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Politics makes strange bedfellows at Earth Summit

Politics makes strange bedfellows at Earth Summit
JOHANNESBURG - The United States has taken much flak for not sending its leader to the Earth Summit but Arab leaders are also noticeable by their absence from the talks, stalled by their shared opposition to an energy deal.
Ministers at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, rushing to agree an action plan on poverty and the environment, were deadlocked this week over whether the world needs a target to boost \"green\" energy. \"Iran and Iraq are siding with the United States. All Arab states are taking the same position as Arab oil producers...I don\'t think this is in their interests because they have a better future with renewable energy,\" said Abdullah Darwish, president of Lebanese environmental group Greenline. Many Arab states have sent high-level delegates to fight for their political and economic interests but Arab environmental experts say these issues, rather than the environmental crisis facing the planet, are setting their agenda. \"They are playing politics to cover their own interests,\" Darwish told Reuters. Brazil has proposed that 10 percent of the world\'s total energy consumption should come from renewable sources by 2010. The EU has proposed a 15 percent target, although this is based on a looser definition of renewable energy sources. The United States and the Arab world - led by its oil producers - are adamantly opposed to unilateral targets. The alliance is seen as deeply ironic given U.S. President George Bush has threatened to attack Iraq to oust President Saddam Hussein, while ordinary Arabs are furious with Bush for his perceived one-sided support for Israel. SAUDI ARABIA LEADS Arab environmentalists are also concerned about the way Saudi Arabia, the world\'s biggest oil exporter, has taken the lead in thorny negotiations which affect the futures of other, poorer Arab states whose economies are not dependent on oil. Lebanese Greepeace activist Zeina al-Hajj said the issue of setting targets for the use of renewable energy, to gradually replace more polluting fossil fuels such as oil, was arguably the most contentious at the summit. \"On this issue unfortunately Saudi Arabia is leading the talks on behalf of the Arab group,\" she told Reuters. \"There will be no confrontation on this issue and it\'s not rational - the only benefit to Arab countries is for the oil producers. There is a political decision to stand as one for the sake of Arab unity.\" Saudi Arabia has sent its Commerce Minister Osama bin Jaafar bin Ibrahim Faqih to the summit. Kuwait has sent its Health Minister, Mohammad al-Jarallah, while the United Arab Emirates has sent the head of one of its tiniest states, Fujairah. That is basically it for senior delegates from the six countries in the wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council, which with Iraq and Iran straddle two thirds of the world\'s proven oil reserves. Egypt and Iraq have sent their foreign ministers. \"The Arab group is taking this position to have a better bargaining stand overall on trade and finance,\" Darwish said. But some Arab environmentalists are more cynical. \"None of the governments here really have the political will to talk about the environment,\" said Razan Zuayter, co-ordinator of the Jordan-based Arab Group for the Protection of Nature. \"People know what they want. But there is not enough communication between them and their governments.\" Story by Mariam Isa REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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