Wen Jiabao vows country will play a greater role in the promotion of the green agenda. Chen Weihua reports from Rio de Janeiro – in today’s China Daily.
With its traffic snarl-ups, shantytowns and the breathtaking views from atop Corcovado Mountain with its giant statue of Jesus Christ, the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro — the venue of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20 — is a study in the contrasts and challenges facing sustainable development and a better future.
At the conference, which ended on June 22, the global picture for sustainable development looked depressing. The challenges facing the planet are the most critical in history: pollution, poverty, the population explosion, climate change, desertification, inequality and the loss of biodiversity. Yet, the greatest challenge of all appeared to be the lack of strong global will to accept responsibility and tackle the crisis.
A large part of the problem was that both developing and developed economies were simply not on the same page. While developed nations pushed for a greener economic structure, many developing countries put the reduction of poverty at the top of their agenda, along with other basic social and economic programs. Some believe that developed countries and major corporations are using the green economy as an excuse to pursue profits and manipulate the global economy.
Happy versus unhappy
From the outset, the focus of Rio+20 was the outcome document called The Future We Want, an initiative that is supposed to pilot the world on a path to sustainable development.
However, despite a year of negotiations and days of horse-trading at the conference, nations ultimately remained sharply divided on the text. The Brazilian government, which was responsible for pushing the document through the 193 nations, had to present a watered-down version to ensure it passed prior to the arrival of heads of state and government leaders for the summit. The resulting document prompted both praise and criticism from the 45,000-plus people attending the mega-conference.
The UN hailed the final agreement, saying that it will advance action on sustainable development. Governments, civil society, multilateral development banks and businesses all pledged to help shape a more sustainable future.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who earlier had harsh words about the international community’s lack of commitment, described Rio+20 as providing a solid platform on which to build. “Rio+20 has affirmed fundamental principles, renewed essential commitments, and given us a new direction,” he said.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff called the outcome document “a great step forward”, adding “I am convinced that this conference will have the effect of bringing about sweeping change.”
Sha Zukang, secretary-general of Rio+20 and UN undersecretary for economic and social affairs, was also full of praise: “I have not the slightest doubt that the outcome document you have adopted will provide an enduring legacy for this historic Rio+20 conference: The Future We Want,” he said.
“You, the world’s leaders, have renewed your political commitment to sustainable development. You signed up to a framework for action that will drive us forward. Together, we can take great pride in this extraordinary accomplishment,” added Sha.
However, despite the official pronouncements, on the final day of the conference Sha was forced to admit that no one was happy with the outcome. “Our job is to make everyone equally unhappy. If one party is happy and others are not happy, then no, he won’t be happy either. Equally unhappy means equally happy,” he said.
One decidedly unhappy sector consisted of NGOs, which voiced their frustration about the outcome document and the conference.
CARE, a humanitarian organization that fights global poverty, said Rio+20 had failed those most in need. “Millions of poor people now have to pick up the pieces from the mess the world leaders left behind here in Rio. World leaders did not come to Rio prepared, and (they) failed to deliver any clear vision or solutions to eradicate poverty and stop environmental degradation,” said Kit Vaughan, CARE’s coordinator of climate change advocacy.
Jim Leape, director-general of the World Wildlife Fund, said Rio+20 was a conference “to address the pressing challenge of building a future that can sustain us”.
“Unfortunately, the world leaders who gathered here lost sight of that urgent purpose. The result is a squandered opportunity — an agreement that does not set the world on a path toward sustainable development,” he said.
China’s hopes and challenges
Meanwhile, the conference made clear that China has become a major stakeholder in sustainable development. “An unsustainable world means an unsustainable China; an unsustainable China means an unsustainable world,” said Veerle Vandeweerd, director of the UN Development Programme’s environment and energy group.
Premier Wen Jiabao was among the 100-plus heads of state who attended the conference. Just hours after his arrival on June 20, Wen said that as a major developing country, China will play a more active role in promoting sustainable development. “Countries must share the common responsibility of protecting our planet, while recognizing that they are at different stages and levels of development,” he said.
Du Ying, head of the Chinese preparatory committee for Rio+20, said that one of the summit’s successes was that it didn’t renege on the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, such as the principle of “common, but differentiated responsibilities”.
Given its size and rapid growth during the past 30 years, China faces huge challenges in virtually every field of sustainable development discussed at Rio+20, even though the country’s 12th Five-Year Plan has been described as “a green plan”. Wang Weizhong, vice-minister of science and technology, said at the conference that China is slowing its economic growth for the sake of sustainable development.
