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.”
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- 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)
John Vidal, Environment Editor of the Guardian who was in Rio for the ’92 Earth summit, looks back at that momentous event, and how the 2012 version compares
Helicopters thundered up and down the chic Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Tanks guarded the bridges and tunnels. The favelas were in lockdown, schools closed and supermarkets stood empty. Unexpectedly, President George H W Bush, flush with success at the collapse of communism, had arrived in Rio de Janeiro for the 1992 Earth summit, the UN’s epic conference on environment and development.
The graffiti that I read on the streets of Rio read “Yanqui go home”, but the world had seen nothing like this before; after years of planning, 109 heads of state, 172 countries, 2,500 official delegates, and about 45,000 environmentalists, indigenous peoples, peasants and industrialists came together for the summit. The Dalai Lama meditated with Shirley Maclaine on the beach at dawn, Jane Fonda turned up, as did Pelé, Fidel Castro, great train robber Ronnie Biggs and an obscure US senator called Al Gore.
On a wave of concern about the state of the world, presidents, prime ministers and even two kings signed up to a legally binding convention on biodiversity, a climate change agreement that led to the Kyoto protocol, a 6,000-page blueprint for action, a six-page philosophical paper linking poverty to environmental degradation, initiatives on forests and new principles to guide world development.
The milestone summit set the global green agenda for 20 years and took only a few days for leaders to negotiate. Nowadays, when it takes 15 years to arrive at nowhere in climate negotiations, it seems extraordinary.
Twenty years later, Rio is bursting again and on maximum security alert for the follow-up conference, billed as the biggest UN event ever organised. This time, 15,000 soldiers and police are guarding about 130 heads of state and government, as well as ministers and diplomats from 180 countries and at least 50,000 others.
But Rio+20 is full of absences. Francois Hollande will be there for France, but Obama, Cameron, Merkel and most other G20 leaders are snubbing it. In 1992, Britain sent newly elected PM John Major, his environment secretary Michael Howard and two other ministers. This time its delegation includes businesses and is led by deputy PM Nick Clegg, with just one other minister. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) will be represented only by senior officials.
The excuse given 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 withnegotiations 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 sqaubbling 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. UNEP director Achim Steiner has warned that pollution is killing millions of people a year, ecosystem decline is increasing, climate change is speeding, and soil and ocean degradation is worsening. “If current trends continue … then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation. Earth systems are being pushed towards their biophysical limits,” he 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,” said Dame Barbara Stocking, Oxfam director.
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 the many business meetings which 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 disposessed, the indigenous communities, and human rights, ecological and other social justice activists, all wanting more radical change to the world’s economic system 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 unequality.
She 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.”
Excerpts of the speech given by George H W Bush at Rio 1992
“Let’s face it, there has been some criticism of the United States. But I must tell you, we come to Rio proud of what we have accomplished and committed to extending the record on American leadership on the environment. In the United States, we have the world’s tightest air quality standards on cars and factories, the most advanced laws for protecting lands and waters, and the most open processes for public participation.
“Now for a simple truth: America’s record on environmental protection is second to none. So I did not come here to apologise. We come to press on with deliberate purpose and forceful action. Such action will demonstrate our continuing commitment to leadership and to international co-operation on the environment.
“There are those who say that it takes state control to protect the environment. Well, let them go to eastern Europe, where the poisoned bodies of children now pay for the sins of fallen dictators, and only the new breeze of freedom is allowing for clean-up.
“Today we realise that growth is the engine of change and a friend of the environment. Today an unprecedented era of peace, freedom and stability makes concerted action on the environment possible as never before.”
Excerpts from Fidel Castro’s 1992 Rio speech
“An important biological species – humankind – is at risk of disappearing due to the rapid and progressive elimination of its natural habitat. We are becoming aware of this problem when it is almost too late to prevent it. It must be said that consumer societies are chiefly responsible for this appalling environmental destruction.
“With only 20% of the world’s population, they consume two-thirds of all metals and three-fourths of the energy produced worldwide. They have poisoned the seas and the rivers. They have polluted the air. They have weakened and perforated the ozone layer. They have saturated the atmosphere with gases, altering climatic conditions with the catastrophic effects we are already beginning to suffer.
“The forests are disappearing. The deserts are expanding. Billions of tons of fertile soil are washed every year into the sea. Numerous species are becoming extinct. Population pressures and poverty lead to desperate efforts to survive, even at the expense of nature.
“Unequal trade, protectionism and the foreign debt assault the ecological balance and promote the destruction of the environment. If we want to save humanity from this self-destruction, wealth and available technologies must be distributed better throughout the planet. Less luxury and less waste in a few countries would mean less poverty and hunger in much of the world.”
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- Rio 2012: it’s a make-or-break summit. Just like they told us at Rio 1992 | George Monbiot (guardian.co.uk)
- Rio+20: Canada shielding fossil fuel subsidies at Earth Summit (theprovince.com)
- Twenty years later, will world make good on Rio Earth Summit’s ‘broken promises’? – msnbc.com (worldnews.msnbc.msn.com)
- Kent says Canada still plans to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies (vancouversun.com)
- UN envoys close to deal on energy, sustainability goals (eco-business.com)
- ‘Seize moment’ call at Rio summit (bbc.co.uk)
- Greenpeace: “Polluters are in charge at Rio+20″ (rtcc.org)
- Rio+20 Day 5 Live: Coverage from the UN Summit on Sustainable Development (rtcc.org)
- At Rio+20 environmental summit, is ‘catastrophe’ inevitable? (csmonitor.com)
The theme for the 40th World Environment Day – Green Economy: Does it include you? – is aimed at encouraging public participation in the adoption of a new growth model that is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.
