Rio promises ring hollow in isles of despair

THE MOST important environmental conference since the Earth Summit in Rio two years ago - and the first test of whether the world's leaders intend to implement the resolutions they agreed there - is heading for failure.

At the Earth Summit the industrialised countries agreed to provide 'new and additional' finance to help Third World countries towards more environmentally friendly development. But here in Barbados, at the first international conference on the world's small island developing states (Sids), they are backing down.

The conference is addressing the future of one-sixth of the Earth's surface: the Sids control more than 30 million square miles of ocean through their exclusive economic zones.

Many of the world's most serious environmental problems are at their worst in Sids. Three- quarters of all known extinctions have occurred on islands.

Their water supplies are fast depleting, their forests are falling and their soils are being eroded. They have become dumping grounds for toxic wastes from overseas, while their fisheries are being depleted by foreign fleets.

Some also face a threat to their very existence from global warming. At least five countries - Tuvalu, Tokelau, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands in the Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean - could be completely submerged if the sea levels rise.

Only 3 per cent of a diminishing pot of aid is provided to tackle environmental problems.

But the Sids' case is falling on deaf or, in many cases, absent ears. Despite earlier promises, most of the rest of the world has refused to send senior figures to the conference. Then US Vice-President, Al Gore, was due to come, but will not now turn up; and Britain is sending Lord Arran, a junior environment minister. Even the usually sympathetic Nordic countries have clubbed together to send only one minister (from Iceland).

Many Third World countries want the conference to fail, because the Sids compete with them for aid money, and because they want an excuse to blame the rich for the failure of the follow-up to Rio.

'The momentum generated at the Earth Summit is faltering,' according to a report to the conference by 10 'eminent persons', including Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, and Maurice Strong, who ran the Rio meeting. It blames the industrial countries for failing 'to honour the commitments' made two years ago.

Elizabeth Dowdeswell, executive director of the UN environment programme, terms the mood 'post-Rio depression'. And Gus Speth, head of the UN development programme, says: 'The momentum of Rio has rapidly declined. Where are the new and additional resources that were promised?'

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, spoke of the 'fatigue' of rich countries. 'We have too many other problems all over the world - drugs, Aids, so many ethnic wars,' he said. 'This creates a kind of distraction.'

He urged the Sids to get together and 'lobby' to gain attention for their problems. This is already taking place: 18 of their heads of state will meet here this week. They are forming a block at the UN - where they control more than one- fifth of the votes - and are beginning to assert this power.

'Before long there will continually be at least one or two members of the Security Council, who owe their place to the small islands,' said one senior UN official. Annette des Iles, the Trinidad & Tobago ambassador, warns: 'Those who don't take our concerns seriously will be sorry.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn