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Leaders Discuss Upcoming Environmental Summit - 2002-06-25

The leaders of Brazil, South Africa and Sweden are stressing the need for a successful and productive summit later this year in Johannesburg on sustainable development. The three leaders made their appeal Monday in Rio de Janeiro, where a meeting to prepare for the U.N.-organized conference is taking place. Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso says the upcoming Johannesburg summit will build on the progress made at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro ten years ago, and the Stockholm environmental conference of 1972, which started the process.

Mr. Cardoso said the goal at Johannesburg is not just to preserve the environment, but to come up with programs for achieving sustainable economic development that balances the needs of humankind with the needs of nature. To do this, he said, world poverty and misery must be reduced. "It is unacceptable that the levels of poverty and misery continue to exist today, especially now that there are available means to improve the conditions of people," says Mr. Cardoso. He went on to describe poverty eradication as a moral imperative, and urged rich countries like the United States to support the initiatives that will emerge from the Johannesburg summit.

The Brazilian leader spoke Monday after meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki and Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson. The two leaders are in Rio to attend a three-day preparatory conference for the Johannesburg summit.

The summit, known as Rio +10, opens August 26. It is expected to bring together the leaders of almost 100 nations and thousands of representatives of non-governmental organizations. For ten days, they will discuss poverty eradication and environmental preservation, and come up with recommendations for achieving these goals. President Bush has no plans to attend.

Perhaps with this in mind, South African President Thabo Mbeki Monday urged all world leaders to come to Johannesburg. "It is the expectation of the peoples of the world, certainly it is the expectations of the three of us here, and I am sure John Prescott the deputy British prime minister, the princess from Jordan and the people who have been participating in this process here in Rio that we want them to attend the conference, as all of us will do, with the frame of mind which says: we have to move forward with regard to all of these matters."

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson echoed this view, and said persuading rich nations to set aside more money for economic development will be a key issue at Johannesburg.

At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, participating nations agreed that rich countries should set aside seven-tenths of one-percent of their Gross Domestic Product for development aid. Until now, only the countries of Scandinavia have done this.

Mr. Persson told reporters Monday the European Union is now more disposed to meet this goal. He said continued pressure will eventually persuade the United States to follow on this issue, as well as on the question of signing the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. "This is a political process. Governments come and go, it is a pendulum swinging," he says. "So you constantly need to argue for your side, and you constantly need to press them back who are opposing because you will always see them. It is a fight, and it is a fight worth taking."

The preparatory conference in Rio, which opened Sunday, has brought together representatives from the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, scientists and others from around the world. The conference ends Tuesday.