The optimistic spirit that suffused the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, five years ago was nowhere to be found Friday as delegates to the special U.N. session on the environment papered over deep differences at the heart of the international environmental agenda.
With the speechmakers largely gone, the delegates were working toward a session-ending document - broad in scope but short on details - that encompassed the least controversial provisions on which they could agree.
Whether dealing with issues of forestry, global warming or dwindling foreign aid, the debate in the end revolved around the questions of who pays, and how much?
Throughout the week, representatives of the developing nations were consistent in their complaint that the industrialized countries failed to meet their Rio pledge to increase foreign aid to 0.7 percent of their nations’ gross national product.
The developing countries say they need the money to pay the higher costs of building their economies in an environmentally responsible way.
The debate over finances demonstrated a dramatic shift that has accompanied the globalization of the world economy:
Control of the environmental agenda in the developing world follows a money trail that is now trod less by governmental foreign aid donors - carrying the conditions they attach to assistance - and more by corporate interests weighed down by few environmental regulations.
“With private capital, you don’t have the public pressure levers available,” said Hilary French, vice president for research of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C.
The private sector’s share of capital flowing to the developing world has surged to 84 percent, compared to less than 50 percent in 1990, French said. During that same period, the size of the foreign investment has bulged from $44 billion to $234 billion last year, according to the World Bank.
In the session’s final document, intended to set a path toward implementing the Agenda 21 that came out of the Earth Summit, the delegates:
Called on developed nations to meet the commitment to provide foreign aid totaling 0.7 percent of gross national product. Since Rio, aid has fallen from 0.35 percent to 0.3 percent - and U.S. aid has dropped from 0.2 percent to 0.1 percent - of the value of the nations’ goods and service.
Sidestepped a proposal for an international forestry treaty opposed by the United States and most environmental organizations. A special panel was appointed to study the issue.
Warned of a coming shortage of fresh water, saying that more than one-fifth of the Earth’s population has no access to safe drinking water and that this number is growing.
Called for the phasing out of leaded gasoline, which fouls the air throughout much of the developing world, “as soon as possible.”
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