Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – A global summit to root out poverty and fix Earth’s worsening environment was set to wrap up here Friday, issuing a roster of promises that many critics have already branded as pallid or gutless.
The gathering of 191 UN members will crown a 10-day forum marking 20 years since the Earth Summit, where leaders vowed that the world would live within its means.
The three-day summit will voice dismay that more than a billion people live in extreme poverty on a planet strained by ecological overload, and outline the plan for a cure.
“We… renew our commitment to sustainable development, and to ensure the promotion of an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations,” according to a draft 53-page communique.
It highlighted a range of perils facing a world whose human population is set to surge from seven billion today to 9.5 billion by 2050.
The long list includes desertification, fisheries depletion, pollution and deforestation — and the danger that thousands of species will go the way of the dodo.
But a special status is reserved for global warming, described starkly as “one of the greatest challenges of our time.”
“We are deeply concerned that all countries, particularly developing countries, are vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change,” the draft said.
“(They) are already experiencing increased impacts, including persistent drought and extreme weather events, sea-level rise, coastal erosion and ocean acidification, further threatening food security and efforts to eradicate poverty.”
It called for “Sustainable Development Goals” to replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals from 2015, although defining these objectives will be left for future talks.
The strategy also gave a push to the green economy, a concept that breaks new ground in official UN terminology.
But despite the demands of developing countries for $30 billion in help, it stipulated no funding figures to achieve sustainability goals.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the statement as a blueprint for making the world a brighter, safer place.
“This is a very good document, this is the vision on which we can build our dreams, our visions and it is important that the member states are united and work together,” Ban said on Thursday.
Others, though, were withering.
Greens said a revolutionary chance to change a broken economic model had been wasted, while campaigners against poverty railed against greed and selfishness.
“After two years of sophisticated UN diplomacy, we arrive with something that will give us nothing but more poverty, more conflict and more environmental destruction,” said WWF International’s executive director of conservation Lasse Gustavsson.
Ban set the Conference on Sustainable Development as the cornerstone of his plan for fairer, cleaner growth, the “No. 1 priority” of his tenure.
But talk of a summit that would draw as many 130 heads of state or government to give a push was way off the mark.
In the end, less than half of the UN’s rollcall of countries sent their leader, with the remainder represented by deputies, ministers or simply chief negotiators.
Absentees included US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Outside the political arena of the conference, tens of thousands of activists, experts and executives gathered for side events.
Veterans say that this networking may have been the most positive side of the event, helping people to swap knowledge and broker business deals.
Several hundred voluntary pledges were made by corporations, especially in reducing their “carbon footprint” from heat-trapping fossil fuel gases.