Rio+20: Our Leaders Toy With Us

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.

More links:

Allianz Knowledge’s website is a good one for balanced and thorough coverage of Rio+20, and climate change:

Extreme Weather Cooks Northeast, floods Minnesota.


Big Oil-Funded Meeting of Canadian Energy Ministers Ends: Did They Get What They Paid For?


Canada’s energy ministers ended two days of annual talks Tuesday in the Kananaskis resort in the Alberta Rockies announcing they have agreed to work together on opening up new markets to Canadian crude oil.

They also agreed to work on streamlining the process for approving energy projects.

In a communiqué, the ministers said they also aim to improve energy efficiency, energy information and electricity reliability.

In an admirable show of independence, Ontario’s energy minister refused to support the final communiqué issued, because it referred to the Alberta tar sands as “sustainable and responsible”. It appears that Big Oil money talks but not everybody listened this weekend.  The McGuinty government is responsible for the visionary Green Energy Act that focuses on jumpstarting renewable energy production in this province.  Ontario plans to keep up the focus on energy policy, particularly renewables, at the upcoming Premier’s meeting in B.C:

“For years, if not decades, governments in Ottawa of all political stripes have sought to find ways to transfer Ontario tax dollars into Western Canada to support the oil and gas industry,” said Mr. McGuinty, when asked in Oakville, Ont., about his views on the meeting.

“Well, how about using Canadian tax dollars to support clean energy industry that is taking place, that is developing – we’re at the forefront in North America, we’re creating thousands of jobs, we’re reducing our contribution to climate change. We’re shutting down coal-fired plants.”

Mr. McGuinty said these are “difficult things” to do. “What we’re saying to the feds is, ‘Hey, you want to help support energy superpowers, you’ve got to take a look at the entire country. Take a look at the contribution that each province is making, and I think we’re making a powerful contribution.’ ” Read more at the Globe and Mail.

Meanwhile, First Nations and environmental groups are dismayed at the official support of the energy ministers for the Alberta tar sands, the dirtiest project on earth. Ed Whittingham of the Alberta-based Pembina Institute wrote:

“While the ministers expressed interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from energy production, their decision to call Canada’s oilsands a ‘sustainable’ source of energy for the world raises serious questions about that goal.

“Non-renewable, high-carbon sources of energy are by their very nature unsustainable. Canada needs to plan for a transition away from depending on exports of such sources, like the oilsands.

“A national energy framework needs to seize the economic opportunities offered by clean energy and achieve Canada’s climate targets. Unfortunately, the documents released today failed to make either addressing climate change or supporting renewable energy a priority.

“Before their next meeting, Canada’s energy ministers need to outline a national energy framework built on meaningful dialogue with citizens. An effective framework must also include a price on greenhouse gas pollution as a central feature.”

Meanwhile, while Canadian policy formally ignores the reality of climate change, the worst drought in half a century continues to kill Somalis by the tens of thousands,  the UN Security Council considers a proposal to form a climate change peacekeeping force, and the ongoing heat wave across much of North America kills at least 13 people in the American heartland.

More links:

Ontario Refuses To Call Alberta’s Oil Sands “Sustainable and Responsible”

Les écologistes pas convaincus

Pembina Reacts To the Outcome of Energy Ministers’ Meeting in Kananaskis

Ontario Tax Dollars Supporting Energy in the West, McGuinty Says

Energy Ministers to Seek New Oil Markets