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Rio and Biodiversity: Promises made - and Forgotten Time Nov 97

Five years ago [in 1992] leaders from 178 nations gathered in Rio de Janiero for the Earth summit, an effort to forge agreements that would help preserve and protect the global environment. On many of the critical issues, the rhetoric and the promises of Rio have not been backed up by strong action since the summit.

Rhetoric: "The current decline in biodiversity is largely the result of human activity, and represents a severe threat to human development"  Reality: The loss of species is accelerating as humans encroach on habitats and carve up ecosystems into fragments. A weak Convention on Biological Diversity has been ratified by 161 countries (but not by the US).

 Rhetoric: Recognising global warming as a potential problem, delegates approved a toothless convention on Climate Change calling on nations to voluntarily rduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses to 1990 levels.  Reality: Nations have roundly ignored the goals and released greenhouse gasses as if Rio had never happened. The Kyoto meeting in Japan resulted in horse trading allowing the US to increase emissions by buying Russia's credits, while Europe urged and practised restraint.

 Rhetoric: Noting the destruction of wood-lands, delegates called for "urgent" action and laid intial plans for negotiating a forest convention.  Reality: The world continues to destroy an expanse of forest the size of Nepal every year. Asia has lost almost 95% of its frontier woodlands, according to the World Resources Institute. Efforts to draft a forest agreement have run out of steam.

 Rhetoric: Getting unusually specific, delegates called for rich nations to increase development aid to 0.7% of their gross national product.  Reality: Such aid, now averaging 0.3% f GNP has been dropping steadily. US official assistance to other countries declined 37% between 1992 and 1995.

 Rhetoric: Because of the sensitivities of the Vatican and some developing nations, recommendations for population control were muted by fuzzy bureaucratic language calling for "appropriate demographic policies".  Reality:Although the ranks of humanity still grow by about 80 million a year, an unexpected and rapid drop in birth rates continues around the world.