The China Pavilion in Athletes’ Park, a 10-minute walk from the main venue at Riocentro, hosted many side events about China and received 10,000 visitors. On the last day of the conference, Yin Hong, deputy administrator of the State Forestry Administration, addressed a roomful of visitors and outlined China’s progress during the past 20 years but also emphasized the tough challenges ahead.
She rolled out a blueprint showing specific targets for the expansion of nature reserves, wetlands and forested areas, in addition to plans for the reduction of desertification in China by 2020.
Chinese NGOs and corporations released the first civil society report on the country’s sustainable development over the past 20 years and Chinese college students joined young people from around the globe to tell the world exactly what sort of future they want.
Despite the frustration and disappointment about the lack of progress at the conference itself, one bright spot was the array of more than 500 side events covering sustainable development and ranging from protection of the oceans and public participation.
Nikhil Seth, director of the division for sustainable development at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that educating the public and spreading the sustainable development message around the world is vital to put the mission into action.
The Sustainable Development Learning course was a capacity-building event, consisting of a number of classes about crucial aspects of sustainable development. Attendees received a certificate after each class.
“This is the place we can exchange and talk about our experiences, get new ideas and pass those experiences onto our country and our region,” said Maryam Safari, head of the international department at the Charitable Institute for Protecting Social Victims.
However, not everybody stayed in the classrooms. Many took to the streets. The biggest protest was staged on June 20 when thousands of protestors — estimates range from 20,000 to 50,000 — marched in the city center. Organized by some 200 grassroots organizations attending the “People’s Summit”, protestors denounced low wages and the plight of indigenous peoples, the deforestation of the Amazon and the unscrupulous entrepreneurs they believe are attempting to hijack the green economy.
In light of the protests emphasizing the lack of confidence in the traditional structures, Zhang Jianyu, head of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Beijing office, questioned whether the traditional multilateral governance framework is still suited to current social conditions. “There is apparently something lacking in this top-down structure when NGOs, corporations and grassroots organizations have to become increasingly active,” he said.
Contact the reporter at email@example.com
- U.N. Report from Rio on Environment a ‘Suicide Note’ (rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Ban Ki Moon: Rio+20 was a success and leaves a concrete and lasting legacy (rtcc.org)
- Rio+20 a generational opportunity‚ says PM (thehimalayantimes.com)
- China, Brazil play important role in reaching consensus at Rio+20: Brazilian … – Xinhua (news.xinhuanet.com)
- Rio+20 Doesn’t Get Further Than Vague Declaration (npr.org)
- Rio+20 outcome paper sees ICT as catalyst for sustainable development (ghanabusinessnews.com)
- UN chief: Rio+20 ‘important victory of multilateralism’ (eco-business.com)
- VIDEO: Rio +20 outcome ‘disappointing’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Rio+20: Rio had chance to save planet but they blew it, critics claim (scotsman.com)
- Rio+20 declaration reflects India’s concerns (thehindu.com)
- Rio+20 Is Not a Failure (ips.org)
- Rio+20: International reaction to the sustainable development outcome (rtcc.org)
- Beyond Rio, green economics can give us hope (guardian.co.uk)
- Rio+20 UN environmental summit’s unhappy ending – San Francisco Chronicle (sfgate.com)
- What Rio+20 Was and Wasn’t in 17 Photos (treehugger.com)
- UN Official: Rio+20 Statement Just 28 Pct Done (abcnews.go.com)
- Rio+20 a Financial Success for Brazil (theepochtimes.com)
- Brazil: IMO Reaffirms Its Commitment to Sustainable Maritime Development (worldmaritimenews.com)
- Photos: Indigenous people gather for Rio+20 in Brazil (photos.denverpost.com)
- Future We Want and Rio + 20 at Museu de Art Moderna Rio de Janeiro (mombloggersforsocialgood.com)
- Indigenous Message to Rio+20: Leave Everything Beneath Mother Earth (newswatch.nationalgeographic.com)
- PowerMatching City honoured as a top sustainable solution at Rio+20 (eco-business.com)
The biggest ever United Nations conference on the environment has been condemned as a ‘hoax’ by UK charities for spending millions of taxpayers’ money to do little more than come up with a list of aspirations on saving the planet without any concrete action. From ‘The Daily Telegraph’
More than 150,000 people crowded into hotels on the famous Copacabana strip and even paid for space in converted office and ‘love motels’ for the eagerly anticipated conference 20 years on from the original 1992 Earth Summit.
