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Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
UN's 'risky' Earth Summit gambit
Boy selling drinks   AP
The summit needs agreements on hope of a better life

The United Nations' strategy for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) is a risk, a senior UN official says.

It aims to secure consensus on uncontentious issues, and purely voluntary agreements on more ambitious goals.

The approach could go a long way to make the summit's goals a reality.

But there are fears it may play into the hands of governments unwilling to make real changes.

The acknowledgement that the UN's strategy is fraught with problems comes from Jan Pronk, the special envoy to the WSSD of the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

Mr Pronk, a former Dutch environment minister, briefing journalists in London, UK, said Johannesburg would need to agree a plan of action, with an agreed timeframe on implementation.

There were three areas, constituting an action plan, needing agreement:

  • Agenda 21, the sustainable development plan of action drawn up at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit
  • the Millennium Goals, which Mr Pronk said effectively meant "halving world poverty by 2015"
  • financial commitments to implement the plan.
There will be two levels of commitment sought from governments: consensus agreements, a sort of lowest common denominator approach, known as type one, and voluntary type two commitments, much more ambitious but entirely voluntary.

Results expected

Mr Pronk said: "Type two is for the many countries which are willing to go further.

Jan Pronk   AP
Jan Pronk: Hopeful
"It will let them set up networks with other countries, with business, and with non-governmental organisations.

He told BBC News Online: "The cynics can certainly say this is something that may let unenthusiastic governments agree very little.

"But the developing countries want agreement on a text first, and then the topping-up through type two agreements.

"That's pragmatism, the only possible approach. This is a UN conference, and countries have been told they'll have to negotiate an outcome.

"It is a risky strategy. But you have to take risks."

Mr Pronk said he thought preparations for Johannesburg had taken "a good turn" since the fractious preparatory meeting in Bali in June.

"All the signs are that the Bali problems are not insurmountable," he said.

Attendance not optional

"I expect the WSSD will be a success, meaning it won't be a failure. But whether it's simply a success or a big success depends on commitment to guarantee the implementation of the action plan.

"Many countries see Johannesburg as an opportunity to address some of the underlying causes of alienation, frustration and the inclination towards violence.

Liberian refugees   BBC
Johannesburg "should tackle roots of violence"
"George Bush should be told he can't afford not to attend. It's not a question of the US doing something for others - the interests of its people are at stake."

The twin-track approach fills some observers with dismay. The UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a key environmental policy campaign body, is among them.

It says it is "concerned that type two agreements are principally a US cover for business as usual, and for governments to produce a weak plan of action".

American support

Liana Stupples, of Friends of the Earth, told BBC News Online: "Type two agreements are an unproven way of trying to run the world on a whim and a guess.

"They give the US a trump card, allowing it to continue to exercise a veto."

But Derek Osborn, chair of the UN Environment and Development UK Committee, told BBC News Online: "Partnerships like this are a good idea, and a complement to effective action.

"That mustn't let governments off the hook. But it's easy to cast all the blame on the US.

"They're not being purely negative, and we sometimes have a beam in our own eye, anyway."

See also:

15 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
24 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
07 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
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