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Prospects grim for Rio+20 summit

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Twenty years after the first Earth Summit, a renewed bid to rally the world behind a common environmental blueprint opened Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro against a backdrop of discord and economic gloom.

Kicking off the so-called Rio+20 summit, Dilma Rousseff, president of host nation Brazil, called on “all countries of the world to commit” to reaching an accord that addresses the most pressing environmental and social woes.

The U.N. conference, which marks the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit — a landmark 1992 gathering that opened the debate on the future of the planet and its resources — is the largest ever organized, with 50,000 delegates.

Around 115 leaders are expected to attend the main event itself on June 20-22 but a series of conferences grouping businesses, environmental groups and non-governmental organizations are being held in advance.

This frenzy of contacts and deal-making could well be more fruitful than the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development itself, analysts say, mindful of the failures of the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen.

Behind the scenes, there is incipient panic over the draft summit communique after three rounds of preliminary informal negotiations left more than 75 percent of the paragraphs still to be agreed.

The charter is supposed to sum up the challenges and spell out pledges to nurture the oceans, roll back climate change, promote clean growth and provide decent water, sanitation and electricity for all.

Divergences

The biggest divergences lie in four areas, according to sources close to the negotiations.

They include action on climate change, protecting the oceans and achieving food security, and whether “Sustainable Development Goals” should replace the Millennium Development Goals when these objectives expire in 2015.

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