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Saturday June 28 [1997] 3:03 PM EDT

Deeds Don't Match Words at UN Earth Summit

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuter) - A week-long U.N. Earth Summit closed Saturday with its chairman telling delegates from 170 nations: "Our words have not been matched by deeds."

Razali Ismail, the blunt Malaysian U.N. General Assembly president, called the results of the session attended by dozens of presidents and prime ministers "sobering" as environmentalists as well as poor nations expressed disappointment in the results.

He accused the more than 170 participating nations of being at the mercy of special interests and lacking the "political will to tackle critical issues" set out at a landmark 1992 environment summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Specifically, delegates made no firm commitments on greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate changes or on providing more aid to developing countries so they would not follow the polluting paths of wealthier nations.

Prospects, however, were good for new agreements on protecting fresh water in separate talks after the conference ended. On protecting forests, the session put off until 2000 a decision on whether to negotiate a treaty, pushed by Europe, Canada, Malaysia and Russia but opposed by the United States and Brazil.

Echoing Razali's words, Tanzania's U.N. Ambassador Daudi Ngelautwa Mwakawago, representing Third World states, told the meeting: "The world is crying for positive answers. This session has not provided them."

Most industrial countries pledged at Rio to increase foreign aid to 0.7 percent of their gross national product, a goal on the U.N. agenda since 1972. Only Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands have ever achieved this goal. Elsewhere aid has fallen to below 0.3 percent, with the United States registering the sharpest drop in the last few years.

The conference marked a growing divide between North and South. Jan Pronk, the development minister of the Netherlands, whose country holds the European presidency, told reporters he had tried to get strong language on aid commitments but developing countries did not even bother to show up at a meeting he called and the United States objected .

"There is a crisis of credibility and a crisis of confidence as well as a breakdown of good will between the rich and the poor nations," said Martin Khorr, an activist with the Third World Network of non-governmental groups.

After five days of speechmaking, the conference's main committee completed its work in a lighthearted atmosphere as a blizzard of amendments was gaveled into acceptance.

The paper patchwork was then stitched together and passed on to the General Assembly's plenary, which adopted it in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The final summit document, however, failed to include a political statement of intent because governments could not agree on one.

Instead a more general, shorter preamble was attached to the voluminous final document reaffirming the lofty principles set forth in Rio that enshrined the concept of "sustainable development" -- economic growth compatible with social justice and ecological safety.

While acknowledging some achievements, the text said: "We are deeply concerned that the overall trends for sustainable development are worse today than they were in 1992."

In the intervening five years, forests, farmland and marine life is dwindling, oceans are overfished, pollution has multiplied and the rising number of poor are threatening to use whatever resources are available just to stay alive.

A major battle is expected to take place before agreements on global warming are reached among industrial states meeting in Kyoto, Japan, in December.

The summit document speaks of "widespread but not universal agreement" on considering "legally binding, meaningful, realistic and equitable targets (that) will result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within specified time frames."

The European Union wanted specific goals now, which the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia rejected.

President Clinton in a Thursday speech dwelled at length on the hazards of global warming and promised to educate the American people on the need to reduce use of energy and the dangers of carbon emissions.

He admitted the United States was the world's largest polluter, but he set no new targets.


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