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Brazilian NGOs to Submit Recommendations at Sustainable Development Summit

Brazilian non-governmental organizations are calling for fundamental changes in Brazil's economic model to achieve sustainable economic development. The groups will present their proposals at the upcoming World Sustainable Development Summit in Johannesburg to foster a general discussion about alternatives to current policies.

Some 500 Brazilian NGO's have drafted a lengthy report outlining their recommendations for achieving sustainable economic development, a goal established 10 years ago in Rio de Janeiro during the Earth Summit.

The report, called Brazil 2002 - The Sustainability We Want, outlines seven broad areas for action, including climate change, forests, socio-biodiversity, trade, and implementing Agenda 21.

Agenda 21 is a comprehensive action plan adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit by more than 170 countries to, among other things, combat poverty and deforestation, protect the atmosphere and oceans, and conserve biological diversity.

In their report, Brazilian NGOs say implementing Agenda 21 got a late start in Brazil and was not given a high priority by the government. Analuce Freitas of the World Wildlife Fund office in Brazil stressed that this must change. "We think that Agenda 21 must be considered by all governments as the main instrument for planning the future of the country, and in Brazil also," she said.

Specifically, the NGO report calls for using Agenda 21 as a foundation for government programs and as a defining tool for Brazil's federal budget. It also advocates setting aside a percentage of the gross national product to carry out the objectives of Agenda 21.

In other areas, the Brazilian NGOs note that deforestation of the Amazon continues at an ever-expanding pace. To counter this, they are calling for better management of public lands to ensure the needs of the environment, business, and local inhabitants are met. The NGOs also are urging the federal government to create more parks and reserves as way to fulfill its commitment to preserve at least 10 percent of the nation's native forests.

The government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso argues it is well on its way toward meeting this goal. Brazil now has 49 parks protecting some 29 million hectares, or about seven and one-half percent of the Amazon. This week Mr. Cardoso signed a decree creating the world's largest tropical national park. The park, in the northern Amazon state of Amapa, is 3.8 million hectares, about the size of Switzerland.

On the issue of climate change, the NGO report urges all developed countries, especially the United States, to adopt the Kyoto Protocol for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also calls on Brazil to develop a national policy on climate change and to publicize the results of a national inventory on carbon emissions completed three years ago.

Overall, the Brazilian NGOs are calling for fundamental change in a country where 10 percent of the population controls 47 percent of the wealth. Analuce Freitas, who is a policy officer at the World Wildlife Fund, noted that Brazil needs a change in development strategy.

"The principles of development should be reviewed in order to promote sustainability," he said. "All the themes are important, but most of all what should be considered is a change in the overall strategy of development. A change of patterns of consumption and a change in the consideration of the responsibilities of the countries."

To achieve this, the NGO report says sustainability will require structural changes in the standards of production and consumption, in land appropriation, and in the use of natural resources.

While some 40 Brazilian NGOs will press for this in Johannesburg, the official Brazilian delegation is trying to play down expectations. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Lafer told reporters this week despite the laudable goals of the NGOs, diplomatic agreements have to be reached by consensus.

"Non-governmental organizations and the environmentalists insist, with good reason, on reaching the objectives of sustainability," he said. "And these objectives are those of making a better world, and this is something they promote and defend with good reason. But in terms of intergovernmental relations what can be done is determined by what is achievable, by what can be done to have an agreement that is accepted by everyone so it can be effective. And in this sense, this is what we'll be working for because no diplomatic agreement is capable of satisfying everyone's hopes because this is impossible."

At the same time, Mr. Lafer said, the government has consulted with the NGOs in the months leading up to the Johannesburg summit. He expressed hope that at Johannesburg, delegates will agree on more formal mechanisms to involve all of society - the NGOs, business, and academics - in intergovernmental organizations that can work toward achieving sustainable development.