America's isolation

Published : Sep 14, 2002 00:00 IST

A LEADER most conspicuous by his absence at Johannesburg was United States President George W. Bush. Perhaps he saved himself much embarrassment.

The U.S., which made no friends in the developing world by pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, was generally under attack during the Summit, as witnessed by Secretary of State Colin Powell on the last day of the event. Powell's defence of the U.S.' record in protecting the environment and helping the developing world was met with derisive and raucous protests. Activists jeered and heckled him when he said: "The American soul has always harboured a deep desire to help people build better lives for themselves and their children."

Even as developing nations desperately tried to extract more aid and gain greater access to Western markets and technologies, the U.S. resisted any new aid targets or timetables while demanding that aid recipients reduce corruption and make good governance a criterion to qualify for aid. Even the European Union was at odds with the U.S., and agreed to abide by binding targets in areas such as energy. Another setback to the U.S. came when Russia, China and Canada agreed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Although isolated, along with Australia, it has resisted signing the Climate Convention.

The American delegation played down the importance of the Summit's final documents, saying that they were secondary to the potential to launch "results-oriented" projects. The U.S. was seeking business partnerships to augment a $ 5-billion foreign aid package for some of the Summit's key issues. Many environmental activists were disheartened by the U.S.' continuing resistance to setting firm timetables for action. "Every time targets come up, the U.S. puts a line through it," said Gordon Shepherd, an official with the WWF (formerly the World Wide Fund for Nature).

A strong anti-U.S. voice was that of Jeffrey Sachs, a Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He lamented: "There is very serious disconnect between the world's most powerful country and the rest of the world at this Summit. The Summit could have accomplished a lot more had the U.S. shown a positive interest rather than viewing it as a nuisance." He also indicted major powers for abdicating their responsibilities towards the world's environmental and poverty problems. The U.S. should take a lead in solving the problems of the planet if it wanted to succeed in its war against terror, he said.

Even as Sachs was speaking, American negotiators were stressing their objection to setting any new targets for improved health and water provision in the developing world.

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