Malta's accession to EU 'most important step towards sustainability'
Malta and other candidate countries will be closely involved in EU follow-up actions to the World Summit on Sustainable Development," EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom told The Sunday Times in an exclusive interview here.
"They will either join our activities, or participate in separate, complementary actions," she explained. "We invite them to join our 'group of the willing' (EU and others) to increase renewable energy use according to timetables and targets.
"Closer co-operation on climate change issues will take place on technical and political levels - especially within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.
"The Summit has placed sustainable development at the heart of the international agenda - we should be pleased and satisfied," she concluded. "The outcome will set the framework for shaping the external dimension of EU's recently launched Sustainable Development Strategy.
"Mainstreaming sustainability into the Euromediterranean Partnership on both the political and financial level is particularly important."
Addressing 109 heads of state and government attending the high-level plenary on Monday, European Commission President Romano Prodi called for "a fresh pact between North and South on the basis of trust and our shared goal of sustainable development".
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that "a path to prosperity that ravages the environment, leaving a majority of humankind behind in squalor, will soon prove to be a dead end for everyone".
Speaking for Malta, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi stated that "our most important step towards sustainability has been the decision to accede to the European Union", announcing four new policies for Valletta's rehabilitation, coastal zone management, transport and waste, as well as capacity building for overseas development assistance.
Official EU optimism at the Summit outcome contained in a political declaration and a 70-page Plan of Implementation adopted on Wednesday, contrasts with private expressions of dismay by EU politicians and Commission officials that few targets and timetables were agreed on the five priority areas of water, energy, health, agriculture and the environment - in the face of strong opposition from the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and a number of developing countries.
The EU also lobbied hard for a global ten-year programme on sustainable consumption and production: but only an international 'framework' for national actions was agreed.
International environmental NGOs, religious and trade union groups condemned the outcome as a "betrayal", "tragedy", "disaster", for subordinating the world's environmental and social needs to the economic agenda of the rich countries - enforced through the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Several groups criticised the EU for its stands on globalisation, trade and corporate accountability, while Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green Party described the Summit results as "lacking teeth to tackle much of the world's major problems".
However, in common with other civil society groups, AD and European Greens welcomed commitments to provide clean drinking water and sanitation to over a billion poor people in the world by 2015, as well as steps to control harmful chemical substances and restore depleted fish stocks.
Also welcome was the focus on corporate accountability providing for a review by the UN General Assembly - "a new beginning (according to AD) for civil society when faced with multinational corporations' unsustainable and destructive practices".
The sanitation target however was only agreed after the EU had yielded to US pressure, backed by Japan, OPEC, Australia and Canada, to abandon its proposal for UN targets and timetables for increasing the use of renewable energies and bringing energy to the two billion people who have none.
The EU however went ahead with its EU Energy Initiative to meet this need, and invited other states, "the group of the willing" to adopt definite targets and timetables.
Other EU initiatives include a plan for "Sustainable Cities" as well as "Water for All" which includes a partnership on "Euromediterranean Water and Poverty Facility" to bring water to the region's urban poor, as well as a wide-ranging programme for Africa and former Soviet Union states.
In contrast, there was no agreement to phase out the $250 billion annual subsidies paid out by rich country governments benefiting the fossil and nuclear industries, thus consolidating their dominant position.
No commitments either on reducing the heavy subsidies paid to European and American farmers, to stabilise fluctuations in world commodity markets, which devastate poor countries' export earnings or bring real relief to their massive external debt burden.
The small number of solid commitments between governments contrasts with the 250+ informal 'partnership agreements' announced by varying combinations of governments, non-governmental organisations and business worth over $300 million.
However, it is unclear how much 'new money' is involved as opposed to repackaging of old projects, while many civil society groups are concerned that they will lead to further privatisation of public services and the spread of biotechnology products.