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Latin, Caribbean Enviorment Minister Meet in Brazil - 2001-10-23

Latin American and Caribbean Environment Ministers are meeting in Rio de Janeiro to discuss progress made in implementing the accords reached at the Rio Earth Summit nine years ago - and to come with proposals for next year's World Summit on Sustainable Development. That conference will be held in Johannesburg.

The regional Environment Ministers are meeting in the same huge convention center outside Rio de Janeiro, where the 1992 Earth Summit was held. Then, the nations of the world committed themselves to various measures aimed at protecting the environment and preserving biodiversity. But the consensus among the participants at this conference is that the commitments have fallen far short of expectations. In opening the conference Monday, Brazilian Environment Minister Jose Sarney noted carbon emissions by industrial countries have increased since 1992 - despite promises to the contrary. He said the United States alone increased its emissions by 22 percent over the past nine years because of expanded economic growth.

The Brazilian official also criticized developed nations for failing to set aside, as promised, a small portion of their Gross Domestic Product for programs promoting sustainable economic development in developing countries. In 1992, industrial nations pledged to set aside seven-tenths of one percent of their GDP to fund these programs. However, according to United Nations figures, nations set aside just just two-tenths of one percent of GDP for these projects. Mr. Sarney said the 1992 funding pledge was a recognition of the need for global investments to reverse environmental degradation and reduce poverty.

Venezuelan Environment Minister Ana Elisa Osorio Granado agrees that much more should have been done, but adds she is hopeful there will be a renewed commitment at next year's Sustainable Development conference in Johannesburg. "We are looking to the future even though we recognize that the progress made since 1992 is not satisfactory," she says. "What we hope for is that the social factor will be taken into account, that there needs to be a new ethic regarding economic development."

The head of the United Nations Environment Program, Klaus Toepfer, acknowledges that the high expectations raised by the Rio Earth Summit were not realized. But Mr. Toepfer, whose agency has organized this week's conference, believes the groundwork is being laid at this meeting for new ideas to bring to the Johannesburg meeting. "We have a very strong signal for the rest of the world to stick to the spirit of Rio, to revitalize it, not to renegotiate Agenda 21 but to implement it, and be open for new challenges like the development of technology, how to use it for sustainable development, how can we implement the Convention on Bio-Safety," says Mr. Toepfer. "So there is a lot to do to give those strong signals for the World Summit on Sustainable Development."

Just 16 Environment Ministers out of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations are attending the Rio conference, although all countries of the region are represented. The conference, which ends Wednesday, will come up with a regional plan of action to present next year in Johannesberg.