UNITED NATIONS -- Four years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro propelled the environment to the top of the world agenda, the movement seems to have reached an impasse at the United Nations, where a commission set up to monitor progress since Rio has ended two weeks of talks.
The Commission on Sustainable Development -- dedicated to the notion that nations can continue expanding their economies without destroying their environment -- heard success stories as it prepared for a major review next year of how far the world has come since the 1992 Earth Summit.
But hovering over the meeting was the sense that other issues have begun crowding out the environment, as rich and poor countries alike worry about unemployment and economic decline.
And in many countries, environment ministries and private organizations say that they are frustrated by their inability to make environmental impact a major factor in economic policy-making.
"To a certain extent, after Rio other issues took over," said Nitin Desai, the United Nations' under secretary general for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development. "I sometimes argue that Rio took place in a particular window of opportunity, when, in a way, the world didn't have anything else to worry about."
Desai said in an interview that the next step for the environmental movement must be to broaden its scope to get its issues on others' agendas.
"When we focus only on environmental problems, we won't get very far unless we move backward and focus on agriculture policy, energy policy, transport policy -- all the economic policies that affect the environment," he said.
Several speakers called attention to rapidly changing patterns of transportation and the problems these are creating: the explosion in automobile ownership in some regions of the world, unmanageable traffic and increased pollution in many cities already choked by industrial waste.
Pub Date: 5/05/96