“Rio+20 should have been about life, about the future of our children”
By Stephen Leahy
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)
“Very disappointing.” That was the term business and non-governmental organisations used to describe the formal intergovernmental negotiations at the Rio+20 Earth Summit as of Tuesday.
With overwhelming scientific evidence showing that the Earth’s ability to support human life is at serious risk, the Rio+20 summit is being held to help chart a safe course that will steer away from disaster and bring a better future people around the globe.
After two years, negotiators from more than 190 nations agreed Tuesday to a 49-page draft of the document “The Future We Want”, intended to be the roadmap for this transformation. This document will be presented to heads of states in Rio de Janeiro to revise and finalise by the summit’s conclusion on Friday.
Yet the draft document leaves out a 30-billion-dollar fund proposed by a group of developing countries known as the G77 to finance the transition to a green economy. Nor does it define tangible Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be substituted for the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015.
“This (the revised text) is extremely disappointing….There is no vision, no money and really no commitments here,” said Lasse Gustavsson, head of the Rio+20 delegation from WWF International, which works to stop environmental degradation worldwide.
“Rio+20 should have been about life, about the future of our children, of our grandchildren. It should have been about forest, rivers, lakes, oceans that we are all depending on for our food, water and energy security,” Gustavsson told TerraViva.
Instead, two years of work have resulted in merely a long document that commits to virtually nothing but more meetings, he said.
“This document is a great disappointment. There’s no ambition and little reference to the planetary boundaries we face,” said Kiara Worth, representing the U.N.’s Major Group on Children and Youth at Rio+20.
“The voices of civil society and future generations is going unheard. We ought to call this Rio minus 20 because we are going backwards,” Worth told TerraViva. Continue reading →
Earth’s Ability to Support Us At Risk – An Indictment of Governments We Elected
By Stephen Leahy
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 19 2012 (IPS)
The science is crystal clear: humans are threatening Earth’s ability to support mankind, and a new world economy is urgently needed to prevent irreversible decline, said scientists and other experts at an event on the sidelines of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Yet the Global Environment Outlook report, or GEO 5, which was launched on June 6 and assessed 90 of the most important environmental objectives, found that significant progress had been made only in four in the 20 years since the first landmark summit in Rio in 1992.
“This ought to have us shaking in our boots,” Steiner told TerraViva at the Fair Ideas conference that concluded Sunday. ”It is an indictment of our behaviour over the past 20 years and of the governments we elected. We need an honest conversation about why we are not turning things around.”
Instead, “what’s happening right now in the RioCentro (Rio+20 official site) is that science is being picked out of the text of the final agreement,” Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, told the conference.
Rockström said he had received updates from the negotiations that the United States and some of the world’s least developed countries were attacking the science showing humanity is pushing up against “planetary boundaries”.
Climate is only one of those “planetary boundaries”. Another is the ongoing decline of biodiversity, where so many plants and animals are going extinct that the Earth’s living systems, upon which humanity depends, are unravelling. Fresh water is another planetary boundary. Water is a limited resource, yet water use has increased six-fold in the past century.
“The science is absolutely clear: we are up against the edges of the planet’s ability to support us and approaching irreversible tipping points,” Rockström said. Continue reading →
Youth and future generations do not deserve a voice in their own future, the Brazilian government appears to have arbitrarily decided here at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, where the theme is “The Future We Want”.
Representatives of children and youth, as well as the European Union and other countries, want to see the summit conclude with an agreement to create a High-Level Representative for Sustainable Development and Future Generations.
However, Brazil, under its formal leadership of the summit, has deleted all references to this from the “outcome document” currently under negotiation.
It is a bit surprising considering 62 percent of Brazil’s 185 million people are under 29 years of age.
The proposed representative for future generations would act to balance the short-term nature of government electoral cycles by advocating for the interests and needs of future generations, says youth representative Alice Vincent of the World Future Council Foundation in London, UK.
“I strongly believe that a Rio+20 outcome that does not include the creation of such an advocate for the needs of future generations wouldn’t be worthy of the title The Future We Want,” Vincent told TerraViva.
