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UN sustainability drive draws China, Bolivia criticism

The United Nations plan to harmonize economic growth with environmental protection drew criticism from Chinese and Bolivian leaders, underscoring a rift that limited the ambition of the Rio+20 summit.

China Premier Wen Jiabao joined Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s president in raising concerns about the sustainable development initiative at a conference of more than 180 nations in Rio de Janeiro, suggesting that the effort to cap use of fossil fuels and spur renewable energy threatens poverty relief.

“The global process of sustainable development is not balanced,” Wen told delegates at the summit last night. “The gap between the north and the south is rising. Grave new challenges are posed by the international financial crisis, climate change and food security.”

Morales and Ecuador’s leader made the argument more forcefully, suggesting the clean economy push was a ploy by richer nations to maintain their dominance over poor countries. The comments help show why envoys at the summit marking the 20th anniversary of Earth Day aren’t planning to adopt legally binding targets for improving the quality of air and water.

“Environmentalism is an imperial strategy which quantifies every river, every lake and every natural product and converts it into money,” Morales said in a speech. “By measuring the utility of nature in money, it colonizes nature. The environmentalism of capitalism is predatory colonialism.”

Ethiopia vs US

Ecuador President Rafael Correa, speaking to delegates, showed a slide indicating fossil-fuel emissions with Ethiopia at the low end of the scale and the US and Qatar at the other.

“The 20 percent of richest countries generate 60 percent of the emissions, the poorest generate 0.72 percent,” Correa said. “This is one of the biggest planetary injustices. It’s fashionable to have multimillion-dollar bank bailouts. We need to save the environment too. How do we resolve this? Through the payment of environmental debt by the richest countries.”

The conference is due to finish tomorrow, when leaders are scheduled to endorse a 49-page document outlining their sustainability goals. It includes voluntary commitments and is not legally binding.

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