Preparation conference for Johannesburg fails on new renewable energy and sanitation targets

The fourth and final preparation conference (Prep Com IV), held in Bali in the run up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in August, consisted of a minority of nations blocking firm commitments on issues such as renewable energy and sanitation, according to enraged environmentalists. Governments and the UN, however, are more optimistic about the prospects for a positive outcome at Johannesburg.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has stated that the Johannesburg Summit should have five main themes: increasing access to drinking water, energy, agriculture, biodiversity and ecosystem management, and health. According to Annan, these are issues which the world has the technology and the resources to solve, and therefore, governments just need to show the political will, a UN spokesperson told edie.

On emerging from three days of international ministerial talks in Bali, the final part of a conference in which 5,000 people from 170 nations took part, UK Secretary of State for the Environment Margaret Beckett was upbeat about the results of the discussions. “Both developed and developing countries are now well on the way to a successful Earth Summit in Johannesburg,” she said.

“Much has been achieved here in Bali. The talks at times were tough. We were close to achieving more,” said Beckett. “We are building a global partnership to manage the forces of globalisation so that its benefits are available to all. This is not an easy task, as these negotiations have shown. We have to bring everyone with us and that takes time and, frankly, a lot of talking.”

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), however, were deeply disappointed with the outcome of the talks. “From the NGO perspective, there was considerable disenchantment,” Stephen Turner of WaterAid – who was at the Bali conference – told edie.

He stated that Canada, Australia and Japan, led by the US had effectively blocked any new agreements. These include an agreement on halving the proportion of people without access to sanitation by 2015, a target to increase renewable energy’s share of the global energy market to 15% by 2010, and targets on reducing biodiversity loss. According to Turner, the US has reasoned that there should be no new agreements as there has been insufficient movement on existing agreements, particularly from the governments of countries suffering from the problems.

“It’s alarming that a small number of governments can block the wishes of the majority of countries on what is such a basic human need,” said Turner.

However, the UN spokesperson pointed out to edie that there is already a goal for increasing access to safe drinking water, agreed at the Millennium Summit two years ago, as well as a great number of agreements also worked out in the run-up to Johannesburg, including those on river basin management, and increased participation in water infrastructure management on the local level.

On the final day of the two-week conference, President of Indonesia Megawati Soekarnoputri called for international co-operation to help developing countries utilise resources in a sustainable manner. She pointed out that there is a tendency to blame one another, which has become part of any discussion on sustainable development, resulting in conflicts and instability. Closely co-operative endeavours are the only answer, she said.

According to Nitin Desai, Secretary General of the World Summit, the process had been ‘decision by exhaustion’, but a great deal had been achieved. However, political will to find common ground on the outstanding issues is needed. That is the challenge between now and Johannesburg, he said.

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