RIO+20…or RIO – 20? …UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012

It has begun -but will the biggest UN event, also be  the biggest failure in terms of real global commitments?


Three newspapers provide a little optimism but mainly relate to the gathering storm clouds:

The Hindustan Times -20th June 2012

The biggest divergences lies in four areas. They include action on climate change, protecting the oceans and achieving food security, and whether Sustainable Development Goals should replace the Millenium Development Goals when these objectives expire in 2015.

The concept of common but differentiated responsibility reflects what developing nations consider their right to catch up with the rich world and as such have more leeway on emissions and other environmental concerns.

The Bangkok Post -20/06/2012

UN members on the eve of a global summit backed a plan on Tuesday for nursing Earth’s sick environment back to health and tackling poverty through greener growth.

But relief at avoiding a repeat of the deadlocked 2009 Copenhagen climate summit mingled with disappointment for many who thought the deal was a sad compromise.

“Nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. That’s how weak it is. And they all knew,” the European Union’s commissioner for climate change, Connie Hedegaard, said in a tweet.

After haggling that went deep into the night, national delegates gave provisional approval to a 53-page statement designed to act as a compass for sustainable development for the next decade and beyond.

It identifies measures for tackling the planet’s many environmental ills and lifting billions out of poverty through policies that nurture rather than squander natural resources.
and from John Vidal of the Guardian (19/06/2012)

The excuse is that the summit is overshadowed by the deepening global financial crisis. The real reason may be that the days of hope and idealism are over. Rich countries have little new to offer, and China,Brazil, India and other rapidly emerging economies are now in the development driving seat.

Instead of the ambitious, legally binding conventions on offer in 1992, countries have only been asked to lay the foundations for the next 20 years.

The UN wants Rio to endorse a UN “green economy roadmap” with environmental goals, targets and deadlines. Developing countries, led by Colombia, prefer new “sustainable development goals” to better protect the environment, guarantee food and power to the poorest, and alleviate poverty.

But with negotiations now effectively over there is still no political consensus; the poor are mistrustful of the rich, and groups like Oxfam fear that new goals could get mixed up with the existing millennium development goals.

Getting any agreement at all has proved hard. UN chiefs and the Brazilians are upbeat but squabbling governments have fought bitterly over the lead that the rich should give and the money the poor should receive to help them out of destitution.

Just as in 1992, when Bush declared that “the American way of life is not negotiable” and reduced the aid package to developing countries to a paltry £6bn, so in 2012 US negotiators, backed by the EU and the G20, have told developing countries to accept the “new global reality”, and have refused to give way.

But no one in Rio doubts that the talks are even more urgent than in 1992. The director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, has warned that pollution is killing millions of people a year, that ecosystem decline is increasing, that climate change is speeding up, and soil and ocean degradation is worsening.

Steiner said: “If [the] trends continue … governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation. Earth systems are being pushed towards their biophysical limits.”

Dame Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s director, said: “This is urgent. As the people with the least struggle to survive, the consumption habits of the richest are stripping the Earth of its resources. The situation is dire. We cannot go on living beyond the Earth’s boundaries. The people suffering are the poorest. These are issues that will affect us all for ever.”

But in the absence of government action, any ambition and optimism is expected to come from the parallel “People’s Summit”, the myriad non-governmental groups and many business meetings that have already started.

According to Marina Sylva, former Brazilian environment minister and presidential candidate, Flamingo park in the centre of Rio, where thousands of peasants and social movements are now camping and meeting, should become “the Tahrir square” of NGOs, the dispossessed, the indigenous communities, and human rights, ecological and other social justice activists, all wanting more radical change to the world’s economic systems to protect the Earth.

For them, the world leaders in the Rio centro meeting halls only offer green capitalism, nature for sale and more of the same inequality.

Sylva said: “They cannot lower expectations in the face of a crisis worsening every day. I hope that Rio+20 will become the Tahrir square of the global environmental crisis and that public opinion will be able to tell leaders that they cannot brush off the science.”


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