To protect the environment, governments must first improve the lives of their poor, U.S. Vice President Al Gore and 12 Latin American presidents agreed Saturday.
“Any attempt to protect our ecological system while ignoring human needs constitutes a political, moral and practical impossibility,” the leaders said in a statement at the two-day Hemispheric Summit for Sustainable Development.
Gore, who opened the summit, said “we cannot be custodians of our freedom if we are not custodians of our environment. We cannot combat poverty without dealing with the degradation of the environment,” he said.
He said the summit’s ambitious goal builds on the foundation of the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and a meeting of hemispheric leaders in 1994 in Miami summit. He said improving water quality throughout the southern hemisphere is also urgent.
Gore said the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Mercosur - a common market among Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay - can be compatible with environmental protection and social development.
Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada called for responsible development, without pollution and unfair burdens on the poor. Some 130 million Latin Americans live in poverty.
“Economic growth must be translated into human development, in improved health and education services and in defeating poverty that exists even in wealthy countries. This is within our reach,” Sanchez de Lozada said.
Also at the summit, Gore and Sanchez de Lozada in a separate meeting approved an effort to protect 2.2 million acres of endangered tropical rain forests and mitigate global emissions.
The $9 million project, supported by The Nature Conservancy, American Electric Power and the Bolivian-based Friends of Nature Foundation, calls for 30-year protection of the land.
The summit marks this tropical city’s debut as a international meeting center. Thirty years ago, Santa Cruz had a population of 35,000. Today, with 700,000 people, it has one of the most modern airports on the continent and a thriving agroindustrial and energy industries.
The summit was organized under the auspices of the Organization of American States.
One of the big issues on the agenda is reconciling economic development with environmental preservation and the need to improve the quality of life for 130 million Latin Americans who live in poverty.
The presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Haiti, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, Surinam, Uruguay were among those present, along with U.N. officials and the heads of international lending institutions and environmental groups.
Gore was scheduled to return to Washington later Saturday.
The following fields overflowed: DATELINE = SANTA CRUZ DE LA SIERRA, BOLIVIA
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