In 1992, the World celebrated the first Earth Summit. That meeting decided on a series of actions to fight climate change and support biodiversity, as well as commitments on poverty eradication and social justice. Yet, in the past 20 years, global emissions have risen by 48%, 300m hectares of forest have been cleared and the population has increased by 1.6bn people. Despite a reduction in poverty, one in six people are malnourished. No one seems to be happy about the situation now; neither governments – despite their failure to implement concrete projects – nor civic society. All looked at this year summit with some hope.
Delegates from more than 190 nations met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the end of June for the Rio +20 Earth Summit. The summit follows more than a year of negotiations and a 10-day mega-conference involving 45,000 people. At the end of the three day summit, delegates signed a document – The Future We Want – which left no one happy. “It depends on how you see it – half-full or half-empty,” said one delegate. “We ended up defending what we had gained in Rio in 1992, but at least we managed to do that.”
The Future We Want states the importance of sustainable development and poverty eradication; indicates the opportunity to revise how the financial world functions to avoid pushing the poor in an even lower position. The document also calls for the filling of technology gaps, avoiding the technological dependence of developing on developed countries; and the phasing-out of agricultural subsidies. In other words, it is a statement on the need to address the mistrust between the developing and developed world that has built up over the years.
The Summit was not able to reach any clear agreement on the matter at hand. On the question of marine biodiversity, for instance, instead of a definite decision, delegates agreed “to initiate, as soon as possible, the negotiation of an implementing agreement” to “address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”. Lasse Gustavsson, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature, remarked that this might as well mean nothing at all.
UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon said the document would guide the world on to a more sustainable path: “Our job now is to create a critical mass. The road ahead is long and hard.” US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said it was a time to be optimistic. “A more prosperous future is within our reach, a future where all people benefit from sustainable development no matter who they are or where they live.” But even among politicians there was discontent. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann Nicaraguan representative at the conference said “the final document is a missed opportunity. It contributes almost nothing to our struggle to survive as a species. We now face a future of increasing natural disasters.” Other delegates expressed disappointment but said the agreement could be built upon. “The document does not entirely match our ambition or meet the challenge the world faces. But it’s an important step forward … That’s why we support it. That’s why we must engage with it,” said Janez Potocnik, European commissioner for environment.
Quite different the reaction of civil society groups and scientists: while demonstrators invaded the large avenues of Rio, Waek Hamidan – representing the network of civil society working for the climate – asked that the sentence “with the full participation of civil society” be removed from the final document as “(the document) does not represent us in the outcome”. About a thousand NGOs that participated in the negotiations and the preparation of a viable document supported Hadiman’s request. They felt the lack of clear objectives and the water down language was just a way to buy time while taking no action. Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo called the summit a failure of epic proportions. “We didn’t get the Future We Want in Rio, because we do not have the leaders we need. The leaders of the most powerful countries supported business as usual, shamefully putting private profit before people and the planet.”
The Future We Want is a long document, and time is needed to digest it. However, after the failure of the summits in Kyoto and Copenhagen, it is clear that the richest countries do not intend to change course. While playing lip service to the need of new economic infrastructures and the importance of constructing a green economy, they really intend to continue business as usual, oblivious of the cry for justice coming from the majority of Earth’s people.