Global advocates leave trail of waste

By Mike Cohen
The Associated Press
The Seattle Times

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa 8/31/02 -  While delegates attending the World Summit wrangled over how best to save the planet's rapidly dwindling resources, they gave scant indication of leading by example.

The 10-day summit, billed as the largest U.N. conference ever held, is expected to generate between 300 and 400 tons of trash, and so far, just 20 percent of it is being recycled.

"We never had any illusions this would be a green summit," Mary Metcalfe, the environment minister of the Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, told reporters yesterday. "At one stage we were hoping to achieve 90 percent diversion (of waste) from landfill sites."

Together with the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), Metcalfe's office is leading a project known as the Johannesburg Climate Legacy to monitor and minimize the summit's environmental impact. It's the first time that it's been attempted at any U.N. conference.

Toilets have been fitted with flushing systems to minimize water usage, while two venues are being run with renewable energy sources. Recycling bins have been put in conference halls, but they've ended up as replacements for garbage cans, filled with all sorts of non-recyclable waste.

Trash compactors erected at the back of the main conference center have been working overtime, and municipal workers have made several trips daily to empty overflowing trash containers.

The move to make the summit as environmentally friendly as possible was gaining momentum daily, said Nikhil Sekhran of the UNDP's Global Environmental Fund.

"The system is completely new," he said. "Clearly a lot more education needs to be done."

Hundreds of organizations have collectively produced mountains of pamphlets, press statements and brochures, hoping to draw attention to their multitude of causes during the summit.

Organizers estimate 5 million sheets of paper will be consumed during the gathering.

The conference's 45,000 delegates are also plowing through other resources. On average each of them is using 53 gallons of water a day, and the city's electricity consumption has soared.

The legacy project also estimated that flying delegates to Johannesburg and transporting them around the city will generate nearly 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

The Johannesburg Climate Legacy project hopes to offset this by raising nearly $3 million from participating countries, corporations and individuals, and using it to implement 16 projects to reduce carbon emissions.

Only $300,000 has been raised, and only seven of the 192 countries at the summit have pledged donations.

 

In related developments yesterday, U.N. officials said about 95 percent of the 70-odd page summit action plan had been agreed to by the nearly 200 countries attending. But they conceded the most difficult issues were the ones that remained, including sanitation and goals for renewable resources.

The 10-day summit, which began Monday, has focused on ways to get water, sanitation and health care to the world's poorest while protecting the environment.

Meanwhile, anti-globalization protesters and other activists prepared for two massive marches from the poor township of Alexandra to the summit site today.

South African authorities said they were not worried the demonstration would evolve into the chaos that has accompanied other recent summit meetings.

"There is a security strategy in place to deal with any eventuality," said Charles Nqakula, safety and security minister.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.


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