France, Iran Join UN Talks Rebuked by Climate Groups
French President Francois Hollande and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran will join envoys from 190 countries today at United Nations talks on sustainability that environmental groups have denounced for producing a toothless accord.
Diplomats in Rio de Janeiro agreed to back a 49-page plan yesterday for harmonizing economic development with efforts to protect the environment. World leaders are expected to endorse on June 22 the agreement, the broadest to date, which lacks specific goals sought by environmentalists and the European Union.
The agreement is expected to set the agenda for policy makers to follow in the coming decades, and officials are already criticizing it.
“Rio is just the beginning and a range of activities have to be followed through,” Janez Potocnik, EU Environment Commissioner, said in a statement.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard expressed frustration in a posting on Twitter saying, “nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. That’s how weak it is.”
The document entitled “The Future We Want,” marks the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit and addresses ways to restrain for fossil-fuel subsidies, while supporting renewable energy and protecting oceans.
Environmental groups from WWF to Greenpeace International said diplomats caved in to pressure from business lobbyists to water down the agreement.
“We will now only be presented with a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests,” said Daniel Mittler, political director for Greenpeace International.
“It isn’t everything to everybody,” Todd Stern, a State Department official leading negotiations for the U.S., said at a briefing. “It was a good strong step forward.”
He praised the Brazilians for finding a compromise before world leaders arrive, saying “It’s really difficult to manage such an unruly group of players.”
The discussions cap more than a year of negotiations on how to advance the work begun in Rio two decades ago, when the UN started talks to halt global warming and safeguard the diversity of plants and animals. This year’s meeting dubbed Rio+20 involves 50,000 government officials, company executives and research analysts.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will formally open the final portion of the discussions today at 10 a.m. Brazil, which organized the talks, defended the text and said every country had to compromise. It has no plan to reopen the document for debate by leaders, some of whom spent the first part of the week in Mexico at the Group of 20 summit.
“Now is the time to stress the victory of the positive parts of the text,” Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said at a briefing in Rio yesterday. “It was accepted because there was a balance. We did achieve a lot.”
Participants are spread across Rio in hotels and at an airport-sized convention center in the west of the city, discussing subjects from corporate sustainability reporting to ensuring arsenic from mines doesn’t contaminate drinking water.
Celebrity executives, including Richard Branson of Virgin Group Ltd., joined government officials, scientists and activists in expressing concern about the health of the planet at the talks this week.
“We’re using the ocean as a universal sewer, and that’s true wherever you live,” Jean-Michel Cousteau, 74, the eldest son of the French ocean explorer Jacques, said on a panel discussion at the conference. “We are putting a lot of pressure on the planet. It’s not getting any better.”
The text pledges negotiations toward a new set of “sustainable development” goals, though it will be left to future meetings to define those targets.
“This is a first step, not a long step,” said Quamrul Chowdhury, an envoy from Bangladesh who negotiates on finance for the G77 group of developing countries. “The whole document emphasizes business commitments. It opens up a window for cooperation between the public sector and the private. It’s not the classic notion the public sector can do it all alone.”
The accord represents an effort to chart the middle ground between countries such as the European Union’s 27 members, which want to push a “green economy” that includes renewable power and energy-efficiency measures, and poorer nations whose priority is lifting people out of poverty rather than pursuing expensive clean technologies.
Friends of the Earth International, another environmental group, said the UN process has been taken over by big business, which has diverted the traditional priorities of standing up for the poor and protecting the Earth.
“Governmental positions have been increasingly hijacked by narrow corporate interests linked to polluting industries,” said Nnimmo Bassey, chairman of Friends of the Earth. “The UN is increasingly catering to the demands of corporate interests.”
Delegates inserted “toothless language” into their agreement that will do little to roll back carbon dioxide emissions or protect the oceans from toxic waste, said Jim Leape, director general of the WWF environmental group.
“The text has lots of words that ‘commit’ parties to nothing -- such as ‘commit to promote’ and ‘commit to systematically consider,’” Leape said. “Diplomats in Rio are letting the world down.”
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