“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 →
Goals drive action, and that’s why establishing a set of Sustainable Development Goals is so important to put the world on a sustainable pathway, experts said Saturday under the tropical fig and palm forest that covers much of the ground at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.
Terms like “green economy” and “sustainability” have too many different meanings and too many different interpretations, Huq told TerraViva during a break at the two-day Fair Ideas conference organised by IIED and the Pontifical Catholic University.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have proven to be a useful tool even though some will not be achieved by the 2015 deadline, he said. The MDGs helped guide governments in setting their policies to try to meet the targets such as reducing poverty by half. The MDG target of having the number of people without access to safe drinking water was met early this year.
The MDGs have no environmental focus and they only applied to the developing world, Huq said.
“Sustainable Development Goals would be much broader covering pollution, environment impacts and consumption and apply to all countries rich and poor but in different ways.”
“The SDGs are not about the environment, they are about securing a viable future for all people,” said Paula Caballero, director of economic, social and environmental affairs, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores of Colombia.
“We need the public and policy makers to understand this,” Caballero told the conference. Continue reading →
“If we can’t get this right, we will be in big trouble”
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 15 (TerraViva)
Poor countries that green their economies will lift millions of their citizens out of poverty and generate higher incomes while protecting invaluable natural ecosystems, says a report released here in Rio Thursday.
Some developing countries are actively pursuing a transition towards low-carbon, resource-efficient economies, it found.
“Our message is that economy and ecology can be brought together for the greater benefit of all people, but especially the poorest,” said Peter Hazlewood, director of Ecosystems and Development at the World Resources Institute (WRI), and co-author of the report “Building an Inclusive Green Economy for All”.
“This transition will not be easy. It will require new policies, targeted investments and reforms of government institutions,” Hazlewood said.
Governmental departments like agriculture, environment and economic development that rarely talk to each other will have to be integrated and learn to work together, he told TerraViva.
“If we can’t get this right, we will be in big trouble,” Hazlewood warned. 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 →
Governments, the media and the public aren’t paying attention to the “planetary emergency” unfolding around them. The situation is like firefighters yelling “fire” in crowded room and still no listens.
“The situation is absolutely desperate and yet there’s nothing on the front pages or on the agenda of world leaders,” said Pat Mooney, executive director of the ETC Group, an international environmental organisation based in Ottawa.
“The lack of attention is a tragedy,” said Mooney, who has 40 years experience in international environment and development issues.
Humanity is failing in its stewardship of the planet. An incredible 85 percent of the world’s oceans are in trouble, said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at the Pew Environment Group, a U.S. organisation.
“Planetary emergency” is how many in the world’s scientific community describe “the mess we are in“. They will detail their comprehensive state of the planet assessment at the “Planet Under Pressure” conference in London Mar. 26-29.
That assessment will summarise the overwhelming evidence that “the continued functioning of the Earth system as we know it is at risk,” conference organisers previously told IPS.
Climate change, which is overheating the planet and making the oceans more acidic, is just one of the major challenges. Another is the ongoing decline of biodiversity, where so many plants and animals are going extinct that the Earth’s living systems on which humanity depends are unraveling.
Fresh water is another “planetary boundary” humanity is pushing up against. Water use has increased six-fold in the past century and in many places the quality of water resources has been degraded. Other challenges include increasing poverty, food and energy security, and the current financial and economic instability.
A first and essential step in a green transition is for nations to commit to phasing out harmful and unsustainable subsidies for fossil fuels, fisheries and industrial agriculture.
According to Mooney, some countries and large corporations see the green economy in terms of a post-petroleum future where resources and energy for industrial production comes from biomass and other living things. Most of those “living resources” are in the global South and local people rightly fear a massive land grab, he said.
Foreign investors have already gained access to more than 35 million hectares in Africa, Asia and South America for food and biofuel production according to GRAIN, a small NGO working with small farmers and farming communities.
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.
“We need to have a ‘constitutional moment’ in world politics, akin to the major transformative shift in governance after 1945 that led to the establishment of the United Nations and numerous other international organisations,” said Frank Biermann of VU University Amsterdam and director of the Earth System Governance Project.
“Humanity is facing major challenges…urgent actions are needed,” Biermann told IPS.
Those challenges include, but are not limited to, increasing poverty, food, water and energy security, the financial crisis, climate change, ocean acidification, the loss of biodiversity. All of these challenges and their solutions are interconnected.
Normally, the complex, mutually dependent systems of the Earth can self-correct and are remarkably stable. However, they can reach thresholds or tipping points and then unexpectedly and abruptly shift, Gaffney said in an interview.
“We need only recall how the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis nearly collapsed the global financial system,” he said.
The upcoming Rio+20 conference on sustainable development 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”, he said. Continue reading →