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White House Undermining Environment Summit

By Chris Baltimore -Reuters

Wed Jul 24, 6:03 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When global leaders gather next month at an environmental summit in Johannesburg, the Bush administration will try to block discussion about heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming , the head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said on Wednesday.

Some 100 heads of state are expected to attend the summit, which will focus on the Kyoto treaty's aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized countries, as well as the clean water, sanitation and electricity needs of developing nations.

The United States is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which are produced by automobiles and electric utilities.

Sen. Jim Jeffords, a Vermont independent who chairs the Senate's environmental panel, accused the White House of trying to "keep global climate change off of the agenda" at the Johannesburg meeting.

The administration will likely send a "smaller and lower- level delegation that has sought to narrow the scope of the discussions," Jeffords said at a Senate hearing on international environmental treaties.

Many Democrats and environmental groups criticized President Bush 's decision last year to pull the United States out of the Kyoto treaty, which would have required it to cut greenhouse gas emissions seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Bush said the targets would be too costly for the U.S. economy.

Japan, all 15 European Union members and a dozen other nations have signed the treaty. It is expected to be ratified by enough countries by the end of the year to go into effect.

Bush administration officials testified that, while the U.S. delegation to the Johannesburg meeting has not yet been chosen, the White House is committed to act on global warming.

The Washington delegation may be led by Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky, although a final decision has not yet been made, according to John Turner, an assistant secretary at the State Department.

Some countries that support the Kyoto treaty are also trying to downplay the issue at the summit meeting, Turner said.

"Many of the advocates of Kyoto hope to keep it off the agenda because they want ratification of the treaty. They don't want countries to come and start renegotiating, seeking more advantages in the Kyoto process," Turner told reporters after the hearing.

The summit would accomplish more by focusing on other environmental issues, he said.

The Bush administration views clean water and health issues as the top two U.S. priorities at the environmental summit, Turner said.

"Taking care of the environment means talking care of people," he said.

During the hearing, the administration officials reminded the senators of a White House proposal for U.S. companies to voluntarily cut greenhouse gas emission "intensity" by 18 percent over the coming decade. The proposal, which is due to be finalized by January 2004, would also allow companies to trade emissions credits.

The plan has been criticized by green groups, which say it would allow greenhouse gases to rise in tandem with the U.S. economy instead of requiring real cuts.

The administration wants to hold U.S. greenhouse gas emissions "at a level that will prevent dangerous interference with the climate," said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. But "given current scientific uncertainties, no one knows what that level is," he told the Senate panel.

The Kyoto treaty would have cost the U.S. economy $400 billion and wiped out as many as 4.9 million jobs, according to White House calculations.

Earth Summit Hijacked By Bush's Globalization and Big Business

Paul Brown
UK Guardian

The earth summit has been hijacked by big business and the original goals of enhancing the lives of the world's poor are fast disappearing, according to research by an aid agency seen by the Guardian.

Christian Aid has launched a blistering attack on the business community in the lead-up to the world summit on sustainable development, which opens in Johannesburg on August 26.

Business has greater access and influence than any other group and we are concerned that the agenda is being unduly skewed towards the wishlists of companies and away from those of the poor.
Christian Aid
Binding regulations on companies, covering such issues as human rights and the environment, have been dropped in favor of voluntary codes, its report says. The draft plan now calls only for the "promotion of corporate accountability and responsibility and the exchange of best practices".

It blames this on specially formed lobby groups including Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD), supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce.

"Business has greater access and influence than any other group and we are concerned that the agenda is being unduly skewed towards the wishlists of companies and away from those of the poor," the agency says. Its report concludes: "Ten years after the Rio earth summit, the Johannesburg summit offers the chance to place corporate accountability at the center of sustainable development. Corporate influence means this does not look like happening."

Business leaders last night said the summit was an intergovernmental conference and they had no more influence as observers than any other non-governmental organization.

As for regulation of corporate accountability, BASD said: "It is up to individual governments to look at what is feasible, possible and desirable. NGOs have the best interests of developing countries and small and medium-sized companies at heart but they have not really thought through the consequences."

Tougher rules could set standards that many smaller firms could not meet, leading to decreased investment in developing countries.

But Christian Aid points to comments made by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, last September, who said: "We cannot leave companies to regulate themselves globally, any more than we do in our national economies."

The agency is not the only NGO to complain that the summit has come under the sway of big business. This week Friends of the Earth said a "creeping corporate takeover of the UN itself" was under way.

Meanwhile, the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said yesterday he was delighted to have been picked as part of the five-strong ministerial team to attend the summit, after Downing Street announced it had reinstated him in the British delegation.

Mr Meacher had been dropped on the instructions of Tony Blair, who was concerned Britain was taking too many ministers in a delegation of 100 to what will be the world's biggest conference.

After the Guardian reported that Mr Meacher had been excluded, enraged environmental groups offered to pay his fare and hotel bill so Britain could be represented by the only minister they think fully understands the issues.

"Of course I am delighted to be going," Mr Meacher said. "Now we have settled the delegation I hope we can concentrate on the issues involved. I believe [these are] pushing forward the agenda on energy, water, health, food security and biodiversity to make the world better for the poor and underdeveloped countries."

Environmentalists Blame Bush for Failing Earth Summit

Reuters News Service

WASHINGTON - Next's month Earth Summit in South Africa may not produce a concrete plan for sustainable development, but still could be a successful breeding ground for new ideas, a U.S. official said this week.

U.S. Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas acknowledged the potential for the August 26-September 4 meeting in Johannesburg to be dominated more by talk than action.

"We're not at the stage ... (where) we've got a concrete five-point annual plan we can follow through on," Aldonas said at a conference on trade and development issues.

"There's a sense that it will be a gaggle and we ought to use it as gaggle. As a consequence, one of the things that you want to do is not to lose the opportunity to put new ideas out on the table to change the future of the debate," he said.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) seeks to halve the number of people living in poverty by 2015 while curbing pollution.

South Africa says it expects more than 100 world leaders and around 60,000 participants at the summit and parallel meetings held by nongovernmental organizations and business.

U.S. President George W. Bush is not expected at the summit, although both French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have pledged to attend.

Bush does plan to visit Africa in 2003, following recent trips by Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

Commerce Secretary Don Evans also plans a trip to Africa by the end of the year, Aldonas said.

Many environmentalists blame the United States for the current low expectations for the summit by putting the brakes on environmentally-friendly policies for water and sanitation, energy, agricultural productivity, biodiversity and health.

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