Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Rio + 20 Environmental Summit: Failed Promises Redux?

An environmental summit expected to reconcile the seemingly disparate needs of environmentalism and economic development in the 21st Century, will the Rio + 20 Environmental Summit will just be a repeat of the failed 1992 UNCED? 

By: Ringo Bones 

There might be some truth to what the Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez said about if the global environment were a bank the world’s leaders would have bailed it out by now. Such is the present appalling state of our global environment at present. And yet the recent Rio + 20 Environmental Summit slated to last from June 20 to June 22, 2012 was “auspiciously” opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, where almost 200 participating nations are expected to sign a pledge focusing on environmental protection and reducing extreme poverty. More auspicious still was a 175-billion US dollar fund was also set aside for the development of more environmentally-friendly transport systems. 

There was also a slated discussion on the need for the removal of government funded – namely citizens’ taxpayers money – fossil fuel subsidies by the world’s leading industrialized economies. As nations are expected to sign the pledge “The Future We Want” and the discussion of the three main agendas / goals mainly on a) Sustainable Development, b) Protect the Oceans and c) Measure the Well-Being of the People. Lofty goals indeed, but will this all be just a repeat of the failed UNCED – which was also held in Rio de Janeiro back in June 1992? 

Sadly, the Rio + 20 Environmental Summit also failed to reach a binding breakthrough after three days. And the only thing the participating world leaders unanimously settled on is to meet again at a later date – probably somewhere 20 years from now. With even energy efficiency discussed rather superficially, is the Rio + 20 Environmental Summit truly an utter failure? 

Well, it did manage to start the Rio + Social – the social network based alternative to the failed Rio + 20 Environmental Summit. But yet again, most of us – including me – are still doubtful if the concept of “digital inclusion” will be a way forward for a truly effective mass environmental activism. Social networks may mean louder voices and more direct action compared to our elected officials, but even I have doubts whether the “like button” on social networks like Facebook will ever replace the good old ballot box. As I found out first hand back in June 1992 that enforcing existing binding environmental treaties are way much harder than enforcing post-Cold War nuclear disarmament treaties. 

Looking back at the United Nations Conference on Environmental Development (UNCED) which was held in Rio de Janeiro back in June 1992, I noticed that a year after the conference – in June 1993 – the treaties that were signed the previous year have not even been implemented. Money that was pledged during the 1992 UNCED Summit has not been forthcoming. And the group that was established to enforce Agenda 21 – a 40-chapter credo for sustainable development – has not cut its teeth, even 20 years later. 

  The only “nice” outcome of the June 1992 UNCED conference, which was attended by delegates and diplomats from some 178 countries as well as thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), resulted in the creation of a seemingly strong global political will and the endorsement of several important policy documents. Along with the Agenda 21, they include the Rio Declaration – a list of environmental and development concerns that ensures national sovereignty – and a statement about protecting forests. Maybe Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was right all along. 

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