The largest United Nations gathering in history is to start in Johannesburg in nine days' time, with nations reflecting on the progress -- or the lack of it -- toward achieving a more sustainable world over the past decade and wrangling over how to do a better job in the future.

But with few in agreement on what would constitute a successful meeting or what role Japan should play in achieving that aim, participants will be gathering under a cloud of uncertainty.

More than 60,000 delegates, businesspeople and members of nongovernmental organizations are expected to attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development, slated to run from Aug. 26 to Sept. 4.