Fish deal buoys U.N. summit
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- An agreement to protect diminishing fish stocks has been reached at the Earth Summit negotiations in Johannesburg.
But some environmentalists are questioning whether the deal can be enforced against pirate trawlers, while core disputes between rich and poor states over aid and trade were set to continue throughout the 10-day meeting in South Africa.
The draft agreement to replenish overfished waters by 2015 was a first sign of movement on concrete targets at the summit where some 200 countries hope to put together an action plan to reduce world poverty while preserving the environment.
On other crunch issues such as how to bring clean energy and water to the billions of poor who have none, countries remained openly divided, with poorer countries accusing the rich north of failing to live up to past promises.
"We're not pretending things agreed at the summit are the be all and end all but it's the first time there has been a date on fishing stocks," a British delegation official told Reuters. "We think it's a very welcome advance."
Environmentalists, who have knocked the summit for setting low or non-existent targets, welcomed the fisheries plan secured in preparatory talks at the weekend.
"It's pleasing that they have reached agreement on oceans," said Sian Pullen of WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund.
"We would have liked it to be more progressive but it's good compared to some of the other issues which may be going backwards."
However, she added: "It does recognise the need for enforcement but it doesn't say how it's going to be done. It's a major issue and not one that's been adequately addressed."
Under the new agreement, governments will aim to restore fish stocks to a sustainable level by 2015 at the latest, which could require temporary fishing bans.
Governments will also consider setting up permanent non-fishing zones to preserve breeding grounds.
According to the United Nations, more than 70 percent of the world's commercially important fish stocks are over-exploited or heading that way.
Curbing the over-exploitation of natural resources which, if managed properly, could enrich generations way into the future, is one of the main challenges of "sustainable development."
Like the rest of the action plan that heads of state and government are due to agree when they fly in for the summit finale next week, the fisheries agreement is not legally binding. But environmentalists hope it will form a moral basis for action and keep governments under pressure from the public.
In other areas, little progress had been made so far, with the United States resisting calls from European and developing countries to set targets and deadlines not already agreed at previous summits on development and the environment.
Wednesday's keynote talks will include discussions on ways to provide clean water and sanitation for billions who lack them and on using energy, such as solar power, that does not pollute the environment or endanger health.
Amid threats of protest action, South African police are keeping a tight grip around the summit in the plush suburb of Sandton, which lies close to some of Johannesburg's worst slums.
About 20,000 delegates, including government and non-governmental organisation representatives, are meeting during the 10-day event to tackle five key issues: Water and sanitation, energy, health, food security and biodiversity.
More than 100 world leaders are due to attend the summit finale at the start of next week, hoping to finalise an "implementation plan."
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