Will the bigwigs buy into WWSD?

With only 69 days to go before the start of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, concern is mounting among local politicians over whether heads of state from several key industrialised nations will actually attend the event.

MPs have also expressed doubt as to whether — without the attendance of leaders from the so-called Juscanz bloc, comprising Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — the summit will achieve its set goals.

The WSSD, the biggest-ever international meeting of its kind, and aimed at negotiating a global plan for the economic, social and environmental future of the planet, is set to take place in Johannesburg from August 26 to September 4.

National Assembly environmental affairs and tourism committee chairwoman Gwen Mahlangu said on Tuesday that MPs were ”really worried” over whether heads of government from the Juscanz bloc would actually attend the WSSD.

At the final WSSD preparatory conference, held in Bali, Indonesia earlier this month, the bloc adopted a common stance on several contentious issues that prevented agreement, particularly regarding finance and trade related matters.

Mahlangu, speaking after a briefing by environmental affairs and tourism director-general Dr Chippy Olver on the outcome of the Bali conference, said the overall feeling of her committee was that ”we have very little time at our disposal to bring these important countries on board”.

”How we are going to do this is still a very big question mark, because the summit is about heads of state, and especially those from developed countries.

”If we leave industrialised countries out… I don’t see the summit achieving most of the issue that they want it to achieve.

”We are really worried as to why, up to now, we still don’t have a commitment to attend from them, let alone a commitment to finance the processes, or at least for them to say, yes we want to attend, we want to participate.

”I think that is very important for the summit,” Mahlangu said.

Earlier, Olver told a joint meeting of three parliamentary committees that many heads of state had held back on a final decision to attend the WSSD.

Because of the outcome of the Bali conference, ”many of them will be keeping that decision in abeyance… a lot of them you will not know until the last minute”.

”We’ve been doing a number of surveys… in these the interesting (attendance) figure to note… is that we’re up to 90 heads of state who’re indicating possibly or probably, but not definitely.

”Your ?definites? are a far smaller list of heads of state.

It is understood about 30 heads of state have, to date, said they will definitely attend the WSSD.

Olver said there would be a lot of work done over the next month ”to try and firm these numbers up”.

”The EU group is clearly making strong commitment to attend; the Juscanz group not. I suppose that was to be expected,” he told members.

Olver later stressed to Sapa that by this he did not mean Juscanz would not attend the summit, but that they had not, to date, confirmed they would do so.

According to a poll carried out by the US-based National Resources Defence Council earlier this month, only 45 heads of state or government have confirmed they will attend the WSSD.

The NRDC said the survey also showed a further 40 were ”likely” to attend.

The organisation said the survey was ”based on contacts with more than 150 country missions at the United Nations in New York, and delegations at the final… meeting in Bali.” – Sapa

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Richard Davies
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