Twenty Years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, where countries adopted Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan of action taken globally ‘in every area in which human impacts on the environment’, comes a second global summit to reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environment protection and build ‘a bridge to the future’ – Rio+20. It is a conference by the United Nations on Sustainable Development to be held this month, bringing together governments, international institutions and major groups to agree on a range of smart measures that can reduce poverty while promoting decent jobs, clean energy and a more sustainable use of resources. It is being held to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Summit and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit.
Although it promises to look at creating a safer and more environment-friendly world for all, I wonder how much it will be able to achieve. No, I don’t doubt the potential of United Nations. It is the different countries who end up being obstacles in the plan for sustainable development. As Bill Easterly, a development expert in NYU tweeted, “Delegates gather in Rio to commemorate 20 years of nothing happening since a UN Summit where nothing happened”. Perhaps, Mr. Easterly is right, because all that happens during such Summits is a lot of discussions with all countries accepting the final blueprint with the unabashed exception of a few big nations refusing to partake in any measures. Then, more Summits are held and more continue. The UN is right to hold global conference but the issue with them is that it is high time countries agree on something and execute it.
The Rio+20 Summit, scheduled to be held from 20th to 22nd July aims to focus on 2 themes:
There will be 7 priority areas on which attention will be focused upon in this Summit. They are: Decent Jobs, Energy, Sustainable Cities, Food Security, Sustainable Agriculture, Water, Oceans and Disaster Readiness. There will be several influential NGOs attending Rio+20. One Green NGO, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) will promote its ‘Report or Explain’ policy in the Summit. According to the plan, private companies need to report their sustainability performance or explain why if they do not. World Wildlife Fund, the very famed Green NGO will demand new environmental indicators so that we can “measure what we treasure”. The WWF Director General Jim Leape said,
“We need indicators that go far beyond GDP, measuring environmental quality, nature and biodiversity; and social stability and wellbeing.”
According to me, one impressive thing about WWF is that they wish to change the way economic growth is measured: The value of NATURAL CAPITAL should be included in national accounts and corporate balance sheets. Both GRI and WWF call for a global ‘Green Economy’ and propose several methods to manage innovation, commerce and trade. For example, they want all tradable goods to be ‘Certified’ so as to ensure that sustainability standards are met. Undoubtedly, this will give such groups tremendous influence over the global trade of commodities like fish, paper, cocoa, palmoil etc. In fact, very recently, WWF also partnered with the Consumer Goods Forum in Washington to urge major Western retailers to procure only sustainably sourced palm oil. But this is too much they are asking for, seeing that this will limit small farmers’ access to the world market and also increase consumer costs. Consequently, poverty will increase and this could also affect the environment adversely.
Leaving aside this fact, now let us consider if the optimism surrounding the highly talked about Rio+20 Summit will last for long. First we need to answer a question: How will poorer nations develop their economies, build factories, create jobs and create the same sort of wealth that richer nations enjoy without generating the same smoking chimneys and carbon emissions that rich nations have so proudly generated, thus putting the world in such an insecure state as it is today? If you are going to respond saying alternative sources of energy, let me remind you they are expensive, at least for poor nations. In this state of affairs, poor nations argue that rich nations should support them financially but this is far from consideration by richer countries. In fact, US President Obama, German Cancellor Angela Markel and British PM David Cameron are not even attending the Rio conference. This lack of attention by Western leaders on Rio+20 has been interpreted as a lack of commitment to make major environmental policy changes this time. Does this imply the world is “sleep-walking to catastrophe”, as said by Prince Charles in a video criticising the lack of urgency by governments in addressing the growing global issues –
“It is, perhaps, a trait of human nature to act only when the worst happens, but that is not a trait we can afford to rely on here. Once the worst does happen, I am afraid that this time around it will be too late to act at all.”
We cannot foresee what the outcome of the Summit will be and moreover, if it will be sincerely heeded or will it just fizz out. All we can do is hope for the best, while making sure that we are doing our bit to contribute to a green economy.
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