Rio charts an uncertain path to sustainable development

The optimists' expectations of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro on 3-14 June have long since been dashed. The preparations have been marred by bitter arguments over transfers of cash and technology to the developing world, and by a last-minute decision by the USA not to sign a new Convention on Biological Diversity. Hopes of a positive outcome are now focussed on the process of national sustainable development plans and their review by new international machinery which the conference is expected to set in motion.

The choice of perspectives on the Earth Summit is almost as large as the number of words it has brought into being. If measured against the debatable needs of the planet and the palpable needs of the majority of humanity, its achievements will be a crushing disappointment. If, at the other extreme, the yardstick is the rock of political reality and the self-interest of nations both developed and developing, then UNCED may be regarded as usheri

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