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Mbeki Urges Concrete Action at Sustainability Summit - 2002-09-02

Heads of state and government have begun addressing the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. The general debate opened with South African President Thabo Mbeki calling on his colleagues to produce concrete action.

President Mbeki posed a series of questions to the other leaders. Why, he asked, is there still hunger, when the world has the means to banish it? Why do millions die from curable diseases every year, when science and technology have the means to save them? Who is to blame, he asked, and what should we do?

Mr. Mbeki said the leaders assembled in Johannesburg are here to answer those questions. "A message must come from this original home of all humanity that we are ready and prepared to be judged, not by the number and eloquence of the resolutions we adopt, but by the speed and commitment with which we implement our agreements that must serve the peoples of the world," said President Mbeki.

The South African leader said the people of the world are expecting concrete results from the summit. And he said nothing can justify a failure to respond to their expectation.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also told the assembled leaders the earth is in danger. He told them they cannot afford to delay.

"Let us stop being economically defensive, and start being politically courageous," he urged. "Let us face an uncomfortable truth: the model of development we are accustomed to has been too fruitful for few, and flawed for many."

Mr. Annan said the richest countries must lead the way. They have the wealth and the technology, and they contribute disproportionately to global environmental problems.

But he also said governments cannot do it alone. He urged citizens' groups to work as partners, advocates and watchdogs. And he said the private sector needs to change the way it does business.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair drew applause from his colleagues when he addressed two issues that have sparked disagreement at the summit. He said the developed world must open its markets to agricultural products from the developing world. And he called on all nations to ratify the Kyoto agreement on climate change - a pointed message to the United States, which has backed out of the treaty.

"The consequences of inaction on these issues are not unknown, they are calculable," emphasized Mr. Blair. "Poverty and environmental degradation, if unchecked, spell catastrophe for our world. That is clear."

The 10-day summit started a week ago. After intense and sometimes hostile negotiations, diplomats have managed to agree on most of the text for the final conference declaration. As the heads of state began their general debate, negotiators continued to try to reach consensus on the final outstanding issue, moving toward renewable energy sources such as solar and wind-power.