RIO DE JANEIRO — Leaders from the developing world sharply criticized their counterparts from richer nations during talks at the Rio+20 sustainable development conference on Thursday, citing what they said is the historic responsibility industrialized nations have to clean up the globe.
Delegates from developed nations, meanwhile, said that a rapidly changing economic order and the rise of nations such as China, Brazil and India means that all nations must work together in protecting the environment.
Leaders or senior officials from 193 nations descended on Rio de Janeiro for the largest conference the United Nations has organized, with upward of 50,000 participants discussing hundreds of issues meant to get the world on a sustainable path that would allow economic growth without depleting the globe's resources.
However, activists and many delegates blasted the document that will be signed at the conclusion of the three-day talks, which was finished by diplomats hours before the summit opened and won't be formally debated by leaders before they approve it Friday, delegates said.
Cuban leader Raul Castro cited a long-standing argument of developing nations: that the old powers from Europe and the U.S. must contribute more in funds and efforts to clean up the globe and prevent climate change since they ate up more of the globe's natural resources while working their way to developed-nation status.
"The fact that the negotiations have failed to reach an agreement that would help prevent global climate change is a clear indication of the lack of political will and of the inability of the developed nations to act according to the obligations stemming from their historic responsibility and current standing," Castro said.
Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales told delegates at a massive convention center in western Rio that "capitalism is a form of colonialism" and that "commercializing natural resources is a form of colonizing southern countries, which carry on their shoulders the responsibility to protect the environment, which was destroyed by the north."
Negotiators worked for months to finish the 49-page document, which addresses a wide spectrum of issues, from poverty reduction to increased protection for the globe's oceans and ways to create "green economies."
Many activists complained that the document barely advances beyond what was agreed to at the original Earth Summit Rio hosted in 1992, a meeting culminating years of talks that put sustainable development on the political map.
"We have heard lots of nice speeches by political leaders ... but they were full of empty words," said Kit Vaughan, a climate change specialist with humanitarian organization CARE. "The rhetoric cannot camouflage the fact that leaders are missing a shared vision and commitment to stop environmental degradation and eradicate poverty."
Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian prime minister and chair of the U.N. commission that helped bring the concept of sustainable development to global attention 25 years ago, said in a statement that the "Rio+20 declaration does not do enough to set humanity on a sustainable path, decades after it was agreed that this is essential for both people and the planet."
Others, however, said just managing to come to an agreement on the document at a time of economic crisis and after a series of breakdowns at big climate conferences in recent years was not a tragic outcome, and that the thousands of sideline events that have drawn people from around the globe made the event worthwhile.
"Sure, we're all disappointed the document wasn't stronger, but a document isn't going to save the world anyway," said Peter Lehner, executive director of the National Resources Defense Council. "In the longer perspective, Rio is a catalyst to for people who are making real commitments. I'd love to wave a magic wand and have national governments do it all, but that's not reality."