SPECIAL REPORT

SHOWDOWN AT THE RIO SUMMIT

THE OBSTACLES ARE DAUNTING

MARK NICHOLS May 25 1992
SPECIAL REPORT

SHOWDOWN AT THE RIO SUMMIT

THE OBSTACLES ARE DAUNTING

MARK NICHOLS May 25 1992

SHOWDOWN AT THE RIO SUMMIT

THE OBSTACLES ARE DAUNTING

SPECIAL REPORT

Early next month, delegates from about 175 nations will gather in a convention centre on the southern outskirts of Rio de Janeiro for the opening of the biggest—and perhaps the most important—environmental conference in history. After opening speeches by UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt and Brazil’s President Fernando Collor de Mello, a diffident 63-year-old Canadian named Maurice Strong will address the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). For the past 2Vi years, Strong has been in charge of arranging the 12-day conference known as the Earth Summit, which gets under way on June 3. Strong will also play a crucial role in running the conference and working behind the scenes in an effort to produce agreements among rival blocs of nations. That will be a formidable undertaking, because the Rio conference is intended to produce accords aimed at slowing and eventually halting damage to the Earth’s environment. “My job is supporting and facilitating,” Strong told Maclean’s. “With 175 governments involved, there will obviously have to be a lot of facilitating.”

Indeed, the goals set for the Rio conference—which is expected to attract more than 20,000 delegates, observers and journalists, and more than 100 heads of state and government—may be impossibly high. In effect, the conference is intended to usher in a new world order governed by the principles of sustainable development, an ideology that calls for reduced rates of consumption and development to preserve the environment. At the same time, the conference agenda calls for steps to declare war on global poverty and curtail practices that some scientists claim are damaging the Earth’s atmosphere, its biological diversity and its waters. Said Sarah Bums, an official with the

World Resources Institute, a Washingtonbased environmental organization: “The summit will be the first time in the post-Cold War era that the nations of the world have come together to discuss the key issues facing the planet.”

Demands: The sweeping summit proposals, which include measures to curtail toxic wastes, reduce energy consumption and halt pollution of the world’s oceans, have opened divisions between rich and poor countries. They have also triggered demands by developing nations for a massive transfer of money from the industrialized nations of the Northern Hemisphere to help finance environmental reforms in the often poverty-stricken southern portion of the globe. Indeed, officials in Strong’s UNCED secretariat have estimated that $150 billion might be needed annually to help pay for the summit’s goals. Third World officials warned that if the funds are not forthcoming, there will be little action on their part to protect the environment. “The question of funding is abso-

lutely crucial,” said Jamsheed Marker, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations. “Without that, nothing is possible.”

At the same time, critics claimed that opposition by some nations to important summit proposals had doomed the conference to failure. They pointed to a draft convention on global warming that was agreed on in New York City earlier this month and will go to Rio for signature. The document aims at an eventual reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO 2) and other manmade gases that some scientists say could cause an eventual heating of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Controls: Critics charged that the draft convention, which contains no specific targets or deadlines for reducing emissions, represented a major concession to the United States. Washington opposed any measures that could slow the U.S. economy by requiring tough new controls on C02 emissions caused by burning coal, natural gas or petroleum products. Three days after the convention was ratified, President George Bush, who had threatened to stay away from the Rio summit, announced that he would attend after all. The vaguely worded draft convention on global warming angered some environmentalists. Dez dared Daniel Becker, a Washington§ based spokesman for the Sierra Club: g “Bush has ensured that the global Ê warming treaty is meaningless. He

has ensured that the summit will be a failure.”

For his part, Strong conceded that the draft convention did not “go as far as some would like—and I am one who would have liked to see it go further.” Under the terms of the Green Plan, announced in December, 1990, Ottawa is committed to reducing CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Strong argued that the global warming document could lead to an eventual international protocol with specific targets for reducing C02 emissions. “The important thing,” Strong said, “is that the draft treaty provides a basis, an impetus, for continued negotiations.”

In Rio, meanwhile, workers at the Riocentro convention centre installed equipment for simultaneous translation into eight languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese and Japanese). Brazilian police and military officials planned intensive security arrangements to protect visiting heads of state and government. More than 80 national leaders, including Bush, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, British Prime Minister John Major, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, have confirmed that they will attend the Earth Summit, along with important leaders from developing nations, including Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and Peru’s President Alberto Fujimori.

The opening of the summit will mark the start of another gruelling period in the life of Maurice Strong, born in Oak Lake, in southwestern Manitoba. An industrialist and envi-

ronmentalist who holds the rank of undersecretary general of the United Nations, Strong carried out a hectic round of visits to world capitals in April and May, attempting to win support for the conference’s goals. During one 11-day period, Strong logged more than 30,000 miles aboard commercial jetliners and visited nine cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. One of Strong’s stopovers was in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, where officials from 55 developing countries met in April to work out common positions for the Rio conference. Another Canadian who attended that meeting as an observer was Arthur Campeau, the Montreal lawyer who is Mulroney’s personal representative at the Rio summit. When Strong addressed the Third World officials, said Campeau, “he brought an important message—that Rio was a month away, and there were major issues that still had to be resolved.”

Principles: The opening of the summit will culminate months of negotiations on a series of key conference documents, including a proposed set of principles aimed at conserving forested areas through more effective reforestation policies. Victor Buxton, an Environment Canada official who heads the federal secretariat in Ottawa that is co-ordinating Canada’s summit preparations, said that some developing nations are opposed to such a document. They hold the view that Canada and other countries developed their own forest resources and improved their quality of life, said Buxton, and only now are looking for a forests conven-

tion that might prevent less developed nations from doing the same thing.

Another contentious issue is a proposed international treaty to protect the world’s stock of genetic diversity—known among environmentalists as “biodiversity”—by preserving endangered plant and animal species. There, too, demands from Third World countries have stalled progress. As repositories of most of the world’s stock of biodiversity, they want a larger share of the profits reaped by pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms that produce new drugs and plant strains from genetic materials found on their territories.

Reforms: One of the fundamental questions looming over the summit was whether money would be available to pay for all the proposed reforms. Strong and other officials involved in pre-summit negotiations predicted that there would be, although the total might fall short of the z $150 billion annually that the UNCED § secretariat calls for—an amount =ï equivalent to the economies of Canada I and Japan. There were widespread

predictions that Kaifu would use the occasion in Rio to announce the alloca-

3 tion of as much as $14 billion to help

fund summit-related projects. Other officials estimated that between $8 billion and $12 billion might be available annually through the Global Environment Facility, an international fund launched by the World Bank and two UN agencies last year to finance major environmental projects.

While some environmentalists said that the watered-down convention on global warming was an inauspicious prelude to the summit, other participants argued that dramatic breakthroughs were not needed for the summit to qualify as a success. Strong noted that a convention on the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer that was signed in Vienna in 1985 was “a much weaker convention than we are now getting on climate change.” But the Vienna Convention led to the Montreal Protocol, under which more than 70 nations are committed to phasing out chemicals damaging to the ozone layer by the end of the century.

Some environmentalists still held out hope that the presence of scores of national leaders in Rio, under the glare of worldwide media coverage, would in the end produce dramatic last-minute agreements on such key such issues as biodiversity and forests. Said Janine Ferretti, executive director of the Torontobased environmental organization Pollution Probe: “I haven’t given up hope. There will be a tremendous pressure for results at Rio. That could make things happen.” And if Maurice Strong, working behind the scenes in Rio de Janeiro, has his way, they will.

MARK NICHOLS with MICHAEL KEPP in Rio de Janeiro and WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington

MICHAEL KEPP

WILLIAM LOWTHER