FEATURE - Paradise far from regained since last Earth Summit
LONDON - When leaders from more than 100 countries met to debate the fate of the planet in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago, British artist Edwina Sandys sought to capture the spirit in a 20 foot (six metre) sculpture.
It depicted a human holding hands with trees, a reference to the need to save the world\'s forests.
It was made of recycled aluminium, a plea to preserve the world\'s limited resources.
And, hoping to celebrate the promise of the Earth Summit, as the meeting was known, the sculpture was called \"Paradise Regained\".
The summit, held in June 1992, was expected to be a watershed in a global effort to reverse environmental damage and help poor countries catch up with the rich without destroying the world around them.
Ten years on, however, environmentalists and other activists preparing for a new Earth Summit - in Johannesburg, starting on Monday - say that far from there having been any \"regaining\" over the past decade, the promises of Rio have been dashed.
The problems facing the world - deforestation, global warming, the fast encroachment of desert, the loss of species and environment-destroying poverty - have got worse.
Leading countries, the activists say, have reneged on their commitments both to the poor nations they pledged to help and to the environment itself.
\"It is a hugely disappointing state of affairs,\" said Dr Jeremy Leggett, a Greenpeace delegate to the Rio summit who now runs a solar energy business. \"We are living on a planet that is in really deep trouble and we are asleep at the wheel.\"
The United Nations, sponsor of both the Rio and Johannesburg summits, hardly disagrees.
\"Attempts to promote human development and to reverse environmental degradation have not, in general, been effective over the last decade,\" it said in a report in January.
SAVING THE PLANET
World leaders at the Rio summit agreed two treaties, one to rein in the so-called greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for warming the climate, the other a biodiversity pact to protect plants and animals.
A series of \"principles\" were also agreed on managing the world\'s forests along with a huge blueprint for government action, called Agenda 21.
A decade later, however, there is little evidence that these agreements have borne fruit.
The climate change treaty, for example, was supposed to lower greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries to 1990 levels by 2000. But the U.N. noted in its report that global fossil fuel consumption rose 10 percent between 1992 and 1999.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a U.S. green group, says U.S. emissions alone were up 16 percent between 1990 and 2000.
On the biodiversity front, the United Nations says more than 800 species have disappeared due to loss of habitat and at least 10,000 species are now considered threatened.
There has been, meanwhile, a net loss of at least 2.4 percent of the world\'s forests in the decade, with as much as a seven percent loss in Africa.
Following up on Agenda 21, about 150 countries set up bodies to follow its diktats and about 90 countries drew up strategies.
\"If you look around the world, hardly anyone implemented one,\" said Jacob Scherr, the NRDC\'s director of international programmes.
RICH MAN, POOR MAN
Not everything is glum heading into Johannesburg and environmentalists do point to certain successes.
These include the decline of ozone-depleting emissions and the reduction in the use of leaded petrol, both of which were negotiated outside of the Rio process.
Some, like Scherr, also believe a new approach being taken at Johannesburg, emphasising local partnership programmes over grandiose pan-global planning, will be more succcessful.
But one of the main issues that emerged at Rio has taken over debate in many international meetings and promises to exercise Johannesburg - the divide between rich and poor.
Rio was meant to cement the process of sustainable development, or allowing economies to grow without damaging the environment. How, for example, were millions of Chinese to own cars without sending emissions out of control.
In exchange for help, poorer countries agreed to grow carefully. But activists charge that not only have rich countries not come through with their side of the bargain, they have made it harder.
\"They (developing nations) had some fantastic promises made at Rio. Largely...these promises have been completely broken, said Barry Coates, director of the World Development Movement.
Wealthy countries, for example, generally agreed to increase development aid to 0.7 percent of their GDP. The UN says that since Rio only five countries have done this while the overall level of such aid has actually fallen.
New proposals have been made recently for aid to the world\'s poorest countries, but critics like Coates say that trade pacts such as the Uruguay Round agreed a year or so after Rio have undermined what commitments were made and hurt the poor.
Though many argue that free trade lifts all, many developing countries complain bitterly that their products have been locked out of markets and that despite pledges they have not seen the gains from a decade of wealth creation.
\"Developing countries now realise they were sold a very bad deal,\" said Coates. \"This era of globalisation has promised so much, delivered so little.
The U.N., in its report on Rio 10 years on, was even blunter.
\"The benefits of globalisation have been distributed unevenly and the world\'s poorest have been left behind,\" it said.
Story by Jeremy Gaunt
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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