RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - All heads of state should attend a major environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro next year to agree concrete ways of putting the world economy on a more sustainable path and reducing inequality, the United Nations' official leading the process said Wednesday.
The U.N. summit next June is billed as the most important environmental gathering in a generation, marking 20 years since the 1992 "Earth Summit" in the same Brazilian city produced landmark pacts on biodiversity and the climate.
Financial crises in Europe and other developed countries have raised the summit's importance by showing that the current path of development is unsustainable, said Sha Zukang, the U.N. under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs.
"In the last 20 years, we have seen relatively fast economic development ... In the meantime we have seen a growing gap between rich and poor. At the same time we have seen the deterioration or destruction of the environment," Sha, a Chinese national, told reporters in Rio.
"... We are not short of declarations, not short of agendas, not short of plans. What we need most is to honor and implement what the leaders committed to 20 years ago."
Sha said he hoped all national leaders would come but that he expected 20 more heads of state than the 100 or so who attended the 1992 event. Other officials say many leaders are unlikely to decide on attending the summit until outlines of possible agreements become clearer in the months ahead of it.
The 1992 summit set the stage for all major international environmental agreements since, leading to the signing of U.N. conventions on climate change - a precursor of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol - and on biological diversity. It also agreed principles for sustainable forestry and encouraged the development of national plans for sustainable development.
Yet despite the agreement of broad sustainability goals in 1992, much of the agenda remains unfulfilled.
The conference next June aims to secure a "renewed political commitment for sustainable development," according to the United Nations. The meeting's main focuses will be on advancing "green economy" principles and reforming institutions to advance sustainable development.
The meeting will take place against a backdrop of wide disagreements between developed and developing countries that are expected to stymie progress toward a global climate deal at a U.N. conference in Durban, South Africa, starting next week.
Failure in Durban could dim the prospects for strong progress in Rio.
Some national governments and environmentalists have already criticized the Rio summit's focus on "green economy" principles, which they say emphasize technology and financial mechanisms over biodiversity and environmental protection.
Developing economies have voiced concern that such principles could be used as an excuse for trade protection or a condition for aid from richer countries.
Sha said, however, he believed the "green economy" theme had "huge potential" to generate jobs as long as it was in the context of sustainable development and alleviating poverty.
"We should not be, in my personal view, unduly bothered by its definition," he said.
He listed seven priority areas for the talks, including reducing poverty, raising food security, improving water management, creating "sustainable cities" and boosting disaster preparedness.
Editing by Paul Simao