AS delegates to the Earth Summit arrive in Rio de Janeiro, much of their work has already been completed. But the remaining points of contention underscore the division between North and South over environmental protection.
Much of the tension between the industrialized North and developing South has been palpable in the 2-1/2 years of talks preceding the Rio meeting.
"The North-South divide in the preparations for the summit has been very disheartening," says Liz Barratt-Brown, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We're at a critical moment.... Continued polarization will really lead to a very uncertain and very scary future."
The question now is whether North and South can bridge their differences in wealth and priorities to protect the environment without quashing development.
"We're talking about a new partnership," insists Erwin Ortiz-Gandarillas, a senior UN adviser to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). "I hope Rio is going to be a good beginning."
Maurice Strong, UNCED secretary-general, insists that the issues are 98 percent resolved. (Interview, Page 3.)
* A treaty to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and a treaty to protect diversity of plant and animal species were approved by UN delegates earlier this month.
* Much of the lengthy UNCED action plan called Agenda 21, covering everything from toxic wastes to marine pollution, has been negotiated.
* The Rio Declaration, originally intended as a short statement of shared principles, has evolved into a long list of developing nations' aspirations and holds developed nations primarily responsible for environmental degradation.
The new text, offered by Tommy Koh, Singapore's ambassador to the United States and chairman of the UNCED preparatory committee talks, was adopted at the last minute. Many delegates and observers say any reopening of the text in Rio could easily kill the whole declaration.
"It's very political ... and it's sewn together with very, very thin thread," Ms. Barratt-Brown says.
The issues to be decided at Rio could further widen the North-South divide. They include questions of funding, a statement of forest principles, and transfer of technology to developing nations.
"Money is right up there at the top of what remains to be resolved," notes Scott Hajost, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.
Most industrialized nations are expected to commit to broad donor goals over a period of about 10 years. A few, such as Japan and Germany, may actually pledge amounts at the end of the summit. But Mr. Hajost cautions that no one expects the amounts pledged would even come close to the $125 billion estimated annual cost of implementing Agenda 21.
The most likely channel for added help to developing nations is a restructured Global Environment Facility, an experimental body now run by the World Bank. But developing nations prefer a separate "green fund," which would give them a stronger voice in how and where the money is spent.
Earth Summit planners originally wanted a forest-preservation treaty as part of the Rio package. Developing nations became concerned, however, that their forests might be relied upon to absorb much of the carbon dioxide that the North would otherwise have to curb in auto and factory emissions to ease global warming. The Group of 77, or G-77, which represents 129 developing nations, insisted that a climate treaty had to come first.
The G-77 also wants technology transfers to skip stages of industrial development that have a heavy pollution impact. The terms of transfers are to be decided.
Many environmentalists say the less-than-enthusiastic US approach to the summit, as shown in its push for a climate treaty with no timetables or targets, has encouraged North-South friction.
"The US has constantly tried to lower expectations as though it's afraid that this whole process will get out ahead of it," says Fran Spivy-Weber, chairwoman of the US Citizens Network, a coalition of 160 environmental groups.
"I'm quite disappointed that the US has not taken more of a leadership role," says Kathryn Sessions, a policy analyst with the United Nations Association of the USA, "but at least by President Bush's decision to go to Rio, the US is saying it will be a player if not a leader."