Rio+20: Biggest ever UN summit ends with faint glimmer of hope

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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1 Comment

  1. The wonders of internet is that world conferences can be held without travelling to useless jamborees.

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