ANALYSIS - Earth Summit won\'t save planet, but might help
JOHANNESBURG - They flew around the world in pollution-spewing jets, ate expensive food in Africa where many go hungry, and worked out a plan to \"Save the Planet\".
But experts say a blueprint close to agreement by the widely maligned negotiators from about 190 nations at Johannesburg\'s Earth Summit this week will not radically change the world. It may, however, help a bit.
Negotiators are aiming to help halve poverty by 2015 by promoting environmentally friendly economic growth which does not repeat the polluting mistakes caused by 200 years of industrialisation in the rich West.
A dispute over women\'s human rights was the only outstanding hitch this week, the summit\'s penultimate day.
But many delegates reckon the worthy new targets set in Johannesburg, such as halving the proportion of people without sanitation or restoring depleted fish stocks by 2015, will fail to be fully implemented.
\"End of term report - Not satisfactory: must do better\" was environmental group Friends of the Earth\'s verdict of the August 26-September 4 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).
From presidents to prime ministers, leaders said the key now would be to implement the deals, brushing aside criticisms of a gargantuan text which includes few pledges of new cash to help the developing world.
And many criticised it as hot air, reckoning some limited new targets, including on improving chemicals production by 2020 to protect human health, were too vague.
In some key areas it lacks targets, such as on promoting clean energy like wind and solar power.
SPEND MORE CASH
\"Spend more money on helping the poor people and children around the world rather than attending too many meetings,\" Analiz Vergara, a 14-year-old girl from Ecuador told world leaders. \"Remember we cannot buy another planet.\"
Even politicians are sceptical that summits with an agenda spanning water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity as part of an assault on poverty can achieve much.
\"We deal with everything and there is a risk at the end of the day that it means nothing,\" said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country holds the European Union\'s rotating presidency. He urged action to implement the plan.
But U.N. goals agreed by world leaders in 2000, including halving poverty by 2015, are already lagging in many nations. About 1.2 billion people, or a fifth of humanity, live on less than a dollar a day.
The United Nations says the problems could probably all be fixed if rich nations gave more aid. Handouts now total about $54 billion a year - or about $67 per person from rich nations.
And many agreements from a landmark first Earth Summit 10 years ago in Rio de Janeiro have not been properly followed up - notably a deal to curb global warming which has been undermined by a 2001 pullout by U.S. President George W. Bush.
But others say the very fact world leaders can sit down together - something unthinkable during the Cold War - to address issues of poverty or pollution is a giant leap forward from the world\'s former East-West divide.
Eric Phillips, a Guyana delegate, said: \"You cannot measure the value of this summit by the documents it produces. There is a lot of discussion, a lot of negotiation, a lot of friendships are made.\"
That is, many say, a modest step. Yet big strides have been made - average life expectancy has jumped worldwide by more than six years to 66.6 since the 1970s. Child mortality and poverty have also been cut.
Still, even delegates in Johannesburg have not been pulling their weight. A fund set up with U.N. backing to help foster environmental projects to offset the pollution caused by delegates flying around the world to attend the summit and polluting the city has attracted scant donations.
Organisers (www.climatelegacy.org) estimate they had received donations to counter 15,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas blamed for global warming. It estimates the summit will produce 300,000 tonnes.
And delegates have been widely criticised for driving around in luxury cars or eating sumptuous meals in a gleaming part of Johannesburg just eight km (five miles) from some of South Africa\'s worst slums.
\"Even though a lot of people in Bombay say \'oh, you just want to travel to an international conference and talk a lot\', talking is important,\" said Rishi Aggarwal, co-founder of the Mangrove Society of India. \"Maybe this will be seen as an historic event five years down the road,\" he said.
But many wonder if the money could be better spent.
\"This summit and all the preparations probably cost the world a billion dollars: it would have been better spent buying 500 million solar cookers,\" said Deling Wang, head of the non-governmental organisations\' energy caucus.
She said the $2 solar cookers - silver reflectors mounted on cardboard - could save 500 million Third World families from foraging for a tonne of firewood a year and prevent millions of cases of smoke-related diseases from fires.
(With reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Robin Pomeroy).
Story by Alister Doyle
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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