World leaders accused of failure as Rio poised to set no new targets or timetables

Obama and Cameron stay away as nations struggle to reach sustainable development deal.

A A A

More than 100 world leaders, but not America's Barack Obama or Britain's David Cameron, gathered in Rio de Janeiro yesterday for a three-day UN summit on sustainable development – the formula for bringing millions of people out of poverty without trashing the environment.

The gathering at "Rio Plus 20" marks the 20th anniversary of the so-called "Earth Summit" in Rio in June 1992, regarded as one of the most influential environmental gatherings ever, not least for the two UN treaties it saw signed on climate change and biodiversity.

Expectations this time are much lower and have been steadily dropping all week, especially since the draft final text, entitled "The Future We Want", was released two nights ago. Many environmental and developmental groups say it contains no new commitments for anyone to do anything, no targets and no timetables, and it is unlikely to be strengthened when heads of state and government agree to it tomorrow.

"This summit was over before it even started," Oxfam's Antonio Hill said last night. "World leaders failed to seize the day. This summit will be recognised as a failure – a fail on equity, a fail on ecology and a fail on economy. We always knew government ambitions were low, but the final deal lacks a single new meaningful commitment."

The sense that the conference might not make decisions of substance clearly influenced Mr Obama and Mr Cameron's decisions to stay away. The President has sent Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State, in his place, and Mr Cameron has sent the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is another prominent rich-country absentee.

But all the leaders of the "Brics" group of leading developing countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – are present, as the issue of development is something they cannot afford to ignore. The summit's significance may depend on pronouncements today and tomorrow from the likes of Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Wen Jiabao or India's Manmohan Singh.

Yesterday the summit was opened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who admitted the draft outcome was disappointing. "Some member states hoped for a bolder, ambitious document," he said. "But you should understand that negotiations have been very difficult and very slow because of all these conflicting interests."

* Leading British companies will be made to report their greenhouse gas emissions from the beginning of the next financial year, Nick Clegg announced in Rio yesterday. The new rules will apply to London Stock Exchange-listed businesses from April 2013 to allow investors to see which companies are managing their pollution effectively, and the scheme could be rolled out to all large companies from 2016.

A global challenge: Rio's key players

Brazil

206m Population (World rank: 5)

1.1% Population growth rate (Rank: 102)

2.7% Economic growth rate (Rank: 133)

Key environmental issues: Ongoing efforts to reduce deforestation in the Amazon, the world's largest rainforest, but eradicating logging altogether would be financially disastrous.

China

1.34bn Population: (Rank: 1)

0.5% Population growth (Rank: 152)

9.2% Economic growth rate(Rank: 7)

Key environmental issues: The biggest emitter of CO2, with 24 per cent of the world total. A recent report claimed only 1 per cent of city dwellers breathe air deemed safe by the EU. Unparalleled pollution problem.

India

1.21bn Population: (Rank: 2)

1.3% Population growth(Rank: 88)

7.8% Economic growth rate: (Rank: 15)

Key environmental issues: Third behind China and the US in CO2 emissions. Lacks forceful legislation on the environment. Its "lawless" mining industry has been criticised. Air and water quality remain a huge problem.

Russia

138m Population (Rank: 9)

-0.48% Population growth (Rank: 219)

4.3% Economic growth rate(Rank: 91)

Key environmental issues: Currently eyeing delicately balanced Arctic ecosystems as potential sources of exports of oil and gas. Government accused of wielding country's vast natural reserves as a political tool. Water pollution and air quality have still not recovered from lack of industrial regulations in Soviet era.

South Africa

48.8m Population(Rank: 26)

-0.41% Population growth (Rank: 217)

3.4% Growth rate(Rank: 119)

Key environmental issues: Leading Africa's development charge. GDP is driven by a strong mining industry which has wreaked havoc on its environment. Johannesburg, is surrounded by industrial waste dumps and toxic lakes.

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
life
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
football
News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?