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U.N. Earth Summit hits snag

Bali protest
Civil society groups are protesting against alleged environmental destruction by developed nations  

By Atika Shubert
CNN Jakarta

BALI, Indonesia -- Bickering among poor and rich nations as well as civil society groups may prevent the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development from issuing a crucial action plan on the environment.

The Bali conference officially ends on Friday night but as of Friday afternoon, delegates were no closer to completing the implementation plan to be signed off by world leaders at the upcoming Johannesburg Summit in August -- the 10 year follow up to the historic Rio Earth Summit.

Severe differences between delegates and non-governmental organizations, however, have resulted in what some critics say is a step backwards since Rio.

"It was meant to be an opportunity to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Earth Summit. Unfortunately, what we have, instead of moving forward to Rio plus 10, we are moving completely backward to Rio minus 10," said Melanie Steiner of World Wildlife Fund.

"Our position here as civil society organizations is that we need to leave the text open for Johannesburg. Essentially, no deal is better than a really bad deal coming out of here."

In the 1992 Rio Summit, U.N. member states pledged to rehabilitate the world's environment by cutting down on current unsustainable consumption habits that studies say are exhausting the world's natural resources -- from disappearing rain forests to water scarcity.

At the same time, nations pledged to help developing nations to rise above poverty without ruining a country's environment and depleting natural resources.

Broken promises

Ten years later, critics say none of Rio's lofty goals have been accomplished. Some member nations have reneged on their promises, failing to implement or ratify appropriate legislation or policies.

The Bali Conference was intended to introduce civil society groups into the negotiations, a way of heading off the massive anti-globalization protests that have tarnished other world summits.

Rather than cooperation, the conference has been marked by a widening divide between poor and rich nations -- that is developed countries content with consumption patterns as they stand, and developing nations insisting that richer nations fund more efforts to cut consumption and help alleviate poverty.

"The developing country governments want change because the development in the 20th century is a divergence. The rich are getting richer; the poor are getting poorer. That needs to be changed," explained Emil Salim, Chairman of the Bali conference and a leading member of the Indonesian delegation,

Undermining efforts

Yet civil society groups accuse a group of richer nations, led by the United States, of undermining efforts at sustainable development.

"Government, led by the Bush administration, but also Canada and Australia, are essentially working hard to make sure nothing positive comes out of the process. They're blocking absolutely any progress on concrete action plans and that's had a terrible domino effect here," said the WWF's Steiner.

NGOs are asking nations to achieve concrete environmental goals by definitive deadlines, all under the supervision of international agencies.

Delegations like the U.S. have staunchly opposed these proposals, saying goals should be more flexible and that governance should come from a national level with an emphasis on trade liberalization. Nonetheless, US delegates dismiss the debate as a minor difference of opinion.

"Basically, sustainable development has to be dealt with at home," said U.S. delegation head and Deputy Secretary of State on Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky.

"Some have said they want to embrace new goals. That's been where the issue is. Why take on others that may not be as achievable when we have these set of goals that we must address at this time?"

Delegates will be faced with the difficult task of deciding whether or not to continue the debate at Johannesburg, a move endorsed by the majority of civil society groups, or to complete the plan of implementation in Bali, despite the continuing debate.


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