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World Leaders Call for Concrete Steps on Environment at Earth Summit

Heads of state and government will address the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa for a second day, on Tuesday. The general debate has been marked, so far, by calls for concrete action to save the environment while wiping out global poverty.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged world leaders to face what he called "an uncomfortable truth." He said the current model of development bears fruit for a few, but is deeply flawed for most of the earth's inhabitants.

"A path to prosperity that ravages the environment and leaves a majority of humankind behind in squalor will soon prove to be a dead-end road for everyone," he said.

There were many calls for industrialized nations to ratify the Kyoto accord on global climate change. Leaders including British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent pointed messages to the United States, which has backed out of the treaty.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien surprised and thrilled environmentalists when he told the summit he would submit the treaty to his parliament for ratification.

From the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, Prime Minister Saufatu Sopoanga warned that his entire country could disappear if global warming causes ocean levels to rise.

"We want the islands of Tuvalu, our nation, to exist permanently, forever and ever, and not to be submerged underwater merely due to the selfishness and greed of the industrialized world," he said.

As the leaders spoke, negotiators were meeting behind the scenes trying to reach an agreement on the final conference declaration. Only one issue remained outstanding - energy. The United States and other oil-producing countries were pitted against most of the rest of the world in their opposition to setting firm targets and timelines for increasing use of renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power. The oil producing nations say concrete projects are more important than paper agreements.

Late in the day, diplomats finally reached a deal, one that enraged environmental activists, such as Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace. He says the United States and its rather unlikely allies, including Iran, refused to budge.

"This is a worse deal than no deal," he said. "We haven't moved forward at all. There is nothing in here about an action plan for the poor. This conference was supposed to be about poverty alleviation. There is nothing in this text that means that energy will be brought to the 1.5 billion to to two billion people on this planet who don't have any access."

Mr. Sawyer says despite what he calls "a lot of nice speeches" about climate change, negotiators have done absolutely nothing to stop it. He says the energy deal includes no targets or timetables that would bind countries to increase their use of renewable energy.

Activists, European nations and most of the developing world wanted a commitment to a 15 percent increase in the use of renewables by the year 2010. But it appears there was a trade-off. Activists say the other countries dropped that proposal, in exchange for an agreement by the United States to the document's call for a one-half reduction by 2015, in the two billion people living without proper sanitation and sewage.