GENEVA — Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday painted a dim picture of the world's environmental progress, two decades after he founded the environmental group Green Cross International.
Laying much of the blame on a lack of leadership and vision, he railed against governments for falling short on nuclear disarmament, waste, development and climate change.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate launched the Geneva-based organization in 1993 as a kind of Red Cross that could help countries in environmental trouble.
Reflecting on the 20 years since then, the 82-year-old Gorbachev acknowledged deep frustrations as an environmental crusader.
"The current economic crisis is being aggravated by the growing pressure on the environment, by poverty, by persisting international conflicts and by the worsening state of the global environment," a bespectacled Gorbachev said in Russian to reporters in Geneva by video link.
"The gap between the poor and the rich is unacceptably wide. The response to climate change has been weak and disunited," he said. "The possibility of building a more secure, more just and more united world has been largely missed."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that among his top hopes for 2013 is reaching a new agreement on climate change. Two-decade-old U.N. climate talks have so far failed in their goal of reducing the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that a vast majority of scientists says are warming the planet.
Last December, a U.N. climate conference in Doha, Qatar, agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that limits the greenhouse gas output of some rich countries, and affirmed a previous decision to adopt a new global climate pact by 2015.
Green Cross, an international organization with affiliates in Switzerland, the United States and two dozen other nations, has helped facilitate destruction of some 57,000 tons of chemical weapons and promoted nuclear disarmament.
Alexander Likhotal, the Green Cross president, said leaders must be honest about the size of the real challenges facing them and recognize that "incremental gestures will no longer suffice."
Gorbachev, whose democratic changes led against his will to the collapse of the Soviet Union, urged governments to step up their efforts and use his policies of "perestroika" (restructuring) and "glasnost" (openness) to address global climate change and overconsumption of resources.