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Archive for Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Money the root of U.N. summit angst

August 20, 2002

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— When world leaders gather at the 10-year follow-up to the Earth Summit next week, Pascal van den Noort wants them to think about bicycles.

The Dutch campaigner behind Bikes for Africa, which refurbishes used bikes in the West and sells them cheaply to Africa, talks about how cycling can alleviate poverty by enabling people to take jobs outside the communities.

They aid education by getting children to distant rural schools quicker, he adds, and promote gender equality by making women usually the last ones with access to cars more mobile.

"I want to take cycling away from the Spandex and helmet crowd and make it relevant," says the boisterous van den Noort. "Cycling is not the solution to every problem, but it helps."

But the developing world wants much more than used bicycles from the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which aims at finding environmentally friendly ways to enrich the world's poor.

Many say prior summit commitments are being neglected, especially as world attention shifted after Sept. 11.

"I think the tensions are going to be ... about 'Show me the money,"' said Lilian Chatterjee of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London.

When leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the atmosphere was more optimistic: the Iron Curtain had just collapsed, the Gulf War was won, Asian tiger economies were roaring, and dot-coms booming.

Today, "the international political situation is fragile," says Jan Pronk, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy to the conference. In addition to the war on terrorism, the Middle East crisis is flaring, and world economies are shaky.

"In 1992, people were ready to talk about sustainable development," a senior European Union official said. Now, "I fear that it's going to be rather difficult to sell."

The final pre-summit meeting in Indonesia in June was not very encouraging.

Poor countries accused the rich of failing to live up to commitments to increase foreign aid, and of hypocrisy for demanding open markets while maintaining their own agriculture subsidies and trade barriers for steel. Rich countries demanded more emphasis on eradicating corruption.

Two extra days of pre-summit negotiating, Saturday and Sunday, have been added in a last push for compromise.

Annan wants world leaders to focus on delivering results for the world's poor in five key areas:

Clean water and sewage treatment;

Energy supplies and the search for new, sustainable sources;

Fighting killer diseases, including AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis;

Increasing agricultural productivity and reversing land degradation;

Preserving biodiversity and improving ecosystem management.

This agenda is a huge expansion over the 1992 conference, which set in motion the process that led to the Kyoto protocol on climate change. The pact has yet to go into force, largely because the United States pulled out last year.

With the European Union and Japan on board, it can still be saved if Russia ratifies. U.N. officials are hoping Russian President Vladimir Putin will commit at the summit to do so by the end of the year.

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