UPDATE 2-Rio+20 summit begins under a cloud of criticism

Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:02pm EDT

* Global leaders gather to discuss vague text
    * Even delegations that backed draft text unhappy
    * Demonstrations across Rio de Janeiro

 (Adds Hollande statements)
    By Paulo Prada and Valerie Volcovici
    RIO DE JANEIRO, June 20 (Reuters) - Brazilian President
Dilma Rousseff welcomed world leaders to a rainy Rio de Janeiro
on Wednesday under a cloud of criticism that a three-day summit
is falling far short of its promise to establish clear goals for
sustainable development.
    Before the official start of the event, known as Rio+20
because of the landmark Earth Summit in the city two decades
ago, Brazil convinced visiting delegations to finalize a draft
declaration for their leaders. But many delegations and summit
organizers - as well as outraged environmentalists and activist
groups - are lambasting the document as weak.
    "Let me be frank: Our efforts have not lived up to the
measure of the challenge," Ban Ki-moon, the U.N.
secretary-general, said in opening remarks. "Nature does not
wait," he added later. "Nature does not negotiate with human
beings."
    The draft document, finalized on Tuesday, laid out
aspirations, rather than mandatory goals, on issues like food
security, water and energy. It also called for countries to
pursue "sustainable development goals," a vague set of U.N.
objectives built around the environment, economic growth and
social inclusion.
    Many of those who agreed on the draft said it was stripped
of vital specifics. "I was disappointed that we did not go
further," Nick Clegg, Britain's deputy prime minister, said in
prepared comments. 
    French President Francois Hollande criticized "shortcomings"
in the document, especially a failure by U.N. members to fortify
its existing environmental program and transform it into a
full-fledged agency. He also criticized the omission of a French
proposal to help fund development programs through a tax on
financial transactions.     
    
    Expectations have long been low for the gathering, which is
expected to include nearly 100 heads of state and government by
the time it concludes on Friday. Overall, 193 state delegations
are at the event.  
    Many leaders are more focused on the global economic
slowdown and the debt crisis in Europe. Rousseff herself,
visibly tired during her welcome speech, had just returned from
a meeting in Mexico of the Group of 20 major economies.  
    Despite the presence of the French president and the Russian
and Chinese prime ministers, several other high-profile leaders
are missing, including U.S. President Barack Obama and German
Chancellor Angela Merkel.
    Compared with the original Earth Summit, which led to
historic decisions on biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions,
organizers say this week's summit is only the beginning of a new
goal-setting process for global development. The 1992 event,
they noted, was the culmination of years of negotiations.
    Speakers sought on Wednesday to highlight the issues most
pressing for their nations in the global debate over
development. While many spoke of their need for sustainable
sources of energy, food and water, Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad pressed rich countries to eschew "materialistic"
desires and pursue "spiritual" development.
    "The collapse of the current atheistic order is reaching its
time," he predicted, citing wars, turmoil in the Middle East,
and disasters that shaped the world. 
       
    BRAZIL WANT TO SHOWCASE RIO
    Rio authorities, gearing up to host the World Cup and
Olympics later this decade, have been working to put a friendly
face on the gathering. The city's famous Christ the Redeemer
statue is illuminated green, its glow shining nightly on traffic
jams and motorcades below. 
    Demonstrators have made their displeasure known.
    Outside the summit in the Rio suburbs, environmental and
political activists and others marched through steady drizzle
and called for bold action.
    At a parallel event nearby, an activist interrupted a speech
by Clegg. "This is the great nature sale," shouted the
demonstrator, wearing a mask with Clegg's likeness.       
    Earlier this week, bare-breasted feminists marched through
the city center, and Amazonian tribesmen, donning war paint and
arrows, descended on Brazil's national development bank, which
is financing dams and other controversial infrastructure
projects in the Amazon rain forest.
    Diplomats said Brazil's push for a draft document had forced
delegations to focus and come to an agreement, but it may have 
shut the door on bolder action by leaders when they arrive.
    They added that left little leeway for the draft to improve
before a final pronouncement on Friday. "Everybody has things
that they have given up in the document in one way or the
other," said Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy on climate change.
"This is the thread that once you start pulling on it, it
unravels quickly."
    Brazilian officials said the text that was drafted
represented "what was possible" among so many different
delegations and interests. Noting the protests, Foreign Minister
Antonio Patriota said, "If you put 193 (of them) together, they
would have difficulty finding a common denominator, too." 
    Even some environmentalists agreed, stressing that local and
domestic initiatives, by governments and the private sector,
were more likely to improve the environment than slow-moving
global diplomacy. 
    "The agreement is fine, but global agreements aren't going
to solve anything," said Peter Seligmann, chief executive of
Conservation International, a U.S. based environmental group.
"The solutions will only come through the enlightened
self-interest of countries, companies and individuals."

 (Additional reporting by Nina Chestney, Jeb Blount, and Rodrigo
Viga Gaier; Editing by Todd Benson and Peter Cooney)
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