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Green Fury As Britain Welcomes Rio Summit’s ‘Epic Failure’

As world leaders arrive in Rio for the second Earth Summit, an international agreement on a suite of issues is all but wrapped up, the Environment Secretary has said. But NGOs and charities have said that the text produced by the negotiators from 193 countries is so weak as to be almost worthless.

After months of negotiation, the 50-page document calls for the creation of sustainable development goals, similar to the millennium development goals created in 2000 to combat world poverty. It also promotes the idea of corporate accounts including measures of sustainability.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, joins 130 world leaders flying into Brazil today and Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for the Environment says she expects them to sign the document, as it stands, by the deadline on Friday.

The conference comes 20 years after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which led to the Kyoto protocols on greenhouse gas emissions and was the largest environmental gathering in history. With 50,000 delegates, this year’s conference is of a similar scale, but key world leaders including David Cameron, President Obama and Chancellor Merkel are absent.

Jim Leape, international director general of WWF, hoped that today’s document would be renegotiated: “It’s pathetic. It’s appalling. If this becomes the final text the last year has been a colossal waste of time. Looking at this from the outside, you have to laugh.”

Friends of the Earth are even stronger in their disapproval, calling the plans “an epic failure”.

But in a briefing to UK journalists Ms Spelman argued that the text was as good as any outcome agreed by 193 countries could be – and she expects it to now be rubber-stamped by the world leaders.

“The NGOs might disagree,” she says of WWF’s response, “but then pressure groups are there to pressure.”

A key criticism of the text is that while it recognises many of the issues involved in creating sustainable economies, such as tackling poverty and altering consumption patterns, it is short on firm commitments.

Barry Gardiner, a Labour MP visiting the summit, said, “We’re going backwards, not forwards. I want to see a commitment to clear and specific actions to improve the environment. I’ve no interest in text that is high on rhetoric but is something where anyone could say, ‘That’s a good thing’.”

The Times, 20 June 2012