Mbeki Steps in to Firm up South African Summit

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, June 19, 2002 (ENS) - With only 69 days to go before the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development opens in Johannesburg, South African President Thabo Mbeki told Parliament Tuesday that he is assuming more responsibility for the success of the summit.

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President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa (Photo courtesy Office of the President)
Mbeki, who will chair the Johannesburg summit, said he will attempt to ensure that a basis for agreement is reached between the developed and developing countries. "We will be starting a process of consultation with the major groupings in the UN system to explore the possibilities of finding consensus," he said during a budget debate.

While the ministerial preparatory conference in Bali, Indonesia that ended June 7, "made significant progress towards reaching consensus on what should underpin sustainable development," Mbeki said, "many issues remain outstanding."

"We have to find ways and means of linking the decisions taken at the Monterry Financing for Development Conference to the outcomes of the Johannesburg Summit," he said.

Mbeki will soon visit Brazil to attend the ceremony to mark the official handover of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) torch to South Africa. The Johannesburg summit is a 10 year follow up to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 at which governments agreed on Agenda 21 as a program of action.

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The 12 story Sandton Convention Centre where the Johannesburg Summit will take place. (Photo courtesy Sandton Convention Centre)
Concern is increasing among South African politicians over whether heads of state from several key nations will attend.

Environmental affairs and tourism director-general Dr. Chippy Olver told a joint meeting of three parliamentary committees that many heads of state are holding back their decisions of whether or not to attend the summit.

Because of the inconclusive outcome of the Bali conference, "many of them will be keeping that decision in abeyance," he said.

South African MPs say without the attendance of leaders from Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - the summit may not achieve its goals.

A survey conducted by the U.S. based NGO Natural Resources Defense Council and released at the Bali conference shows that 45 countries say their leader will attend the Johannesburg summit, and another 40 that say it is likely that their leaders will attend.

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President George W. Bush (Photo courtesy The White House)
But leaders of the United States, India, China, and the Russian Federation still have not committed themselves to go to Johannesburg.

U.S. President George W. Bush has not decided whether or not he will attend the summit, a White House aide told ENS today.

Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson is virtually certain to attend the Johannesburg Summit as he is this year's chair of the United Nations Environment Programme's Governing Council, a spokesman with his office told ENS.

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Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien hosts this year's G-8 Summit. (Photo courtesy Government of Canada)
But Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has not announced whether or not he will attend. Chretien and the other G-8 leaders are likely to announce their decisions at the upcoming G-8 Summit set for June 26 in Kananaskis, Alberta, Canada where Africa is a primary focus with entertainment and political messages emphasizing its importance.

The European Union countries are committed to attend and are actively involved in the WSSD process.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair met on Monday with four young people to get their views on issues that are important to address at the summit. Number 10 Downing St. said they expressed concern about renewable energy, world poverty, quality of species and habitats and access to fresh water.

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Nitin Desai of India is secretary-general of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Photo courtesy ENB) (Photo courtesy )
WSSD Secretary-General Nitin Desai gave a briefing Tuesday at UN Headquarters in New York on the state of WSSD negotiations. A decision was made in Bali to send to Johannesburg the text as it was when the preparatory meeting closed on June 7. No changes to the text will be made before Johannesburg and any work done in between will have to be put forward by delegations once the summit begins August 26, Desai said.

About 73 percent of the text has been agreed and 27 percent remains bracketed, which means agreement has not yet been reached. Almost all of the bracketed text is in the chapters on globalization and means of implementation, especially those sections dealing with trade and finance.

Find out more about the World Summit on Sustainable Development online at: http://www.iisd.ca/wssd/portal.asp