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Sustainable Development Summit Delegates Prepare for August Meeting - 2002-06-26

The upcoming sustainable development summit in Johannesburg got a boost this week in Rio de Janeiro, when delegates attending a preparatory conference unanimously called on the developed countries, the United States in particular, to participate. South African President Thabo Mbeki, who attended the Rio meeting, will deliver this message personally to the G-8 leaders meeting in Canada.

Delegates from around the world attended the meeting in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the issues that will be raised in August at the U.N. sustainable development summit in Johannesburg.

The Johannesburg conference comes 10 years after the Rio Earth Summit, which resulted in an action program called Agenda 21 to preserve the environment and foster sustainable economic development. One of the results of the 1992 Earth Summit was to provide the impetus for negotiations to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases. The resulting Kyoto protocol on climate change obligates rich signatory countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by five percent from 1990 levels by the year 2012. The Bush administration last year withdrew from the treaty, saying its targets would harm the U.S. economy.

The meeting in Johannesburg, known as "Rio plus 10," hopes to build on the accomplishments of Agenda 21. But it also will deal with a wider range of issues, including health, energy, and agriculture.

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson described the upcoming Johannesburg summit as an opportunity to form new partnerships.

"Johannesburg must give us that vision, the vision of a global system in which every country has a place and a stake in the benefits," he said. "And it must give us all a clear sense of what our particular tasks are. The summit will be the opportunity to form new partnerships. Only a partnership between governments, business, and civil society will give us the necessary power to meet the challenge. Nothing can be achieved in isolation."

Mr. Persson was alluding to the concern that too many heads of state, including President Bush, will not bother to come to Johannesburg. But some environmentalists are more optimistic. Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace says the consensus reached at the Rio meeting provides strong incentive for the world's biggest economies to join in.

"The first real test of this new political leadership, which we very much welcome, will happen at the end of the week in Kananaskis in Canada where the G-8 summit is happening, and we know that President Mbeki is going there with a clear mandate from this group of countries and this meeting to try and figure out a way to engage Canada, the United States, and Japan seriously in this process," he said. President Mbeki will deliver a letter urging the G-8 leaders to participate in the Johannesburg conference. The letter is signed by Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Swedish Prime Minister Persson and by Mr. Mbeki himself.

Mr. Sawyer says it would be in President Bush's own interest to come to Johannesburg.

"Given what's happening in the world today, and given the importance of the U.S. position and given the express need and desire for cooperation on a wide variety of levels by the United States, it seems to me there's a real opportunity for the rest of the world leaders if they are very clear in their message to say: 'You need us for your war on terrorism and other things, we need you to build sustainability on a global basis,'" he said.

Brazilian President Cardoso will also make a personal appeal by phone to the G-8 leaders. Whether this will work is unclear, but the mood in Rio at the close of the preparatory meeting was upbeat.