Letter: Role for Britain at earth summit

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The Independent Online
Sir: Nicholas Schoon ("Global warming - too much hot air", 26 May) is right to challenge world leaders about their meeting to review progress - or the lack of it - towards a more sustainable pattern of development since the Earth Summit in Rio five years ago. But he is wrong to write off the occasion before it has even happened. Britain's new Labour government is well placed to make a real impact in New York next month if it gives the right lead.

Three key issues have emerged in the preparatory discussions. First, fresh water. Resources are dwindling, drought and desertification are spreading, pollution is increasing, and the needs of many hundreds of millions of people who lack clean water and sanitation are becoming ever more pressing. With Britain's political, technical and commercial strengths in the water field there could be a great opportunity for Britain to take hold of the issue and help to turn it into a major advance for the world.

Secondly, climate change. Nicholas Schoon is right that too little has happened in the world so far - though Britain on this occasion stands out as a shining example of a country that will have more than met its commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. The new British government will be well placed to give a strong lead.

Thirdly, resources for development. The northern countries - with Britain among them - have indeed fallen away shamefully from their commitment to increase the share of GNP going to development assistance. A proposal from Britain to unite in halting this decline, and to make new efforts for debt relief and economic regeneration in the poorest countries, could have a powerful impact.

The Government has already shown itself bold and decisive at home and in Europe. Let us hope that it will be equally bold in promoting sustainable development at the global level in New York next month. In 1989 Margaret Thatcher made a crucial speech at the United Nations which helped move the world forward to decisive action at Rio. The world is ready and hoping for an equally decisive speech from Tony Blair in New York next month to move the debate - and real action - on sustainable development forward to the next stage.

DEREK OSBORN

Chairman, UK Committee, United Nations Environment and Development Programme

London SW1

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