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Protesters Interrupt Powell At U.N. Earth Summit

BY Admin  September 4, 2002 at 7:00 PM EDT

Audience members chanted “shame on Bush” and held banners reading “betrayed by governments” while Powell delivered remarks at the 10-day summit’s closing session.

Protests intensified when Powell addressed famine in southern Africa. He criticized the African country of Zambia for refusing American food aid, which included genetically modified grain. Powell also blamed the Zimbabwean government’s land use policies for its worsening hunger problem.

The secretary was also booed as he countered criticism that the U.S. government was not doing enough to reduce the emissions responsible for global warming.

“We are committed not just to rhetoric and various goals,” Powell said. “We are committed to a $1 billion program to develop and deploy advanced technologies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”

Security officials dragged 13 protesters from the room. A State Department spokesman said Powell believed the protesters constituted the minority of the audience, noting that many supporters also greeted him warmly.

Powell was the highest-ranking U.S. official to attend the summit, during which delegates from around the world, including 100 world leaders, discussed global issues like poverty alleviation, environmental problems and AIDS.

In the end, nations formally agreed to halve the number of people in Africa lacking basic sanitation and mark a “significant reduction” in loss of species by 2015. Summit participants also agreed to push for open markets and support the phasing out of export subsidies.

The agreement also pledged to “substantially increase” renewable energy, although a clear target was not set.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the delegate from the European Union, expressed little faith in the effectiveness of the giant summit format.

“I don’t thing that mega-summits are the way to secure effective implementation,” Rasmussen told reporters.

Ten years ago, the first Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, led to conventions on climate change and biodiversity, but the voluntary nature of the agreements allowed many countries to fail to reach their goals with little consequence.

Negotiators worked late into Monday to resolve conflicts in implementing the agreements reached in 1992, most of which were aimed at helping the world’s poor without raising pollution levels. Those resolutions were released as part of the summit’s 70-page final agreement.

Environmental groups derided the summit as a waste of time, saying the United States blocked meaningful goals to help the poor and the environment.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, however, called the summit “an important beginning.”

“Sustainable development is firmly back on the agenda. We realize we need to maintain that delicate balance between development and the environment,” Annan said. “I think we have to be careful not to expect conferences like this to bring miracles…but to bring general commitment.”