The world sustainable development summit has ended with an upbeat declaration by UN secretary general Kofi Annan praising the summit’s achievements in agreeing to “an impressive range of concrete commitments and action that will make a real difference for people in all regions of the world”. The summit’s purpose was to address some of the most pressing concerns of poverty and the environment.

The major outcome ducument was a Plan of Implementation containing targets and timetables to spur action on a wide range of issuses, including halving the proportion by 2015 of people who lack access to fresh water or proper sanitation, restoring depleted fisheries and phasing out toxic chemicals. On energy, summit secretary general Nitin Desai announced that “countries had committed themselves to expanding access for the two billion people without energy services”. He added that ‘while countries did not agree on a target for phasing in renewable energy, they did commit to green energy and the phase-out of subsidies for types of energy not consistent with sustainable development.’

But the real achievements of this summit amounted to only $235 million committed by governments to 220 specific partnership inititatives; and although the US and the EU have promised huge sums in support of water and energy initiatives no framework for action has been agreed. The main obstacle, well known before the summit started, has been lack of corporate involvement – in general private companies will not engage except on their own terms, terms that usually involve host countries providing favourable conditions for investing in privatised basic services.