Christine Courcol & Yana Marull
Rio de Janeiro. Negotiators late on Monday neared a deal on fixing the world’s environment problems and easing entrenched poverty ahead of a UN summit on sustainable development starting on Wednesday, conference host Brazil said.
But activists feared the outcome would be a bland compromise which would fall drearily short of reviving the spirit of the Earth Summit 20 years ago.
“We are in the final phase of negotiations. There is a very positive mood to find formulas to enable the outcome that we want,” said chief Brazilian delegate Luiz Alberto Figueiredo.
“We are absolutely convinced that the text will be closed tonight.”
On the table in Rio is a 50-page draft that would identify the world’s many environment ills, from climate change to desertification and overfishing, and spell out how the community of nations plans to tackle them.
Called “The Future We Want,” the communique would be endorsed on Friday after a three-day summit expected to draw around 100 heads of state and government.
Months of work have been invested in the document.
Nations and regional blocs have haggled especially over how to promote the green economy, funds to help sustainable development in poor countries and defining “Sustainable Development Goals” that would succeed the UN’s Millennium Development Goals after they expire in 2015.
Green activists and campaigners on poverty eradication said the text was already unambitious before negotiations stepped up a gear last Wednesday, and some predicted a serving of fudge was on the menu.
“What we are seeing in Rio are incredibly weak negotiations which do not produce the results required to lift people out of poverty and stop environmental degradation,” said Kit Vaughan of CARE International, a humanitarian organisation.
“Rio+20 is creating a black hole of low ambition and little substance.”
In a message to the conference, 40 figures, including former heads of state and Nobel laureates, said the scientific evidence of environmental over-reach “is unequivocal.”
“We are on the threshold of a future with unprecedented environmental risks,” they said.
“The combined effects of climate change, resource scarcity, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem resilience at a time of increased demand poses a real threat to humanity’s welfare.
“Such a future generates unacceptable risks that will undermine the resilience of the planet and its inhabitants.”
Signatories included Nobel chemistry laureate Yuan-Tseh Lee, Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Monica Vieira Teixeira and Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian prime minister who in the 1980s issued a landmark report on sustainable development.
The Conference on Sustainable Development is the 20-year followup to the Earth Summit, where UN members launched offensives to roll back climate change, desertification and species loss and work to root out poverty.
Around 50,000 activists, business executives and policymakers are attending the 10-day forum.
Many experts quietly feel that these side events are far more effective in practical terms than the political declaration expected on Friday.
Corporations attending a business forum have announced scores of promises to do more to promote sustainability, though these pledges have also run into criticism that they amount to greenwash.
A “counter-summit” is being held in central Rio, some 40 kilometers from the sprawling convention centre which has been declared United Nations territory for the occasion.