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Rio+20: Race against clock as wrangle heads for overtime
  • | AFP | June 16, 2012 08:19 AM
Talks on a new global charter to protect the environment and eradicate poverty were heading into overtime as officials admitted they faced a battle to seal a deal ahead of a UN summit.
  European Union Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potocnik, delivers a speech at the European Union pavilion in Jacarepagua, 50 km from Rio de Janeiro's downtown where countries and organizations show their projects for a "green" future at the Rio+20 Conference.
The cornerstone document of the June 20-22 Rio+20 summit aims at setting a path for nurturing the planet's natural bounty and promoting green growth.

But after five months of wrangling, talks on a draft entered their final scheduled day on Friday with agreement on only 28 percent of the 81-page text, officials said.

Responsibility for steering the haggle was expected to be handed on Saturday to Brazil, the conference host, said Nikhil Seth of the UN's Division for Sustainable Development.

"It's everyone's hope that by (June) 19 at the latest, everything will be wrapped up," he said.

"There is a sense of optimism, but in every room there is a sense also that the enemy now is time."

Brazilian delegation chief Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, confirming the target date, said "we have no intention to hand undecided issues to heads of state."

Ahead of next week's UN summit, hundreds of corporate leaders launched a four-day forum here Friday to discuss how the private sector could help advance sustainable development goals.

In opening remarks, Georg Kell, executive director of the UN Global Compact, underscored the key role of "innovation and collaboration" in the process.

The Global Compact, a UN initiative to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, has 7,000 corporate participants in 135 countries.

Forum organizers said private-public partnerships and more than 100 corporate commitments would be announced and recommendations would be submitted to Rio+20 summit leaders next week.

The Conference on Sustainable Development is the 20-year followup to the Earth Summit, when UN members made historic agreements to combat climate change, wildlife loss and desertification.

An expected turnout of 116 heads of state or government will cap a week-long gathering of as many as 50,000 activists, business executives and policymakers.

Progress on the so-called outcome document has been mired by discord, often pitching developing economies against rich ones.

"There are lively discussions still going on," the US special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern, said in a conference call with journalists. "There's still a lot to be wrestled with."

Problems include a set of sustainable development goals to succeed the UN's Millennium Development Goals, due to expire in 2015, to encourage the green economy and mustering funds to promote sustainable development. Poorer countries are calling for $30 billion a year.

But another area of friction is over how or whether to reaffirm the "Rio Principles" set down in the 1992 summit, which say countries have "common but differentiated responsibilities."

The phrase is designed to ensure that poor countries do not have to shoulder the same burden as rich countries in fixing Earth's environmental problems.

But Stern was scathing, saying the phrase belonged to an era when China and other countries that today are emerging giant economies were far poorer and less able to contribute.

The summit is taking place against a backdrop of ever-worsening news on the environment, while financial crises in rich economies have slashed the political will for concessions.

A colorful counter-conference got under away at a Rio park, with the dramatic appearance of 82-year-old Amazonian chief Raoni, stomping and brandishing a club.

The "People's Summit" will feature several different demonstrations, including a main march expected to draw 50,000 people on June 20, when the official Rio+20 gets underway.

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