Over the past weeks there has been little progress on agreement of the content for the final 20-page “outcome document” intended to serve as the world’s roadmap to sustainable development. It will include details for greening of the global economy and possibly include sustainable development goals and a timetable for reaching them.
Countries were essentially deadlocked over the contents, so the Brazilian government revised the document and presented it to countries this morning saying it is an attempt to “make all delegates a bit happy, and a bit unhappy”. Continue reading →
The theme of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) is “The Future We Want”, but there is no official role for youth nor a spokesperson for future generations who will inherit that futur
Now there is a growing call for the creation of a United Nations High Commissioner for Future Generations to be one of the outcomes of the summit, which will take place Jun. 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I was born in 1992, the year of the first Earth Summit in Rio. The world has changed a lot since then,” says Vincent Wong of Burlington, Canada.
Wong will be going to Rio+20 as part of a delegation from Students on Ice, a Canadian organisation that offers educational expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic for students, educators and scientists.
“We want to bring the voice of our generation. They will be making decisions on our behalf,” Wong told Tierramérica.
“Who can be opposed to protecting the rights of future generations?” asks Alice Vincent of the World Future Council (WFC) in London, UK.
“The proposed High Commissioner for Future Generations would act to balance the short-term nature of government electoral cycles by advocating for the interests and needs of future generations,” Vincent told Tierramérica.
According to Kathleen Dean Moore, distinguished professor of philosophy at Oregon State University, “The injustice of climate change, resource depletion, etc. is that those who will suffer the most terrible consequences – future generations – had no role in creating them.”
“They will gain nothing from the ransacking of the Earth that is going on all around us, but they will bear the consequences: the floods, the droughts, the disrupted food systems, shortages, and violent weather,” Moore told Tierramérica.
“A U.N. Commissioner for Future Generations can stand up against the unjust treatment of those not yet born, which future generations, of course, cannot do for themselves,” she added. Continue reading →
Countries cannot afford to miss the green wave of Rio+20
No alternative to low-carbon, resource-efficient economies
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 25, 2012 (IPS)
Think of Rio+20 as the hothouse to grow the green ideas and values humanity needs to thrive in the 21st century.
No one is expecting, or even wants, a big new international treaty on sustainable development said Manish Bapna, interim president of the World Resources Institute, a global environmental think tank based in Washington, D.C.
“The important action will be on the sidelines of the formal negotiations,” Bapna told IPS in an interview.
Blocs of countries, civil society organisations and representatives of business will meet, create coalitions and make commitments on specific issues and on regional concerns.
“There could be some exciting specific commitments coming out of Rio,” Bapna said.
Perhaps the most important outcome from Rio+20 would be to put to rest the erroneous belief that protecting the environment comes at the cost of economic growth when it is in fact the opposite. Without a healthy, functioning environment, humanity loses the benefits of the environment’s “free products”: air, water, soil to grow food, stable climate and so on.
“One of the big hurdles to a sustainable future is that officials in many countries think they can’t afford to move onto a more sustainable pathway,” he said.
Bapna hopes Rio+20 will generate a “new narrative” – a wider understanding that there is no viable alternative to the transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient economies that alleviate poverty and create more jobs. Continue reading →
The planet is in peril, 3,000 scientists and other experts concluded at the recent Planet Under Pressure conference in London. Climate change, overuse of nitrogen and loss of biodiversity are just three of the perils threatening to make much of our home uninhabitable.
World leaders will meet in Rio de Janeiro June 20-22 to address this at the Rio+20 Conference, 20 years after the very first Earth Summit.
Rio+20 needs to be the moment in human history when the nations of the world come together to find ways to ensure ‘the very survival of humanity,’ environmentalists and scientists have said.
A “Green Economy” will be one of the main ideas under discussion in Rio. The idea is to make a transition to an economic system that maximizes human well-being while operating within the planet’s environmental limits. Exactly how this could be accomplished has yet to be defined.
The current economic system rewards those who exploit and destroy nature, said Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director, Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education).
The current system hinders and even blocks Indigenous peoples from practicing their traditional ways of living that actually represent “a real green economy” that can be sustainable, achieve well being and are climate-friendly, said Tauli-Corpuz, a member of the indigenous Kankana-ey Igorot community in the Philippines.
