Governments Fail the Earth Summit Challenge

It was five years ago when governments representatives from around the world gathered at the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro, to discuss threats to the global environment. But countries are falling short of the agreed-upon goals, according to the Worldwatch Institute."Since the Earth Summit, human numbers have grown by 450 million, vast areas of forest have been stripped of trees, and annual emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, the leading greenhouse gas, have climbed to all-time highs, altering the very composition of the atmosphere," according to the Institute's State of the World 1997 report, the 14th annual assessment of the planet's health.The report singles out eight nations -- China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Japan and Germany -- as "environmental heavyweights," or nations that most shape the global environment. Together, they have 56 percent of the world's population and 53 percent of its forest, and emit 58 percent of the carbon dioxide.The United States, although once considered the traditional environmental leader, has become increasingly lax in its efforts to achieve the goals established at the Summit, the report says. The U.S. Senate has not even ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the country is failing to meet the emissions targets in the climate convention by a wide margin. U.S. funding for international environmental and population programs has been also cut.In addition, the report finds that too many governments still pursue economic growth at any price, ignoring the fact that damage to the global commons, particularly the atmosphere and oceans, could severely disrupt the world's economies. "Until finance ministers -- and more importantly prime ministers -- take these problems as seriously as environmental officials do, nations will continue to undermine the natural resource base and ecosystems on which they depend," reads the report.The good news is that during the past five years, the spirit of the Summit energized the efforts of private citizens to promote environmentally sustainable development. Approximately 20,000 private individuals participated in the Earth Summit itself, and some 1,500 cities in 51 countries have crafted local environmental plans in response to the Summit's agenda.For more information contact: Mary Caron, Communication Department, 202-452-1999. Email: worldwatch@worldwatch.org. Or visit their website: http://www.worldwatch.org

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