However, while recognizing the importance of individual responsibility, it should be noted that it is policymakers around the world who will be held accountable for the lack of progress in achieving sustainable and equitable development.
With the world economy yet to see any light at the end of tunnel after the onset of the global financial crisis, it is high time policymakers from all countries aggressively embraced green growth as the only way to deliver a cleaner, greener and more sustainable 21st century.
A global transition to a green economy has been underway since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil in 1992. But there is mounting evidence that the transition to a green economy is not happening fast enough.
Global sustainable development has been seriously challenged by rapid population growth, increasing poverty, unequal North-South development, severe pollution, the reduction in biodiversity, desertification and global climate change.
There is still no international consensus on global food security or on ways to nourish a population of 9 billion by 2050.
Worse, the worst global financial crisis since 1930s has not only dampened global growth prospects, it has also pushed policymakers in debt-laden rich countries to either choose growth-depressing austerity or inflation-fueling monetary easing.
The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or “Rio+20″ is to be held soon, but policymakers in these countries are still shying away from the painful, but necessary, structural reforms that will make the green economy the bedrock of their future prosperity.
China issued its first national report on sustainable development last Friday, which underscored the urgency of transforming its development pattern.
To pursue a sustainable future for all, the international community should jointly make the World Environment Day a wake-up call for policy changes to improve people’s well-being and social equity while reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.
- Switching to a green economy could mean millions of jobs, says UN (guardian.co.uk)
- Rio+20 … A green economy without poverty (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Britain is rising to the challenge of greening our economy | Caroline Spelman (guardian.co.uk)
- ‘Green Economy’ – New Disguise for Old Tricks? (climate-connections.org)
- Memo to Rio+20: ‘green economy’ doesn’t mean monetising nature (guardian.co.uk)
- Venezuelan Declaration Toward RIO + 20: Against the Green Economy (climate-connections.org)
- Sustainable development flourishing in Wales’s green economy (bfreenews.com)
- The UN Plan for the World: Global Carbon Taxes, Global Safety Nets And A One World Green Economy (activistpost.com)
- Celebrate World Environment Day Using Eco-Friendly Promotional Products (prweb.com)
In June 2012, Brazil will host the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20. China Daily reports.
The time is right: there are clear signs that the current development models must be reformulated.Countries - regardless of their wealth - face serious economic and financial crises, socialinequality, hunger, unemployment, losses in biodiversity and climate change. These multiple crisespoint to the timely and urgent need to implement sustainable development models: national projectsthat take a balanced and integrated approach to economic growth, social inclusion andenvironmental protection.
Rio+20 will be an opportunity to hold this discussion at the highest level. The conference will befundamentally different from its predecessor, Rio 92. The summit held 20 years ago representedthe final stages of long negotiation processes that culminated in the signing of important documentsand conventions. While Rio 92 was a destination point, Rio+20 may be considered a point ofdeparture. Rio+20 looks to the future, building a new sustainable development agenda.
One of Brazil’s priorities in Rio+20 will be discussing the eradication of poverty and thestrengthening of financial and technological flows in order to implement sustainable developmentcommitments, which require significant public, private and political resources.
The Rio+20 agenda is organized around two major subjects. The first is a green economy in thecontext of sustainable development and poverty eradication. On this, a general agreement has beenemerging among the different countries on a few aspects: there is not one single model for a greeneconomy; and one must not think about a green economy without taking into account theeradication of poverty, that is, without pursuing social inclusion goals.
Each country will create its own green economy design, based on its national realities, theresources available, and the development challenges it faces. In Brazil, for example, the greeneconomy will be based on the widespread use of renewable energy, as well as on effectivelycombating deforestation and raising income levels for millions of Brazilians. The adoption of asingle standard green economy for all nations could potentially create distortions, such as tradebarriers, which would deepen the disparities among countries, aggravating social problems,particularly in developing countries.
The second subject is governance for sustainable development. In other words, it is necessary toadapt the framework of the UN system so as to strengthen multilateralism, reduce the democraticdeficit and provide greater integration among the social, economic and environmental aspects ofsustainable development.
Rio+20 may decisively contribute to tackling global warming, because sustainable development isthe best answer to the challenges associated with climate change. Brazil, China and the otherpartners of the BASIC Group, South Africa and India, have played a key role in the recent DurbanConference, contributing, through their leadership, to the achievement of positive results. Thanks toDurban, the conditions are now set for a constructive exchange on global warming at Rio+20,which could potentially strengthen the international system regarding climate change. This shouldclearly be achieved without duplicating intergovernmental negotiations, whose legitimate forum isthe United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The world looks to Brazil, the host of Rio+20, for leadership. We will not shy away from this task,for which we have solid credentials, bearing in mind our experience in areas such as clean andrenewable energies, as well as inclusive economic growth policies. Brazil has demonstrated that itis possible to grow and to include, while protecting and preserving.
As Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff mentioned in January 2012, at the World Social Forum inPorto Alegre: after Rio+20, we want the word ”development” to always be associated to theadjective ”sustainable”.
The author is the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
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- Countries agree to extend negotiations on Rio+20 outcome document (ghanabusinessnews.com)
- What’s the Agenda for the Rio+20 Conference? (thegoodhuman.com)
- Rio+20 (slideshare.net)
- Youth Involvement Surges In Lead Up To Rio+20 Earth Summit (thinkprogress.org)
- May 2012 (felixdodds.net)
- Rio+20 talk point: your message to the summit on the future you want (bfreenews.com)
- UNCTAD rolls trade message for Rio+20 Summit (ghanabusinessnews.com)
- Mashable Is Heading to Brazil for Rio+Social (mashable.com)