Leaders from more than 100 nations are meeting in Rio de Janeiro Wednesday for the first day of a three-day United Nations environmental summit.
The leaders are expected to put the finishing touches on a draft document approved by diplomats from more than 190 nations that spells out a number of goals aimed at lifting billions of people out of poverty through sustainable development.
Opening the conference Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said officials are now in sight of a "historic agreement." He said, "The world is watching to see if words will translate into action" and called on those at the summit not to "waste this opportunity."
In a podcast this week, the Asian Development Bank's Vice President for Knowledge Management Bindu Lohani spoke about the importance of the so-called "Sustainable Development Goals" for Asia.
"Asia is growing fast economically," said Lohani. "We project by 2050, more than 50 percent of global economy will be in Asia. Asia is also rich in ecosystems, and therefore, very vulnerable. So with the sustainable development goals in mind, we would be able to develop Asia, still have growth, but we'd also be able to take care of the social and the environmental concerns at the same time."
But environmental activists say the draft document is too weak and has no enforceable mechanisms.
Stephen Howes, an environmental analyst at the Australian National University, said it is not surprising the diplomats failed to agree on any concrete actions in the document, because nations must first reach a domestic consensus before taking any action.
"So it's not as if it's impossible for countries to agree on targets in general, but I guess in the area of environment, it's become so contentious," said Howes. "I mean there are now detailed negotiating processes underway, in just about all of the areas that have been discussed in Rio. And it's not really possible to cut across those negotiating processes, each of them have its own dynamics, its own constraints, its own momentum, and in a sense they have to be respected. And Rio can just give us a sort of overall blessing to those, it can't cut across them."
But Howes says the Rio summit has already succeeded by producing a document, unlike the 2009 U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen.
The Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and six other multilateral development banks announced Wednesday at the summit that they will invest $175 billion in the next decade to help implement more environmentally-friendly transportation solutions in developing countries.
The president of the Asian Development Bank, Haruhiko Kuroda, told a news conference that rapid motorization is creating more congestion, air pollution, traffic accidents and greenhouse gas emissions, but he said developing countries have the opportunity for a "greener future."
The other banks joining in the transport pledge are the African Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank and the Islamic Development Bank.
Mayors of dozens of the world's biggest cities held their own summit in the Brazilian capital Tuesday to discuss measures they have already undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the world's cities have recognized they have a responsibility to take action, as they are responsible for up to 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emission.
"Even as progress at national and international level has faltered, it's fair to say that world cities have forged ahead," said Bloomberg. "And, the reason for that is clear - mayors, the great pragmatists on the world stage who are directly responsible for the wellbeing for the majority of the world's people, just don't have the luxury to simply talk about change and not deliver it.''
The measures the mayors say they have undertaken include improved waste management practices, more efficient street lighting and electric-powered municipal transport.
More than 40,000 people, including environmental activists and business executives, are attending the Rio Plus 20 summit. The gathering marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark first Rio Earth summit that paved the way to the 1997 Kyoto agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions believed to cause global warming.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.