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“Our economy creates scarcity by being extraordinarily wasteful and destructive.”
Stephen Leahy interviews writer and environmentalist FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ
UXBRIDGE, Canada (IPS)
To meet the challenges of the 21st century, including climate change, feeding the world and eliminating poverty, we need to free ourselves from the “thought traps” that prevent us from seeing the world as it truly is and narrow our vision of how to respond.
“There is no way to deal with climate change or poverty without real democracy,” she says.
IPS climate and environment correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke with Lappé about her new book.
Q: What do you mean by the term “thought traps”?
A: We don’t see the world as it really is but through a filter or mental map. Research in neuroscience shows that we interpret the world based on our previous experiences and understanding of the world. In other words we see what we expect to see.
One of the dominant ideas in our society is about scarcity or lack. There isn’t enough resources or food or whatever for all of us. We then “see” or interpret everything from that filter or frame of reference.
Q: How does this widely-held idea of “scarcity” affect us?
A: Believing there isn’t enough makes us defensive and competitive with each other. We think we’d better get ours before someone else does. The majority of people I talk to insist with seven billion people on the planet scarcity is our reality now and into the future. They are blinkered by this scarcity mentality.
Q: But isn’t it true that we are running out of resources like water, energy, food and so on?
A: I discovered as a young student that the U.S. food production was extraordinarily wasteful and inefficient. Sixteen pounds of corn and soy fed to cattle to get one pound of meat. That pound of meat also requires as much as 12,000 gallons of water. Nearly half of all food harvested is never consumed.
This staggering waste is the rule, not the exception, and not just in food production. The U.S. energy sector wastes 55-87 percent of the energy generated – most of it in the form of waste heat at power plants. It’s not just the U.S. U.N. studies showed that 3,000 of the world’s biggest corporations caused two trillion dollars in damage to the global environment in 2008 alone.
Q: Why are we so destructive and wasteful?
A: It’s a result of the current market economy with its single focus on generating the quickest and highest return to a small minority of wealth-holders. Our economy creates scarcity by being extraordinarily wasteful and destructive. The term “free market economy” is completely wrong. What we have is a corporate-monopoly market economy of waste and destruction. We need to be more careful and more precise in our language.
Q: There is a growing call by environmentalists and some economists of the need to shift from a growth economy to a no-growth economy, but you say this is a thought trap?
A: Yes, it leads to a distracting debate about merits of growth versus no-growth. Growth sounds like a good thing so most people will resist the idea of no growth. Better to focus on creating a system that enhances health, happiness, ecological vitality and social power.
Q: In your book you also say everyone needs to focus on “living democracy”.
A: America has become what’s called a “plutonomy”, where the top one percent control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Inequality is now greater in the U.S. than in Pakistan or Egypt, according to the World Bank. The result is corporations and the very wealthy sway public decision making via political contributions and lobbying. There are now two dozen lobbyists for every member of Congress.
To counter this privately-held government we need to re-create a culture of mutual responsibility, transparency, citizen participation and public financing of elections. Democracy is not just voting once a year, it is a culture, a way of living.
The “mother of all issues” in most countries is removing the power of concentrated wealth from public-decision making and infusing citizens’ voices instead. The environmental crisis is in fact a crisis in democracy.
Q: There is a feeling amongst many environmentally-aware people that it is already too late and there is too much to be overcome.
A: Thinking it’s too late is another thought trap. It may be too late to avoid significant impacts that could have been avoided if action had been taken two decades ago. It is not too late for life. My book is filled with examples of people taking charge and turning things around.
What makes people think it’s too late is that they feel alone and powerless. People feel that way because of the thought traps, the false beliefs about scarcity and of human nature as greedy and selfish. Those beliefs and a privately-held government have led to feelings of powerlessness.
Q: This year is the 20th anniversary of the historic Earth Summit and major conference called Rio+20 will be held in June. What are your thoughts?
A: I participated in the Rio+10 conference and we’ve gone backwards in those 10 years. Rio+20 could be the opportunity to reverse course and align ourselves with nature to create the world we really want.