Rio summit panned as waste

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has insisted the Rio sustainable development summit made some progress, as world leaders wavered between bemoaning its wishy-washy agreement and trying to put a brave face on the outcome.

But critics branded the plan a cruel failure, saying it had been gutted by national interests.

Ms Gillard said the meeting had achieved a commitment to develop sustainable development goals by 2015, a decision to strengthen UN environmental decision-making bodies and pledges on the protection of oceans.

”I do not believe that this meeting will make change tomorrow, but I do believe that the things that have been agreed here over time will make a difference to the world’s environment,” Ms Gillard said as she prepared to fly home for the final week of parliamentary sittings before the winter break.

”I can certainly understand that there were many groups and many people around the world who would have had an ambition for more progress at this meeting … but we shouldn’t forget where progress has been made,” she said.

The meeting was never intended to reach a binding agreement, but the deal it did reach was so watered down that many activists and some ministers were openly questioning whether it was worth the massive effort of bringing 45,381 participants and almost 100 world leaders to Brazil.

The agreement committed to develop the new sustainable development goals for both developed and developing countries, but did not specify what themes they should cover.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg admitted it was ”disappointing”, blaming the concerns of an increasingly assertive bloc of developing countries who were worried about the implications for their growth of committing to specific goals.

In her speech to the conference, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Brazil had done the world ”a great service” by leading the conference to achieve an agreement in these ”fractious times”. But she conceded ”governments alone cannot solve all the problems we face”, echoing the views of disappointed activists who said change would now be driven by civil society in the absence of government action.

Ms Gillard held a series of bilateral meetings, including with Mrs Clinton. They discussed Syria, Iran and Mrs Clinton’s planned trip to Perth for the annual Australia-US ministerial meetings this year. As they posed for photographers, Ms Clinton complimented Ms Gillard on ”everything she has been doing” and on her hair.

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