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Summit Delegates Head Home

By Kenneth R. Weiss
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- Johannesburg

Delegates headed home from an international summit Thursday clutching a 65-page plan that vows to attack nearly every ill on Earth.

The 10-day global gathering here, once hailed as a broad effort to help preserve the planet, ended as a success more for its promises than its achievements, participants say.

“Oh boy, is it ambitious,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a special advisor to U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan SM ’72. “If this were actually carried out, it would be very good for the world. But there is no absolutely no evidence of a real strategy to accomplish these goals.”

Although public expectations of action are high, a fundamental problem exists: The plan -- which covers everything from rebuilding fisheries, forests and protecting the diversity of species to bringing water, energy and medicine to the poor -- is nonbinding.

To avoid continuing stagnation, the United Nations nudged participants at the World Summit on Sustainable Development to join into partnerships and pick a project, large or small, that will begin to chip away at environmental or development problems.

Annan’s burgeoning “era of partnerships,” as he calls it, flourished during the conference. Hundreds of governments, private groups, businesses and foundations lined up during the conference to announce “partnerships” -- sometimes with old partners or even old adversaries.

Environmental activists from Greenpeace and representatives of British Petroleum, who once battled over an oil platform in the North Atlantic, joined hands to push for binding government commitments to stem global warming. Israel and Jordan pledged to work together to breathe life into the Dead Sea, which is ebbing from a shortage of water.

A foundation of Shell Oil teamed up with World Resources Institute to curb vehicles with the dirtiest exhaust in the world’s biggest cities. “It caught our attention when Shell was giving us money to drive off customers that use their product,” said Jonathan Lash, the institute’s president.

The United States rolled out a series of partnerships to protect the Congo rain forest, to battle AIDS, and to bring clean water and cleaner energy to impoverished and isolated regions of the world.

Bush administration officials have been vague about financial commitment to these projects.