Green Group Calls US 'Biggest Block' to Progress At Earth Summit

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Johannesburg ( - An environmental activist group says the United States is the "single biggest block on progress at the Earth summit."

Friends of the Earth International Wednesday criticized the U.S. for opposing any reference to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and for opposing "any targets on increasing foreign aid" to developing countries. The group also criticized the U.S. for opposing "clear targets on sanitation."

Michael Dorsey of the Sierra Club blamed U.S. opposition to the summit proceedings on a lack of leadership on environmental issues.

"Leadership is about being present; being absent is not leadership," Dorsey told, referring to President George Bush's decision not to attend the summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"Unfortunately, one cannot lead and be absent," Dorsey added.

Dorsey, however, said he remains hopeful about the summit.

"We are hopeful of the commitment by governments to work on sustainable development," Dorsey said.

The U.S. also was criticized by many participants for refusing to phase out domestic subsides for farmers. Many here say those subsidies make it harder for the developing world's farmers to compete.

"We see the U.S. inserting words and watering down the text and taking it backwards," said Bjarne Pedersen of Consumers International.

The delegates on Wednesday addressed global environmental concerns such as water, sanitation and energy issues.

Several countries called for the summit to increase the rate of renewable energy use worldwide to 15 percent by 2010.

Press reports said former California Gov. Jerry Brown was one of only a few people to show up for an event entitled, "U.S. Elected Officials Call for Massive Financial Commitment to Solar Energy." A group called Cutting Fossil Fuel Subsidies sponsored the event. Brown is currently the mayor of Oakland, Calif.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela took up the cause of adequate clean water supplies for the world's poor.

"When I return, as I often do, to the rural village and area of my childhood and youth, the poverty of the people and the devastation of the natural environment painfully strikes me," Mandela said of his hometown of Qunu.

Press reports speculated on why no Hollywood celebrities have attended this Earth summit. At the 1992 Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro, celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine, Sting, John Denver and the Beach Boys were featured prominently.

This time, not even Leonardo DiCaprio, who chastised Bush earlier this month for not attending, will make the trip.

"Ten years ago people thought the governments really wanted to change the world," Mike Childs of Friends of the Earth told Reuters.

"There has been a huge growth in cynicism since then. Now the public expectations for the summit are that it won't achieve a great amount, and people don't really want to be too clearly associated with it."

See Related Stories:
Earth Summit Seen As 'Gathering to Attack Wealth'
Green Group Includes US In 'Axis of Environmental Evil'
Environmentalist Laments Introduction of Electricity (26 Aug. 2002)
Earth Summit: 'Historic Milestone' or 'Big Circus'? (23 Aug. 2002)
Environmentalists Link West Nile Virus to Global Warming (19 Aug. 2002)

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