Negotiations peak at Earth summit

Some 6,000 papier mache statues symbolised those with no voice at the summit

Around 100 heads of state and government have arrived in Johannesburg for the climax of the Earth summit.

This content was published on September 2, 2002

Swiss officials say negotiations on the terms of a political declaration and global plan of action are entering their final, decisive phase.

"The time for deals is approaching," said the Swiss ambassador for the environment, Beat Nobs.

Serge Chappatte, a senior Swiss negotiator at the summit, said the final round of talks between world leaders would be an opportunity for "trading off" before the announcement of an action plan to combat poverty and safeguard the earth's natural resources.

"Discussions have crystallised opposition on the main issues," said Chappatte.

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, arrived in the South African city on Sunday night and spoke on behalf of Switzerland at the United Nations-sponsored summit on Monday afternoon.

Each country present in Johannesburg has been given a total of five minutes to address the plenary session.

Political wrangling

Political wrangling continues behind the scenes in a bid to break the deadlock in a number of key areas.

Ongoing disputes over whether to put a timetable in place for the increased use of renewable energy have yet to be resolved.

But a breakthrough did emerge over the weekend when negotiators agreed on the wording for a statement concerning the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States - which has announced it will not ratify the protocol - had opposed any reference to Kyoto in the final document.

Under the terms of a compromise deal, the plan of action will call on countries that have already ratified the pact to "strongly urge states that have not already done so to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in a timely manner".

Clean water

Last-minute agreement is also reported to have been reached on one of the major issues Switzerland has been championing at the negotiating table: setting a target of 2015 for halving the number of people without access to both clean water and proper sanitation.

Meanwhile, the Swiss-based environmental organisation, WWF, issued a statement on Sunday criticising the state of negotiations and urging heads of state to do all they can to narrow their differences before the end of the summit.

"The WWF believes that the implementation plan as it currently stands will not provide significant movements forward from commitments made at the first Earth Summit in Rio," the organisation said.

"In some cases, the text actually constitutes a step backwards," it added.

Partnership initiative

While negotiators continue to debate the wording of the final, 72-page summit declaration, Switzerland used the sidelines of the conference to mark the official launch of an international mountain initiative.

The Swiss government hopes to bring countries, private enterprise and civil society groups together to collaborate on specific projects to safeguard the world's mountain regions and protect the communities that inhabit them.

The Swiss foreign minister will be joined at the launch ceremony in Ubuntu Village by the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Klaus Töpfer, as well as the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf.

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh, Johannesburg

Earth Summit

Around 100 heads of state and government have arrived in Johannesburg for the last three days of summit talks.
The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, made a five-minute speech at the summit's plenary session on Monday afternoon.
An action plan to fight poverty and safeguard the Earth's natural resources is due to be announced on Wednesday.

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