The Rio+20 conference was officially launched yesterday, where world leaders – minus some heavy hitters like US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as Canada’s more minor leader Stephen Harper – are in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro for a major environmental summit. On the agenda are ways to create a sustainable blueprint for eradicating poverty and protecting the environment. The Rio summit commemorates the 20th anniversary of the original Earth summit. That summit concluded with much promise but, as the globe teeters on the edge of environmental collapse two decades later, clearly didn’t make enough of a difference. And this conference won’t be up to the enormous challenge the world faces, either, as the text of the summit’s declaration was finalized by negotiators before the summit started, and apparently is not up for further negotiation. It has been criticized as being weak – Bill McKibbon tweeted re: language of the document: ‘support’ 99 uses, ‘encourage’ 50, but ‘we will’ just 5. Our leaders toy with us. Insurance giant Allianz Knowledge’s website put it this way:
“Everybody should look in the mirror and ask what history is going to make of this. We face connected crises. Rio+20 should be a turning point, but it is a dead end,” said Stephen Hale, Oxfam spokesman at Rio+20 speaking to the Guardian newspaper. “This summit could be over before it’s started. World leaders arriving tonight must start afresh. Almost a billion hungry people deserve better.”
Twenty years on since the Earth Summit in Rio it’s clear that global economic growth has not been decoupled from environmental destruction or the use of scarce natural resources, nor has it benefitted everyone. Consider galloping greenhouse gas emissions, the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs, the obesity epidemic, one billion hungry people or record levels of inequality.
At the same time there are solutions and ideas out there that could fulfil the conference’s stated aims to “secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps”.
Meanwhile, northeastern North America is sweltering through a record-breaking heat wave, and floods hit Minnesota. We are leaving the Age of Entitlement, folks, and entering the Age of Consequences. Hang onto your hats, it’s going to be a wild ride.
Allianz Knowledge’s website is a good one for balanced and thorough coverage of Rio+20, and climate change: Knowledge.Allianz.com