Is Rio Earth Summit 2.0 Doomed to Fail?

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Mar 7, 2011 (IPS)

Timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, the Rio 2012 Summit hopes to recapture the optimism of that earlier era.

At the June 2012 Rio Summit it is hoped countries will agree on policies to move toward a green economy from the present “brown” economic system driven by fossil fuel energy and the serial depletion and degradation of natural resources and ecosystems. A green economy promises to bring good jobs, clean energy and water while ensuring a more sustainable and fairer use of resources.

“If we continue on our current path, we will bequeath material and environmental poverty, not prosperity, to our children and grandchildren,” said Rio 2012 Secretary-General Sha Zukang.

“Rio 2012 will be one of the most important events in the coming decades,” Zukang said

In 1992 the Earth Summit captured world attention with leaders from most countries attending and thousands of journalists reporting on it. It gave birth to many important environmental initiatives including the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biodiversity, and Agenda 21. However, since the Summit virtually all measures of environmental health show significant declines – proving that fine words and sentiments do not necessarily generate action or change. 

Since 1992, emissions of fossil fuels have driven carbon concentrations in the atmosphere from 356 parts per million (ppm) to 390 ppm today. Global temperatures have increased 0.4C to 0.8C. Ocean corals have suffered through devastating bleaching events that have put 60 percent of all corals at risk of destruction. Populations of fish and freshwater vertebrates have declined by nearly 50 percent, 40 percent of ocean fish stocks are over- exploited compared to 20 percent in 1992. 

At the same time a billion people go hungry everyday, and there are more impoverished people than ever – despite a 60 percent increase in global wealth since 1992.

This evidence clearly illustrates that the present model for economic growth is a recipe for global disaster says U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who calls it “a global suicide pact”. Ban says there is a pressing need for revolutionary thinking and action that can lift people out of poverty while also protecting the planet and ecosystems that support economic growth.

An outline of this “revolutionary thinking” is found in a new U.N. report ‘Towards a Green Economy’. It shows that an investment of just two percent of the global economy into a few key sectors will kick-start a transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy that will alleviate poverty and bring more jobs.
That two percent investment will generate higher rates of global GDP growth within six years, according to U.N. estimates.
In Rio we have to reinvent public policy and make changes to the way markets work,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a interview at the international climate conference in Cancun, Mexico last December.

Governments currently spend between one and two percent of global GDP subsidising unsustainable and environmentally damaging use of fossil fuels, overfishing and industrial agriculture. An international agreement to end such practices and redirect those subsidies to green economy measures has been under discussion in recent years. However summoning the will power and determination to put those good intentions into practice will be the challenge of Rio 2012.

“How can we make this new social, economic and environmental shift a reality?” asked Isabella Teixeira, Brazil’s minister of the environment and host of Rio 2012.

“How can we mobilise civil society, the public, the media and policy makers to make this happen in Rio,” Teixeira asked.

A clear understanding and discussion of what the green economy means is essential Teixeira said, stressing that she still didn’t know “what it might mean for Brazil”. Teixeira urged practical discussions on arriving at common understanding of what green economy is to avoid the fate of the term ‘sustainable development’ that is so widely and indiscriminately used that it now has no clear meaning.

“We hope Rio 2012 will result in an ambitious, action-orientated guide to speed the transition to the green economy,” said John Ashe, co-chair of the Bureau for the Preparatory Process of the Rio 2012 Conference.

Ashe agreed that developing a common understanding of what constitutes a green economy isn’t easy, nor is there much time in which to develop that understanding. “There isn’t enough time to get everyone fully involved and integrated,” Ashe told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. Rio 2012 will only be three days long compared to the 12-day 1992 Earth Summit which also had a very large NGO Forum with 17,000 participants. The level of ambition and enthusiasm for the upcoming conference is much less he acknowledged.

“The challenges now are greater than 1992 but with the financial crisis we are in an era of frugality,” said Zukang. “We will have to do more with less.”

First published as Enthusiasm For 2012 Earth Summit Lagging – IPS

Articles on The Green Economy:

Two Percent Price-Tag for a Green Economy – Time to end Growth-obsessed Markets pillaging the planet

Rising Wealth Spells Disaster for the Planet, Study Finds

Africa’s Future Lies in a Green Energy Grid – Universal Access to Electricity Less Than Cost of Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Local Decisions To Protect Nature Boosts Economy, Quality of Life and Secure Jobs — Global Study

2 thoughts on “Is Rio Earth Summit 2.0 Doomed to Fail?

  1. Rio will fail because there is no US Leadership- the US is saying officially there is no problem from global warming.

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