Sound of conflict blurs Earth Summit rhetoric
JOHANNESBURG - The sound of international disputes over Zimbabwe and Iraq intruded on the Earth Summit yesterday, drowning out calls from children for the leaders of the world to bury their differences for the sake of their future.
An overnight failure by negotiators to end a rift between Americans and Europeans over \"green\" energy had already made for an awkward start to the gathering in Johannesburg. It held up a grand U.N. action plan that South African President Thabo Mbeki says must end the \"global apartheid\" between rich and poor.
Talks among ministers resumed shortly after 11:30 a.m. (0930 GMT) with several officials voicing quiet confidence.
\"Today in Johannesburg, humanity has a date with destiny,\" declared French President Jacques Chirac, recalling how South Africans led by Nelson Mandela overcame apartheid divisions.
\"Our house is burning down and we are blind to it,\" Chirac told the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).
But as Mandela looked on, the fine rhetoric of common human goals risked being drowned out by the reality of conflict.
Zimbabwe\'s President Robert Mugabe left the hall during speeches by the president of the European Commission and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Namibia\'s President Sam Nujoma defended Mugabe\'s seizures of white-owned farms by fiercely attacking the legacy of British colonialism and slavery.
With the world divided over threats by U.S. President George W. Bush to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz added to confusion over Baghdad\'s response by telling Reuters U.N. arms inspectors could still return.
Bush was the only leader of the Group of Seven wealthy industrial countries not in Johannesburg to sign off on a pact to slash poverty while sparing the environment from the harm inflicted by two centuries of Western industrialisation.
The low-level U.S. delegation in the hall was led by Undersecretary of Energy Robert Card. Bush, whose aides say he is too busy with security and economic issues, is sending Secretary of State Colin Powell. But Powell is not due until the final day on Wednesday, when most other leaders will have left.
The lack of interest from the world\'s superpower adds strength to sceptics who say any deal will never be implemented.
CHILDREN CRY \"SHAME\"
\"Too many adults are too interested in money and wealth to take notice of serious problems that affect our future,\" 11-year-old Justin Friesen from Canada had said earlier, reminding leaders of a host of broken promises since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago, when he was just a baby.
\"We need more than your applause,\" said Analiz Vergara, 14, from Ecuador said after a delighted reaction from the hall.
\"Remember we cannot buy another planet and our lives and those of future generations depend on it...We
\"What we now have is Us versus Them.\"
Maintaining the confrontational rhetoric among the leaders themselves, leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took a swipe at powerful business elites that nearly ousted him in a coup this year that seemed to find favour in Washington.
\"If we are tackling fires, let us not respect arsonists,\" Chavez said. \"We must confront the privileged elites who have destroyed a large part of the world,\" he added, calling for 10 percent of global military spending to go to the poor.
Chirac suggested a \"solidarity levy on the wealth created by globalisation\" to help boost aid to the Third World. A French official source said that could include taxes on airline tickets, carbon dioxide or international financial transactions.
But that is hardly likely to find favour with U.S. business.
ROW OVER OIL
Blair, Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder urged final ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, recalling floods that hit central Europe last month. Bush has rejected the pact, saying it would hurt the U.S. economy.
The issue of cutting back on the burning of carbon-dioxide producing oil, coal and gas blamed for global warming continued to divide the European Union and United States after more than a week of talks among officials in Johannesburg.
The bulk of the U.N. action plan is agreed, including deadlines for improving water supplies and saving rare species as well as common action to fight AIDS and mass poverty.
But the United States, backed by OPEC oil-exporting nations, was resisting EU efforts to include a firm global target for the amount of the world\'s energy that should be produced from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power.
Washington has opposed all new global targets for fighting poverty and cleaning up the planet. It says it is committed to practical, focused aid and development programmes and cannot bind the American people to what it sees as vague, symbolic gestures that other countries simply sign up to and then ignore.
Talks on energy halted in the small hours but later resumed.
Mbeki welcomed the leaders with a call to avoid failure.
\"The matter rests with all of us gathered here,\" he said, saying progress so far should produce a concrete action plan.
\"Nothing whatsoever can justify any failure on our part to respond to this expectation,\" he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants a deal to protect the whole process of global cooperation and said the growing hunger in southern Africa showed where failure would lead.
\"Not far from this conference room... 13 million people are threatened with famine,\" he said.
\"If any reminder were needed of what happens when we fail to plan for and protect the long-term future of our planet, it can be heard in the cries for help from those 13 million souls.\"
Story by Darren Schuettler and Ed Stoddard
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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