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Environmentalists Say Summit a Huge Letdown

Environmentalists in Germany say agreements reached in Johannesburg are so watered-down that they actually set the clock back on poverty eradication and the environment.


Protests during US Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech in Johannesburg

Politicians and environmentalists alike were disappointed on Wednesday by the 65-page agreement coming out of the Johannesburg summit, which they said carried little by way of solid targets and commitments for combating poverty and healing an ailing environment.

Non-government organizations at the summit lambasted the blueprint, which they described as nothing more than toothless rhetoric and a missed opportunity. The only specific targets came in two areas – halving the number of people who don't have access to safe drinking water and clean sanitation by 2015 and establishing marine protection networks to bring fish stocks back to their natural levels by the same year.

No goals for renewable energy

But the setbacks seemed much greater than the successes. German and European negotiators failed to deliver a deal that would have put binding targets and commitments on expanding the use of renewable energies, including wind and solar power. Though EU negotiators tried to secure a deal at the 11th hour, the resistance they faced from the U.S., OPEC nations and Canada, Japan and Australia became insurmountable.

"It's a clear victory for the Americans, the Saudis, the OPEC nations and every country that is against transforming the worldwide energy supply in the direction of sustainable development," said Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace. "That's the worst possible conclusion we could have had because it's no conclusion at all."

A bitterly disappointed Angelika Zahrnt, of the German chapter of Friends of the Earth (BUND), described the largest UN event ever held as the "summit of sustainable disappointment." The Development Service of the Protestant church, meanwhile, said the summit fell far short of expectations and the level of environmental protection and development policies that are needed.

"At best, what happened during the past 10 days in Johannesburg was damage control," said Jens Marten, a director of the German organization World Economy, Ecology and Development (WEED). "The action plan adopted today will not be enough to solve the urgent global environmental and development problems we are facing. ... The Bush administration-led effort to blockade the conference defeated progress in the areas of climate protection and increased usage of renewable energies," he said.

Europe to push ahead with like-minded countries

But summit organizers and European leaders were more sanguine in their assessments.

The EU's Energy Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, said the 15-nation EU would move ahead and form "a coalition of like-minded countries and regions" that will increase the use of renewable energies according to strict time targets despite the U.S.' recalcitrance.

"Setting time-bound targets will give us a clearer timeframe for delivering the substantial increase (in renewable energy) to which the international community has committed itself here in Johannesburg," she said.

Responding to the action plan adopted Wednesday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder hailed Johannesburg as a success "because it made an important start in many elements of modern politics -- on the energy issue, on the water issue and on biodiversity."

Germany's Environment Minister, Jürgen Trittin, also tried to shine a brighter light on the summit: "Of course we Europeans haven't achieved everything we set out to. We had to find a consensus with 190 other countries. But we did manage to set clear targets on the provision of clean water supplies."

"We should not let our disappointment cloud the way we see reality," he said.

Good news for Kyoto

The summit did produce good news for the beleaguered Kyoto Protocol, whose future had been in limbo following a U.S.-led initiative to thwart the global warming treaty.

This week, leaders from China, Russia and Canada all said their governments would ratify the Kyoto Protocol, bringing together enough countries to put it into effect. Canada and Russia were two of the major states that were alongside the U.S. in opposing Kyoto. The fact that they are now onboard highlights the failure of the U.S. and Australia to keep the issue of climate change out of the Johannesburg summit.

And that put U.S. leaders on the defensive Wednesday. Speaking before the crowd at Johannesburg on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell defended his country's environmental record. "The United States is taking action to meet environmental challenges, including global climate change," he told the crowd, even as he was heckled and booed by environmental groups in the audience who chanted "Shame on Bush."

Explaining the U.S.'s resistance to setting firm targets on sustainable energy usage and other areas, Powell said concrete actions were more important than paper targets.

"Plans are good, but actions can put clean water in the mouths of thirsty young girls and boys, prevent the transmission of the deadly AIDS virus from mother to child and preserve the biodiversity of a fragile African ecosystem," he said.

  • Date 04.09.2002
  • Author With Reporting in Johannesburg by Jennifer Macey
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2c1U
  • Date 04.09.2002
  • Author With Reporting in Johannesburg by Jennifer Macey
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2c1U