The jamboree cost the Brazilian Government pounds 134million and each country hundreds of thousands to pay for flights and accommodation. The 50 strong UK delegation will have cost at least pounds 100,000. The UN, that is paid for by taxpayers around the world, will have had to fork out for helping poorer countries and officials attend.
The conference also emitted 5,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, despite calling for a reduction in global greenhouse gases.
It was hoped that ‘Rio+20 would come up with a new UN resolution to shift the world economy from polluting fossil fuels to green energy like wind and solar.
But as rain swept across Rio at the end of the summit, civil society groups were left angry and disillusione
The final document, called The Future We Want, calls on the world to shift to a ‘green economy’ and to phase out fossil fuels but there is no timetable for action.
The principle of Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs has been agreed but there is no detail, despite countries including the UK calling for clear targets on ending food waste, water pollution and overfishing.
Efforts to limit global population growth by calling for improved access to free contraception were watered down by protests from the Vatican.
Barbara Stocking, the head of Oxfam, who was part of the UK delegation attending meetings with ministers, said it was “shamefully devoid of progress”.
“Rio will go down as the hoax summit,” she said. “They came, they talked, but they failed to act. We elect governments to tackle the issues that we can’t tackle alone. But they are not providing the leadership the world desperately needs. Paralysed by inertia and in hock to vested interests, too many are unable to join up the dots and solve the connected crises of environment, equity and economy.”
Nick Clegg, the UK Deputy Prime Minister, admitted he was “disappointed” with the outcome.
He blamed a ‘neocolonial world’ where developing countries that want to continue using fossil fuels to develop, like China and Brazil, have more power than the West and Europe.
He explained that countries like India see the green economy as a “euphemism for protectionism” that will stop them using huge natural resources of coal to grow.
“We no longer live in a neocolonial world where a small number of Governments can get together and write a text and say to the rest of the world you have to accept this,” he said. “The developing world is much more assertive.”
Much of the anger at the conference was directed at world leaders for failing to take the crisis in rising temperatures and loss of species seriously enough. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and Barack Obama, the President of the United States did not even bother to turn up.
However Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, insisted that the conference was a success.
She said that the inclusion of ‘green economy’ in the text has given the concept much more power and will encourage both government and business to start cutting carbon and investing in renewables.
The text also promises to give more money to the UN environment programme to help poorer countries tackle pollution and calls on all nations to start measuring natural capital as well as GDP.
Quoting Steve Jobs, the late head of Apple in saying ‘Don’t think big, think different’’, Ms Clinton said it will be the private sector that will drive the shift to a green economy through innovation and market forces, rather than state intervention.
But Craig Bennet, Friends of the Earth’s Director of Policy and Campaigns, said businesses will only act once Governments give a clean signal.
“These talks have been completely undermined by a dangerous lack of ambition, urgency and political will – and weak politicians too afraid to push for anything tougher.
“World leaders are understandably concerned about the broken economy – but until they stop treating it separately from our social and environmental problems this will never be fixed,” he said.
As storm clouds gathered over Rio, Dame Barbara agreed that Governments have failed to make the agreement strong enough.
But, alongside other NGOs, she vowed that even the weak agreement to sign up to SDGs and start moving towards a green economy could be used to force change.
“It’s been a painful birth but the vision of an ambitious set of goals on environment and development, applicable to all countries, is a solitary light in the fog.”
- Rio+20: Earth summit dawns with stormier clouds than in 1992 (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Rio+20 politicians deliver ‘new definition of hypocrisy’ claim NGOs (guardian.co.uk)
- Rio+20: Right sentiment, wrong problems, poor solutions (telegraph.co.uk)
- Rio+20 protesters perform ‘ritual rip-up’ of negotiated text (guardian.co.uk)
- Breaking news from Rio+20: Canadian youth Occupy action at the official summit (climate-connections.org)
- Green Economy: India slams developed nations (thehindu.com)
- EXCLUSIVE: Godfather of global green thinking steps out of the shadows at Rio + 20 summit (foxnews.com)
- World leaders open Rio summit (bigpondnews.com)
Montrealer Jessica Magonet was not even born when the first Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro 20 years ago this month.
But next week, when nations meet again for the 20th anniversary of that watershed United Nations conference, Magonet won’t be letting her youth stop her from demanding the world pay attention to her cause.
Magonet, 19, is part of a 14-member youth delegation from across Canada heading to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio + 20, Wednesday to Friday. They will demand that protection of polar regions be among the global commitments that come out of the conference, and that indigenous peoples be involved in development decisions.
