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Earth Summit Convenes to Strategize on Sustainable Development; Bush Conspicuously Absent

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (also known as the Earth Summit) began today in Johannesburg, South AfricaÑwith more than 100 world leaders convening to hammer out plans to battle such global environmental and economic problems as over-consumption, depletion of natural resources, global warming and poverty. While heads of state for most of the US’ closest allies will be in attendance for the 10-day, United Nations-sponsored summit, US President George Bush has chosen not to attendÑsending Christie Todd Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Secretary of State Colin Powell, among others, in his place. The summit is the 10-year follow-up to the Rio Summit, which Bush’s father, former US President George Bush, attended in 1992. Leaders at the Rio Summit adopted “Agenda 21,” a detailed plan promoting sustainable development worldwide. However, the Natural Resources Defense Council points out that there has been a severe lack of implementation of these measures. Environmental groups and developing nations have criticized the United States for its decision not to offer any new funding for sustainable development projects at the summit, according to the New York Times. South African president and host of the summit, Thabo Mbeki, opened the session today with a call to end the severe disparity between the rich and the poor in the world, what he called “islands of wealth, surrounded by a sea of poverty,” according to Reuters. A New York Times editorial criticizes Bush for not attending the summit, further entrenching his reputation as an isolationist, who is unconcerned with global environmental problems such as global warming. This reputation is highlighted by the fact that although the United States is the biggest producer of carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming, Bush chose not to sign the Kyoto Protocol, a worldwide pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The United States is instead a proponent of approaches to sustainable development that include public/private partnerships and accountability among both developed and developing nations. The summit will also be attended by tens of thousands of activists, who are organizing numerous events and workshops alongside the official meetings, such as the Civil Society Global People’s Forum.

Sources:

New York Times 8/26/02, 8/24/02; Reuters 8/26/02, 8/25/02; Agence France Press 8/18/02; Environmental News Service 8/20/02; Natural Resources Defense Council www.nrdc.org