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Environmentalists Urge President Bush to Attend August 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit

WASHINGTON (February 22, 2002) -- President Bush should personally attend a major international meeting in August on sustainable development to reassert U.S. leadership on global environmental issues, said a statement issued today by 41 American environmental leaders. The meeting, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, is expected to attract more than 100 presidents and prime ministers.

"Americans comprise only 4 percent of the world's population, but we are the world's biggest consumers and polluters," said John Adams, president of NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the U.S. environmental group CEOs that signed the "Call for Action." "It's our responsibility to lead the international community in addressing the threats to the Earth's critical natural systems and the health and well being of its people."

The world's environmental challenges are as daunting today as they were 10 years ago when the Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Emissions of greenhouse gases that are changing the climate continue to grow. More than 1 billion people live without safe drinking water, 2 billion people lack access to modern energy services, and 11,000 plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. NRDC says the Johannesburg Summit offers an opportunity to make the promises made at the 1992 Rio summit a reality.

The environmentalists' joint statement urges President Bush to take several actions before the Johannesburg summit, including ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, reducing U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and increasing U.S. assistance to developing countries for environmental protection.

"This summit will be different from past UN megaconferences. It will provide an unprecedented opportunity for real action," said Jacob Scherr, director of NRDC's International Program.

The United Nations' goal is not to renegotiate Agenda 21 -- the detailed, broad plan of action for sustainable development adopted at Rio. Instead, the world body is promoting for the first time "sub-global" partnerships among interested governments, international agencies, citizen groups and industry. Such partnerships would help ensure there are concrete efforts and real progress on the ground.

"We urge the U.S. government to seek actively such partnerships with developing countries," said Scherr, "especially ones that would ensure access to safe drinking water, develop sustainable energy sources, and curb urban air pollution by reducing sulfur in diesel fuel and phasing out the use of lead in gasoline."

The "Call for Action" statement and list of signatories is available online.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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