Magonet, a law student at McGill University, thinks it’s fitting that young people set part of the agenda at Rio + 20.
“Sustainable development is all about caring about people who are not here yet, so I hope we can represent that symbolically,” she said.
The first Earth Summit brought 172 countries together to create a blueprint for a better world, one with equal rights, less poverty and a healthier environment. Although hopes were high afterward, a recent assessment of progress on 90 environmental goals found that significant progress had been made on only four since 1992.
The world has managed to eliminate production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, remove lead from fuel, improve access to clean water and increase research on marine pollution. But the assessment, called the Global Environmental Outlook and released this month, showed that little or no progress has been made on such critical issues as climate change, desertification and drought.
The slow progress since the first Rio conference does not discourage Magonet.
“We have a lot of energy and we are not cynical. We have hope. … This seems to be a very political generation, actually … and with what’s happening at the federal level, people who may have been quiet up until now are becoming more vocal.”
Magonet was referring to Bill C-38 and the sweeping changes it will bring to environmental legislation. She is also concerned that Canada will soon be chairing the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental body responsible for Arctic governance that includes representatives of Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and the U.S.
“The current federal government does not have a great environmental record … so there is big concern as Canada is taking over as chair.”
Magonet said her delegation wants the world to recognize that the polar regions are threatened by oil drilling, mining, fishing and marine traffic, and that attention must be focused on sustainability now, before it’s too late.
“A lot of these regions are not governed by any laws because nobody goes there, so there is concern there will be a free-for-all, with no limit on the type or number of ships that can pass through there.
“Indigenous people also must be involved in the sustainable development of these regions.”
Magonet became fascinated with the Arctic when she visited Kuujjuaq and sailed up the east coast of Baffin Island with an organization called Students on Ice in 2010. She was inspired by meeting Inuit elders, hearing their concerns and fears about climate change, and learning from biologists and glacier experts about how the region is changing.
“Visiting the Arctic makes climate change so visceral and human, because what’s happening there is so shocking. They are already talking about adaptation; they’ve had to move beyond prevention and try to live with this new environment.”
For more details on Rio + 20 – click on uncsd2012.org
- Rio+20: Indigenous Peoples Denounce Green Economy and REDD+ as Privatization of Nature (climate-connections.org)
- Rio+20: Canada shielding fossil fuel subsidies at Earth Summit (calgaryherald.com)
- Indigenous Message to Rio+20: Leave Everything Beneath Mother Earth (ipsnews.net)
- Greenpeace: “Polluters are in charge at Rio+20″ (rtcc.org)
- Rio+20 Peoples’ Summit: Indigenous peoples speak out against REDD (climate-connections.org)
- Mother Earth Should Not Be “Owned, Privatised and Exploited” : Interview with Tom Goldtooth (climate-connections.org)
- To Fix The Climate, Take Meat Off The Menu: Rio+20 (chimalaya.org)
- Anniversary of Earth Summit struggles to find meaning – CTV.ca (ctv.ca)
- Rio+20 Vision Wall (rtcc.org)
Forest Call to Action : Brazilian congress adopts controversial land use law – but YOU can sign petition to help!
The Brazilian Congress has passed a catastrophic forestry bill that gives loggers and farmers free rein to cut down huge swaths of the Amazon. Now only President Dilma can stop it.
Fortunately, the timing is on our side — in weeks Dilma will host the world’s biggest environmental summit and insiders say she cannot afford to open it as the leader who approved the destruction of the rainforest. She’s facing mounting domestic pressure, with 79% of Brazilians rejecting this new bill. Now, if we join them we can turn up the global heat and push her to axe the bill, not the rainforest.
To sign the petition to ask the President to intervene – click here http://www.avaaz.org/en/veto_dilma_global/?wwf
Brazil‘s congress recently voted to ease rules mandating the amount of forest farmers must keep on their land, delivering a long-sought victory to the country’s powerful agriculture lobby and a political defeat for president Dilma Rousseff.
Though the bill will require millions of hectares of already cleared land to be replanted, environmentalists say it makes it too easy for farmers, responsible for much of the deforestation of the Amazon and other swaths of environmentally sensitive land in recent decades, to comply with regulations that stipulate how much forest they must preserve.
Rousseff still has the option to veto the bill, one of the most controversial to pass Brazil’s congress in recent years. The bill was supported by some of her party’s senators and members of its multi-party coalition, even though the president had previously said she would veto earlier versions of the law that contained provisions perceived as too lenient on farmers who have cleared woodlands for agriculture.
