WASHINGTON -- Two-and-a-half years in the making, a blueprint for grappling with global environmental problems has been distilled into an 800-page document that is "the most extensive and comprehensive international program ever developed and approved word by word by governments," according to one booster.
But instead of launching a new era of environmental progress, Agenda 21 may touch off a bruising battle at the "earth summit" in Rio de Janero, Brazil, because one critical issue remains unsettled: money.
No agreement has been reached on how much industrialized nations like the United States will pay out to make the new blueprint a reality. And sharp disputes still exist over how to channel the money if it is provided.
Both issues now must be taken up at the 160-nation,U.N.-sponsored summit in June, and it threatens to turn the epic gathering into an angry showdown between the haves and have-nots.
Not surprisingly, the price tag for Agenda 21 is as breathtaking as the goals are flashy, sweeping as they do from population control and sewage disposal to protection of the atmosphere and mountain ecosystems, conservation of ocean resources, and the management of biotechnology.
Though 10 percent to 15 percent of the agenda reaching into the next century is yet to be completed, estimates by the summit secretariat put the implementation costs through the rest of this decade at some $600 billion annually.
Of that, the staff of the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, or UNCED, as the summit is formally styled, estimates that $125 billion in new international financing would be required annually -- more than double all of the bilateral and multilateral development assistance by industrial nations in 1990.
But the debate over the money and how it is to be managed does not end with Agenda 21. Financing arrangements are yet to be worked out for two other global agreements still being negotiated: a climate change convention addressing the threat of global warming and an agreement mandating far-reaching steps to preserve the world's biological diversity.
Besides the new funding called for in the agreements that summit sponsors want to sign in Rio, industrial countries will be asked to reaffirm a U.N. goal of increasing overseas development assistance to .7 percent of their gross national product by the year 2000.