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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back at Johannesburg Summit

As the Johannesburg summit draws to a close, leaders have reached a major deal on clean water. But a plan to expand renewable energies promoted by Germany has been watered down.


U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and South African President Thabo Mbeki welcomed heads of states on Monday, urging them to emerge from this earth summit with real commitments, targets and timetables to reduce poverty worldwide and protect the environment.

With most of the key issues like biodiversity, water and sanitation targets agreed to, negotiators overnight failed to solve remaining sticking points on energy and globalization despite summit President Mbeki urging delegates to commit to real action.

Schröder pledges one billion euro for clean energy

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (photo) was one of the first of the 109 world leaders to speak and to offer solid action on Monday.

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder auf dem Weltumweltgipfel in Johannesburg

He referred to Germany's devastating floods as an example of the extreme weather conditions the world will face if more isn't done to address the issue of climate change. The European Union, which has ratified the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, is pressuring Russia and other countries to ratify the treaty so that it can come into force.

"These challenges force us to negotiate for our natural environment and the future of our children," German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder told the delegates. "That's why the conference should urge all states to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible so that it can come into force this year. And, in particular, the wealthy states and industrial countries of this world have a special responsibility for the ratification of this protocol."

By Tuesday, Canada, China and Russia said they would seek to ratify Kyoto by the end of the year, which would give the treaty enough signatories to be enacted.

Birtischer Premierminister Tony Blair auf dem Weltumweltgipfel in Johannesburg

In one of the biggest concrete aid pledges to be unveiled so far at the Johannesburg summit, Schröder on Monday announced a five-year, one billion euro plan to help developing nations expand their usage of renewable energies.

Schröder: Open markets to developing countries

Schröder also alluded to the contentious issue of agricultural subsidies, calling on all developed countries to reduce subsidies that prevent developing nations from accessing Western markets. His sentiments were echoed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

UN Generalsekretär Kofi Annan in Johannesburg

"This summit has to set a clear direction for the future for our world," Blair (photo) said. "We must open up our world trade and that must include the developed world opening up its markets to the products of the developing world, especially for agriculture. "

German development minister decries U.S.'s "dinosaur thinking"

U.S. President George W. Bush is one of the most high-profile absences at this year's summit. And American delegates have come to a head with the European Union over the renewable energy targets that commit countries to a 15-percent increase in clean energy technologies like wind and solar power by 2010. The USA and other oil-producing nations managed to keep strict targets out of the final agreement.

Germany had been the main proponent of the renewable energy initiative, and the failure to set a 15-percent goal dealt a setback to the delegation.

On Tuesday, German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul scoffed at the U.S.'s recalcitrance, criticizing the "frightful near-sightedness of the OPEC nations and the USA, which are attached to dinosaur thinking that isn't compatible with the future." German environmental activists also lamented the compromise.

German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin, however, gave the summit's progress so far mixed reviews, lauding the clean water breakthrough while at the same time criticizing the failure to find consensus in other key areas.

Annan calls for courageous pledges

With only one day of negotiations left to go, and no major issues of contention left on the agenda, some commentators are already saying a failure at Johannesburg will result in the end of global conferences on this scale. As the U.N.'s biggest ever conference entered its final phase, Secretary-General Kofi Annan (photo) called on world leaders to show more courage in their decisions. But some now fear Johannesburg may even be a step backwards from the Rio Earth Summit 10 years ago.

Participating countries have, however, established a handful of concrete goals. The United States agreed to join forces in the Millennium Statement of 2000 to cut by half the number of people in the world who do not have access to clean drinking water by 2015.

As a handful of new countries signalled support for the Kyoto Protocol, German Chancellor Schröder appealed to the U.S. to do the same, saying Americans should also "fulfill their responsibilities in the area of climate protection and make an equal contribution toward the reduction of greenhouse gases."

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