By Lance Bellville
June 20, 2012
The Rio+20 Earth Summit Conference on world sustainable development burst into bloom in Rio Wednesday, 20 June, complete with Presidents, Prime Ministers, bankers and big shots, academics and activists from 132 countries dropping into town to tackle a few of the knottier environmental problems nobody has solved including poverty, hunger, global environmental degradation and energy shortages.
Officially it is the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development” as approved by consensus among the 193 countries that now comprise the United Nations. Judging by events here in Rio this week, the consensus ended at the portals of the United Nations off 44th Street and First Avenue in New York City.
The two central themes were to be the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication – accompanied by an institutional framework to support world efforts on them. But hopes for dramatic outcomes dimmed when President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany – all three of the G-20 Leaders Summit in Los Mexico – stayed away.
The Outcome Document being just that, a piece of paper from the United Nations, requests agreement but no formal ratification from the governments involved.
An estimated 50,000 visitors descended on Rio trying to affect in ways -globally to locally – the seriously dire direction world economic development and population growth have taken the environment in which all fauna and flora – humanity included – is expected to live, breath and prosper. Women have paraded bare-chested for more female participation in the counsels of power and Brazilian Indians have stopped traffic and then marched to the doorsteps of the National Development Bank to protest the building of a huge dam project at Belo Monte near Altamra on the Rio Xingu.
The mayors of 50 cities from around the world have been meeting, led by Michael Bloomberg, New York’s dapper-but-diminutive mayor. They argue that the hope of sustainability is actually in the hands of cities, setting a goal of cutting a billion tons of greenhouse gases by 2030.
The heavy lifting negotiation started taking place behind closed doors last week. But those doors are far from airtight and the news leaking out preparatory to the final Outcome Document that turned out to be long on talk and short on calls to specific action.
The public pronouncements of the representatives meeting here were full of environmental concerns. According to conference insiders the real issues were largely political. With many of the major players including the United States, England and most of Europe in various degrees of economic crisis the interests, as well as the presence of important world leaders, were elsewhere.
The final document is entitled, “The Future We Want.” It speaks eloquently of that goal “Eradicating poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.” And noting, “We recognize that the twenty years since the [Rio] Earth Summit in 1992 have seen uneven progress, including in sustainable development and poverty eradication.”
With an estimated 1.4 billion people in the world living in poverty, the major thrust of document language centers on economic development, usually with the addition of “sustainable.”
The Outcome Document mentions measures toward achieving a green economy.
While many environmentalists and others involved in the talks around the negotiating tables or virtually within earshot outside wanted to see more concrete suggestions to attack global climate change, the crisis of warming oceans, the world’s disappearing forests and other specifically environmental concerns, there was little to cheer them in the final document.
According to conference insiders, the gaping economic inequities between have and have not nations are a barrier too wide to cross at this time. Environmentalists seem to harbor hope that this document can be a building block toward a climate agreement and forest and ocean protections later on. Said one insider, “You cannot square the circle on how to reach more equitable distribution of wealth among the community of nations.”
In a way, Rio was the perfect setting for a conference wrestling with the world’s knowledge that we cannot continue consumption on the scale it is now happening. Every second fourteen thousand liters of raw sewage gush into beautiful Guanabara Bay. Eighty years ago 500 dolphins lived in the bay. Today hardly 40 swim there. And of the 40 beaches in and around beach-famous Rio, thirty-seven have either filthy or downright dangerous water.
For all its sound and fury, the UN’s talk of the “future we want,” appears to be well into the future.
Previous articles by Lance:
San Francisco Film Festival Features Six Brazilian films – Part 2
San Francisco Film Festival Features Six Brazilian films – Part 1
From the Birds to Fair Trade Certified Producers’ Brew, Brazil’s Best Coffee Gains Acclaim
They’ve Got An Awful Lot of Coffee In Brazil – And It’s Going Fair Trade!
Brazil: Then And Now Rondonia
Brazil: Nova Jerusalem’s Passion Play
Brazil: Up a Piece of Mountain to See a Batch of Theatre
Brazil: Mossoró’s Biggest Play on Earth Heads for Guinness Book of World Records
Brazil: House of Sand Impresses at San Francisco International Film Festival
Brazil: Lower City Helps Kick Off San Francisco International Film Festival
Brazil’s Kayapó Tribe
San Francisco International Film Festival: ALMOST BROTHERS Adds More Fans To Its List of International Devotees
San Francisco International Film Festival: Nelson Friere Documentary Enchants Audiences
San Francisco International Film Festival: Three Brazilian Films