. This summit will try to address those issues in a way the Rio meeting did not.

Environmental activists also point out that other things have changed since the Earth Summit. In 1992, the World Trade Organization did not even exist.

Hilary French of the advocacy group Worldwatch says, since then, the WTO, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have had a serious impact on development in the poorest nations.

"But how can we build up U.N. environmental and sustainable development institutions to the point that they have both a similar level of clout worldwide, and also, that they have an influence on what happens in the economic institutions that I just mentioned?" she asked. "How can we get the WTO to listen to the U.N., essentially? I think that is one of the questions that this conference needs to address."

Disagreement over contentious issues such as globalization and trade have held up agreement on key parts of the final summit declaration. About 75 percent of the text was finalized at a pre-conference meeting in Bali, Indonesia, earlier this year.

But developed and developing countries have not yet agreed on some of the most important sections. U.N. and South African officials say there is good progress being made, but they refused to give details.