MADRID (AFP) — A UN conference on combatting desertification ended Saturday in Madrid without agreement on a budget for a ten-year action plan, with ecologists berating Washington and Tokyo for failing to come up with sufficient funding.
The Ecologists in Action pressure group, attending as an observer, dubbed the conference a failure, despite the plan being approved, because no money was pledged to implement it.
The group pinned the blame on Japan and the United States for the setback.
Participating nations drew up a ten-year action plan to "revitalise" a 1994 UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCDD) which 191 nations signed in Paris, and provide some financial backing.
But finding the cash proved a sticking point, leaving 70 non-governmental organisations present to criticise "the constant passiveness and "absence of intervention" by UNCCD signatory nations.
"There was a problem in negotiating the budget," a UNCCD spokeswoman told AFP after a meeting which went beyond its Friday deadline into the early hours of Saturday in a last-ditch attempt to achieve a concrete outcome.
The UNCCD grew out of the 1992 Earth Summit, since when growing evidence of climate change and desertification, which environmental experts say threatens up to a third of the world's population, has increased the sense of urgency.
But after trying to thrash out a budgetary framework throughout Friday night the meeting ended amid opposition led by Japan.
The Japanese had originally given backing for a five percent rise in the budget, projected at 17 million euros (23 million dollars) for 2008-2009.
"There was a consensus until three in the morning, but they changed their minds and there was no agreement," Ecologists in Action coordinator Theo Oberhuber told AFP.
Organisers earlier had estimated economic losses stemming from soil degradation at an annual 47.6 billion euros.
For Spanish Environment Minister Cristina Narbona "this was not the outcome we had hoped for. We had worked to overcome the impasse with Japan and everything seemed to be working out."
Ecologists in Action said it saw the event as a flop given the lack of funding agreement.
"Even if the ten-year plan was passed there exists, in the absence of a budget, a major risk that it will not be applied," the ONG said.
"The unyielding opposition of Japan and the United States to a budget increase for the convention, despite the existence at midnight of an apparant agreement on a five percent increase, saw the conference end this morning after a long and tense night," the organisation added.
Participating nations will now have to go back to the drawing board at UN headquarters in New York to thrash out costing for the plan.
"We are going to work hard to get over this sole obstacle," said Narbona, insisting the conference had otherwise seen "significant moves forward" including greater ONG and civilian involvement in combating desertification and raising awareness.
Narbona told Spanish radio that the developed world had to act to combat an issue fomenting migration, with Spain in the forefront of immigration by sub-Saharan Africans.
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