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Worldwatch Institute Report Finds Meager Response to Pressing Needs

4 February– Compared to the swift and aggressive response to the immediate threats presented by the events of 11 September, the global response to extreme poverty and severe environmental degradation since the 1992 Earth Summit has been underwhelming, according to the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2002 report.

"Progress has been too slow, too little, and even this has been offset by worsening trends and backsliding," according to Gary Gardner of Worldwatch, one of the authors of the report.

Worldwatch - which has issued its State of the World report for the last 19 years - decided to devote this year's volume to preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to take place this August in Johannesburg.

United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, writing in the foreword to the report, said that the "political and conceptual breakthrough achieved at Rio has not proved decisive enough to break with business as usual." But he added that at Johannesburg, "it is not too late to set the transformation more convincingly in motion."

While there has been a marked increase in awareness of the issues over the last decade, virtually every single indicator has shown deterioration at the global level. Carbon emissions, Gardner said, have increased by 9 per cent in the last ten years, and the situation of coral reefs-"the tropical forests of the sea"-showed a doubling of deterioration, from 10 per cent in 1992 to over 20 per cent.

Treaties have been negotiated on chemical use, such as persistent organic pollutants, but little has been done to replace toxic substances. "We have touched only the tip of the iceberg," according to Gardner.

There has been an increase in the number of pilot projects on sustainable development, and there have been more attempts to promote socially responsible investing, but Gardner cautioned that the pilot programmes have remained small, and the investing screens remain weak.

"We know what rapid response in sustainable development would look like," Gardner said. "This is not a question for the military. We can do this."

Part of the problem of why things have not advanced, according to Hilary French, another co-author of the report, is that global governance has been either weak or non-existent. "The architects of Rio were way ahead of their time," she said referring to the number of environmental conventions that were spawned by the Earth Summit process. But all of the agreements have suffered from serious deficiencies, she said, and as a result, are weak, inadequately enforced, and lacking in funding.

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24 August 2006