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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 00:15 GMT
Greens want war on poverty 'apartheid'
Afghan father and child in refugee camp   AFP
Poverty is as great a threat to the world as terrorism, the report says
Alex Kirby

A US research group wants a war on poverty and pollution to match the war on terrorism.

We could all be surprised... it could be President Bush who leads the world away from fossil fuels

Gary Gardner, Worldwatc
The group, the Worldwatch Institute, says the division between rich and poor amounts to global apartheid.

Worldwatch says the failure of the 1992 Earth Summit may have made possible last September's terrorist attacks. But it believes a United Nations conference later this year offers a new opportunity.

The conference, due to meet in Johannesburg in August, is the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). It is being held to review progress a decade after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Worldwatch, based in Washington DC, has devoted the current issue of its annual report, State of the World 2002, to examining what has been achieved since 1992.

Funding imbalance

In a preface, the Worldwatch president, Christopher Flavin, writes: "If the lofty social and ecological goals of the Rio Earth Summit had been achieved, it is possible that the crises of the last year would not have occurred."

He says Johannesburg will have to find a way to unite "rich and poor countries - overcoming a sort of global apartheid that was reflected in the divisions that deeply marked the Rio negotiations and that have continued all too strongly since then".

Sleeping tourist in bicycle rickshaw   AP
Worldwatch wants thoughtful tourists
Over the last decade, Worldwatch says, environmental policies have remained a low priority: the UN Environment Programme (Unep) struggles to keep its annual budget of $100m, while global military spending is more than $2bn a day.

Foreign aid fell from $69bn in 1992 to $53bn in 2000, and the developing world's debt has risen by 34% since Rio.

Deaths from Aids increased more than sixfold over the 1990s, the report says, and global carbon dioxide emissions - thought to exacerbating natural climate variability - rose by 9%.

The report's chapters detail the areas where Worldwatch believes the WSSD must make progress:

  • creating a more secure world, by protecting the environment and reducing poverty
  • acting more resolutely to tackle climate change
  • changing agriculture, partly by switching subsidies to support environmentally friendly farming
  • reducing the impact of toxic chemicals and phasing out leaded petrol
  • redirecting international tourism, to protect developing world destinations against ruinous exploitation and to reward them more fairly
  • funding universal access to reproductive health care and ensuring women have better lives
  • breaking the link between resources and repression, to reduce the conflicts over access to minerals, timber, drugs and gems
  • strengthening international treaties and organisations like Unep.
On resource-driven wars, the report cites the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been fuelled in part by the struggle over coltan (columbite-tantalite, used in mobile phones).

Man cuts down opium poppies   AP
Wars over drugs increase repression
Other conflicts it lists are for oil (Colombia, Sudan, Chad and Cameroon), timber (Cambodia), and emeralds, lapis lazuli, opium and heroin (Afghanistan).

Worldwatch says there is a need for stronger global certification systems to screen out illicitly traded products, and for better compliance with UN sanctions.

In a foreword, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, says: "The political and conceptual breakthrough achieved at Rio has not proved decisive enough to break with business as usual.

"The perilous state of our world is an object of genuine, urgent concern."

One of the report's authors, Gary Gardner of Worldwatch, told BBC News Online: "It's the job of organisations like ours to make our case in as dramatic a fashion as the terrorists did last September.

"Some issues are so pressing they can't be ignored for long. The US will find it hard to walk alone on climate policy, for instance.

"We could all be surprised. It was that staunch anti-communist President Nixon who recognised China, and it could be President Bush who leads the world away from fossil fuels."

See also:

04 Jan 02 | Americas
Earth summit: Decade of failure
05 Dec 01 | Business
World Bank: more globalisation
19 Nov 01 | Business
Terror attacks 'will worsen' poverty
10 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Hi-tech poverty battle
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