The final law, which was changed dramatically from a hard-bargained version her government was backing, will leave it to federal states to decide how much forest needs to be replaced alongside rivers, making it possible for big farming states to make only minimal demands of farmers.
“The approved bill gives a total and unrestricted amnesty to those who deforested … and goes against what the government itself had wanted,” environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement. “If [Rousseff] doesn’t react and veto this text, this future will be her legacy,” it said.
Pushing through the more lenient language the farming lobby sought was only possible through a rebellion by senators from within the government coalition.
A big enough majority in Congress could also knock down a veto by Rousseff, should she choose to use it.
“We lost. The government lost,” said the leader of Rousseff’s Workers party in the lower house of congress. The powerful farming lobby in congress had fought hard to minimise obligations the new law would impose on them.
The bill and its likely future impact have been watched closely in and outside Brazil, home to the world’s biggest rainforest and a country considered a reference for how other developing nations manage their woodlands.
In June, Brazil will host the Rio+20 summit, a meeting at which government leaders and policymakers from around the world will discuss global environmental policy.
Head of the national agriculture confederation, Katia Abreu, defended the new law, saying it did “not necessarily” mean states would impose softer rules than the central government would have on mandatory riverside forest coverage. She said it would also allow better made-to-measure rules to be set according to each region’s characteristics.
But Abreu hinted the new rules would be less rigid, saying farmers would have been obliged under the previous bill to replant 30 million hectares (74m acres) of forest and sacrifice land on which they grew billions of dollars worth of crops. She said it would only be possible to know how much would now have to be replaced after states had set rules.
A technician consulted on the policy said one drawback of allowing individual states to regulate it was that the process would probably take a year or two. That means replanting would likely be delayed until clear rules were made.
Deforestation in Brazil has slowed in recent years because of greater law enforcement and the use of satellite imagery to track areas with the most troubling rates of tree cutting.
A key provision of the forest code, as it is known, would allow landowners to count woodland on river margins, hilltops and steep inclines towards a total proportion of forest that must be preserved on their land. At present, such land isn’t allowed in their calculation. Farmers argue that uncertainty over existing legislation, which has effectively been suspended in recent years, impeded investments. And Brazil’s growing output of food crops – and an enviable position as an agricultural powerhouse – could face setbacks if farmers continue to be held back by doubts about how they can use their land.
Brazil is the world’s top producer of coffee, sugar, beef and orange juice and a major producer of soy and corn. Agriculture accounts for more than 5% of Brazil’s GDP.
Environmentalists say farmers would have to reforest land equivalent to the combined area of Germany, Austria and Italy to fully comply with existing regulations. Advocates of the new bill, however, say it would still result in a net gain of millions of hectares of forest coverage.
Under the terms of the new bill, farmers must sign up for a reforestation programme that will use satellites to track compliance. Those falling foul of the new law could be denied rural finance.
One government official estimated last year that 24m hectares (59 million acres), roughly an area the size of the United Kingdom, would be reforested as a result of the new code. But experts say the area to be replanted will be difficult to gauge until more data is collected about rural properties.
- Brazilian Congress scales back Forest Code (blogs.nature.com)
- Brazilian congress adopts controversial land use law (guardian.co.uk)
- Petition Calls on Brazilian President to Veto ‘Catastrophic’ Forest Code (commondreams.org)
- Help Save the Brazilian RainForest from the new Forest Code bill that is under evaluation in the Brazilian Government! (machita75.wordpress.com)
- Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff Faces Defining Decision Over Forest Bill (nytimes.com)
- Brazil’s new forest code faces international opposition (pri.org)
- Stop the Amazon Chainsaw Massacre Luis Morago – Avaaz.org (point4counterpoint.wordpress.com)
- Veto Dilma! – Please sign petition to stop President Dilma from destroying Mother Earth (007blueray.wordpress.com)
- FRA calls for Rousseff Forestry Act Veto (your-story.org)
- Petition calls on Brazilian president to veto ‘catastrophic’ forest code (guardian.co.uk)
- Brazil Forest Code Passes In Defeat For Dilma Rousseff (huffingtonpost.com)
- Controversial Forest Code Law Passes In Brazil (huffingtonpost.com)
- Brazil’s Congress approves controversial forest law (samuelasarenews.wordpress.com)
- Rousseff pressed to veto Brazil forestry law (mnn.com)
As the UN Conference on Sustainable Development comes into sight, the very real challenge of balancing the needs of the world’s food need with the environment rears its head… The Environmental News Network reports.
See the full post at http://learnfromnature.net/agriculture/836 ; comments at Learn From Nature
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