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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Mbeki picks greens' brains pre-summit
'Let the poor live' graffiti
Campaigners will pressure big business at the summit

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has asked campaigners to tell him their priorities for the World Development Summit which starts here on 26 August.

The meeting, called by Mr Mbeki, lasted several hours.

Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Worldwide Fund for Nature, and other environment and development groups took part.

The president said he hoped to see them again during the summit.

The conference, whose title is the World Summit on Sustainable Development, is already beset by low expectations and warnings that it will be little more than a talking shop.

Mr Mbeki will chair the summit, which is due to end on 4 September.

Good company

He spent two hours with campaigners on Thursday at a hotel in Pretoria, accompanied by Valli Moosa, South African Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth UK was one of the campaigners present.

"The president asked us what we thought should be happening," he told BBC News Online.

Thabo Mbeki
Mbeki took notes during the meeting
"He didn't say much himself, but he listened hard and took a lot of notes. He didn't make any commitments, but he did say he was looking for input for the speeches he'll be making."

The campaigners told the president they wanted the delegates to discuss a convention on corporate accountability, to ensure that trans-national corporations had to be answerable to the people of the countries where they operate.

They accept that Johannesburg will produce no conventions, but say it could lay the foundations for them, as the 1992 Rio Earth Summit did on desertification.

Chief among their concerns are the role played by international trade and the future of energy generation.

They urged on Mr Mbeki the need for a target for switching to renewable forms of energy.

Tony Juniper told BBC News Online "It's very encouraging to have the chair of the summit inviting campaigners in to discuss the key issues before it begins, and it's an unusual move."

Mood of pessimism

Many environmental groups have been disheartened by the absence of binding targets and timetables from the summit documents, and by the weakness of the language they use.

They see the Johannesburg summit as marking a retreat from the positions adopted in the original Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago.

The United States has attracted particular criticism for wanting to drop the so-called precautionary principle - that action should be taken on the environment to prevent problems, rather than waiting for problems to arise.

The US has also been increasingly strident in its demands that developing countries should take firm action on issues like global warming.

"Developing countries didn't create the problems the summit has to resolve," said Tony Juniper.

He said that campaigners felt during their meeting with Mr Mbeki that they had had some serious input into the summit preparations.

"We told the president we were ready to work with him to make it a success. We'll be very interested to see whether the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, spends his time here talking with campaigners who represent the interests of real people, or whether he meets big business instead."

See also:

20 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
22 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
22 Aug 02 | Africa
20 Aug 02 | Africa
22 Aug 02 | Business
21 Aug 02 | In Depth
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