At the time of writing this Blog piece, the banner on the top of the website advertising the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio +20, reads “24 days to the future we want”. It’s a great strap line and a great count in to what will be an enthralling follow-up to the original Earth Summit held in Rio in 1992. It begs the question what kind of future do we want (and possibly, given the mess we are in, how the heck are we going to achieve it even if we know what it is?).
It is tempting to be cynical with the prospect of another frustrating world environment jamboree just a month away. Surely all we have to do is to look at what happened at previous Climate Change conferences (refer to Copenhagen in 2009 for example) to see how nations fudge and procrastinate when difficult decisions are necessary.
Your position will largely depend on whether you’re a cup half full or half empty type of person as to whether you think the world is making progress towards creating a “better environmental future” or careering towards the point of no return. However, a review of what has been achieved since Rio 1992 might give some cause for optimism that eventually all nations will take climate change and a whole host of related issues (deforestation, species decline) much more seriously.
The Earth Summit itself resulted in a number of key policy documents being developed such as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Agenda 21 and Forest Principles. Two important legally binding agreements were opened for signature: The Convention on Biological Diversity and Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Critics, however, point out that many of the agreements made in Rio have not been realized regarding such fundamental issues as fighting poverty and cleaning up the environment.
One area where progress is surely being made is the growing recognition of the need to invest in a greener economy and that low carbon businesses can be good for business as well as the environment. What is a “green economy” and what will it look like, I hear you ask? For some commentators, it’s the end of capitalism, the profit motive and the final recognition that GDP is an outdated tool for measuring economic development; for others it’s a return to small is beautiful where everything we need is produced and consumed locally. I will return to this debate in later Blogs, but as a starting point, this definition from RP Siegel, the man behind the Triple Pundit Blog, is a good starter for ten:
“The Green Economy is people deciding to walk rather than drive to work, to buy local food and a more fuel-efficient car. It is business owners choosing to fill their inventories from sustainable sources and manufacturers choosing to dispose of their waste products responsibly. It is politicians making the hard choices that favor the long term interests of future generations over the immediate wishes of lobbyists. It is people purchasing renewable energy and voting to allow wind turbines on neighboring ridge tops, even if they don’t like the way they look.”
In the meantime, let’s hope Rio +20 is productive and please note there are now only 23 days to go…..