Brazil, long castigated as an environmental villain, last week launched an extraordinary bid to save this year's Earth Summit from disaster.
The country's president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, held three days of talks with political leaders and environmental experts from around the world in a last-minute attempt to rescue the summit that opens in Johannesburg in August.
The meeting was officially billed as a "passing of the torch'' from Goran Persson the Prime Minister of Sweden (which hosted the first Earth Summit in Stockholm in 1972) to President Cardoso (the second was held here 10 years ago) and on to President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who will take the chair in Johannesburg.
In fact negotiations behind the scenes led to the formation of an alliance between the three leaders and John Prescott to lobby world leaders in what the Deputy Prime Minister called "a race against time''. President Mbeki flew straight from the meeting to the G8 Summit in Canada to try to persuade the leaders of the world's richest countries to get behind the summit.
Earlier this month, the last preparatory negotiations, in Bali, Indonesia, ended in almost total failure as a result of the intransigence of the Untied States, backed by Australia, Japan and Canada. Top UN officials here warned that if the Johannesburg summit failed, the world's entire international negotiating system would be at risk.
President Cardoso's initiative marks an big turnaround for Brazil, which was the most outspoken advocate of environmental destruction at the first summit in Stockholm, arguing that pollution should be welcomed because it accompanied economic growth. The country has been one of the main targets of environmental campaigners because of the felling of tropical rain forests in Amazonia. The President admitted that his country's previous stance had been "terrible'', "abominable'' and "insane''.
Jonathan Lash, the president of the prestigious World Resources Institute, described the initiative as "the best hope for saving the summit in Johannesburg, and also the last hope''.
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