Vladimir, Bill, Mahmoud and Dilma will all be down in Rio, but Barack, Dave and Angela won’t be. On June 20th, the Rio+20 Summit gets underway in Brazil...
The ambitious tag line for this huge conference on development and the environment is “Vision, Co-operation, Transformation” which might be 1984-speak for Compromise, Self-interest and Fiddling-Round the Edges.
Rio+20 gets its name from the 1992 meeting of 170 nations in Rio de Janeiro. There was agreement that we could not keep on using the finite resources of the planet thoughtlessly and we could not ignore the impact of human activity on climate (it was mostly called global warming back then). We needed targets on energy consumption and CO2 emissions to protect our world for future generations. At every level – individual, corporate, national and international – something had to be done.
At that first global meeting, a 12 year-old girl called Severn Suzuki from Canada made a big impression. She spoke about her fears for the future and when you listen to her message on youtube, you wonder if anything has been achieved in the intervening 20 years.
Ten years ago, we had a meeting in Johannesburg, five years ago we had Cop15 and now we have Rio+20. Over the years the talk has broadened to include discussion about equitable development and growth, business is invited to participate and new world players like China and Mexico are taking a bigger role in the discussion about the sort of future we want.
Severn Suzuki reminded the assembled leaders in 1992 that they were not just politicians - they were also mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, children. “Children are taught to share, to respect others, not to fight, not to be greedy. Why do adults ignore these lessons?”
And that simple plea is still pertinent. Compromise and disagreement are inevitable at any meeting involving the egos of world leaders, the interests of global corporations, faction fighting among the biggest economies, and the feistiness of small poorer nations, which don’t want to be ignored. The fact that the US President will be staying away reflects his concerns in an election year about voter resistance to energy efficiency or indeed the whole concept of climate change. How much we all need “childlike” doses of respect and sharing!
So what can we expect?
Some words we will hear from Rio:
“Green economy”: lots of people want to talk about equitable growth that improves human well-being without harming our environmental future – an environment that obviously provides us with food, clean water, clean air and diverse life forms. Others talk of the employment and economic benefits of nations investing in green business. Read more
“Sustainable development”: another buzz phrase that makes complete Biblical sense – looking after God’s creation so that all can flourish and our children can flourish. Sustainable economic activity takes human and environmental resources into account rather than just measuring wealth or production. Sometimes people refer to the triple bottom line of Profit, People and Planet (traditionally the bottom line is profit). Read more
“Greenwashing”: a cute term for deceptive practice, it refers to companies which proudly showcase small measures to be more sustainable while continuing their usual business practices in all other areas. Read more
“Voluntary commitments vs Internationally agreed commitments”: most people think internationally agreed commitments on sustainable development will be knocked out cold by a combination of forces. Nations like China (an emerging major polluter and energy user) and the USA (traditionally the biggest user of energy) as well as some poor nations that want the chance to develop just like the West are all opposed to international standards. The USA and many businesses talk of voluntary commitments at the national level – which can and have achieved a lot, but among major economies, who is going to take big steps if they threaten jobs or exports? The meeting may agree steps towards international agreement. Read more
“Food security”: this is one of seven priority areas for Rio+20 and one that lots of groups want to highlight. People everywhere have been affected by rising food prices, loss of arable land to encroaching desert and pollution of fresh and sea water. It is the poorest communities that are most vulnerable to hunger and because most agricultural work in developing countries is done by women, food is also a gender issue. Read more
Some words we probably won’t hear from Rio:
“Generous long-term commitments”: hard economic times will produce hard-line decisions and though all will sign on to eloquent statements about sustainability, there will probably be little firm action.
“meeting the MDGs”: The Rio meeting is committed to poverty reduction and the MDGs – the draft outcome statement says, “We reaffirm our determination to free humanity from hunger and want through the eradication of all forms of poverty and strive for societies which are just, equitable and inclusive, for economic stability and growth that benefits all (and) making every effort to accelerate progress in achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, thus improving the lives of the poorest people.”
BUT in the present economic climate, it is not likely that poverty and the needs of small nations and poor communities will be defended over the needs of richer nations and business that want traditional economic growth.
So will the meeting achieve much more than posturing? Like the writer of Proverbs, we recognise weakness and greed but we also put our hope in a God of just promises. We can hope and push and pray and prod to declare His truth.
1. You can have your say and follow all the twitter trends in a huge online stakeholder forum. Discuss the issues with friends, so Rio+20 can’t be dismissed as just an event for professional climate nerds.
2. As with all major meetings, the final statement has already been drafted. You can read Draft Zero online.
3. When the Summit is over on the 22nd, find out what happened and how your government contributed. Are you happy with what your nation said and promised? Email your local MP to tell him/her what you think of the results.
 Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, David Cameron, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Dilma Rousseff
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