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World fails to meet promises on caring for environment: Report

Five years on from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the world is in worse shape, says a Worldwatch study. DAVID BRISCOE reports.

WASHINGTON Jan 1997 - Five years after participants at the Earth Summit promised to attack global environmental ills, forests still disappear, the air is murkier than ever, and the world's population is nearly half a billion. Governments are lagging badly in meeting goals set at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro summit, the World-Watch Institute said in its annual global review released yesterday. "Unfortmately, few Governments have even begun the policy changes that will be needed to put the world on an environmentally sustainable path," said the independent institute, which publishes its "State of the World" report in 30 languages. The secretary-general of the Rio summit endorses much of the research group's assessment but United States and World Bank officicials claim credit for major efforts to alleviate global problems

In what has become an annual litany of the Earth's ills, the report documents problems with food supply, cropland depletion, chronic disease, loss of species, climate change and political instability. Among Worldwatch's gloomiest conclusions: millions of hectares of tropical and deciduous forest still disappear each year, carbon dioxide emissions are at record highs and population growth is outpacing food production. Christopher Flavin, a lead author of the report, calls the Earth Summit a "last hurrah" for the idea that sweeping Government programmes can cure a sick planet. The report finds hope, however, in the increase of grassroots groups, particularly in Bangladesh and India. Also, more than 1500 cities in 51 countries have adopted local environmental plans and rules, often more stringent than their national Governments proposed at Rio, the report said. Earth Summit Secretary-General Maurice Strong issued a report last week citing pockets of progress but concluding "far too few countries, companies, institu- tions, communities and citizens have made the choices and changes needed to advance the goals of sustainable development." Mr Strong, now head of the Earth Council, a non-government group set up in Costa Rica after the summit, said more than 100 nations are worse off today than 15 years ago, with 1.3 billion people earning less than a dollar a day. The Worldwatch report is toughest on the United Stales and the World Bank. It says American leadership has faded since the summit, in contrast to strides made by Europe in fighting pollution and Japan in maintaining foreign aid. Eileen Claussen, assistant United States secretary of state overseeing environmental affairs, said Worldwatch was "generally correct," noting Congress' failure to ratify a biodiversity treaty and cuts to funding for the summit's major initiatives. But she insisted the Clinton Administration leadership remains steadfast. Worldwatch said the World Bank touts environmental lending but still pours funds into "development schemes that add to carbon emissions and destroy natural ecosystems." Andrew Steer, the World Bank's director for the environment, said the bank was helping 68 countries reform environmenal policies and laws. AP

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