Friday, June 29, 2012

Back from the Rio Conference

While many criticize the Rio Conference for not accomplishing much of anything, I prefer to see the situation as a glass half full.  We have a starting point, now let's build on what has been started.  There is a long way to go and together much will be accomplished.
The Christian Science Monitor -

Rio+20: 5 key takeaways

The three-day United Nations sustainability conference, Rio+20, wraps up today, after leaders and diplomats from over 190 countries gathered to define how a “green economy” would provide a sustainable path with social inclusion. But the conference has been largely overshadowed by criticism for its perceived lack of vision, leadership, and concrete action.
But the entire conference didn’t take place under a giant dark cloud, say delegates. It’s important to look beyond the actual rhetoric of the gathering, and focus on what was accomplished on the sidelines, says Jim Shultz, the head of the social and environmental advocacy group the Democracy Center in Bolivia, who was in Rio leading educational workshops.   

Here are some of the promising developments and bigger disappointments of the mega-meeting:  

By Sara Miller Llana, Staff writer
posted June 22, 2012 at 3:26 pm EDT 

Public and private sector investment

Andrew Deutz, director of international government relations at The Nature Conservancy, says that the meetings he has attended on the sidelines of the Rio+20 showed a clear recognition on the part of governments and companies that they must invest in “natural capital.” At a meeting sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, for example, Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono said that for the sake of food security, oceans must be protected. And the company FEMSA, for example, is investing in ecowater funds in Brazil.
“Many of the businesses here are recognizing that environmental degradation can be a major business risk if they don't deal with it,” Mr. Deutz says.
Tensie Whelan, the president of the Rainforest Alliance, and Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, reiterate this idea in a Reuters blog about what the private sector is accomplishing, and what more can be done with additional support from governments. “In the years since the first Earth Summit, businesses and NGOs like ours have been working to scale up sustainable resource use and engage producers and communities worldwide,” the authors write. “Our efforts are quietly transforming global markets. Three percent of the world’s working forests, 10 percent of the world’s tea production and 15 percent of the world’s bananas are under sustainable management certified by the Rainforest Alliance. Ten percent of the entire global economy now operates under some form of sustainability standards. And these numbers are growing rapidly.”

Fossil fuel subsidies

On the face of it, the failure to explicitly call for an end to fossil fuel subsidies in the nearly 50-page conference text was cited as a major failure, leading to a Twitter campaign of more than 100,000 Tweets. But Mr. Shultz says that the world is talking about it – underlined by the Twitter campaign and far beyond – and that it's one of the most promising developments in terms of the public coalescing around an idea towards a sustainable future.
“There is a clear consensus that the first order of business is to get rid of subsidies for gas and oil and carbon,” he says. “I think that everybody from the World Bank to leftists in Latin America are talking about that.”

A stepping stone, not a failure

The Guardian has been running a live blog on the Rio+20, and one of its posts offers a “positive” view of what has been accomplished, perhaps the best summary of why the world should feel hopeful after the conference wraps up today.
Oliver Greenfield, of the Green Economy Coalition, says the conference has not been a turning point, but a stepping stone, and definitely not a complete failure. "Rio+20 is it a failure or a success? One thousand NGOs, institutions, and individuals have signed a petition calling it "The Future We Don't Want" – citing failures on removing fossil fuel subsidies, failure to protect oceans, failures to address women's reproduction health. Against this groundswell it is difficult for any civil society to say anything different,” he writes.
But, he adds,"We have a mandate, albeit weak, for many of the things we wanted. We have commitment to the sustainable development goals, to strengthening UNEP [The United Nations Environmental Program], to encourage corporate sustainability reporting, develop beyond GDP, adopt the 10 year program on sustainable consumption and production, some signals on energy, and the bolstering of science in policy making. At first reading this is probably graded a C-, but it is definitely not a F.”

Linking environment and economy

But many say the conference should have gotten a much better grade. Revolving the meeting around the “green economy” was an idea that arose in the midst of the financial crisis in 2008, says Deutz. The UN was seeking a theme for the Rio+20 at the same time that there was widespread feeling that there was a dire need for a new kind of economic model.
But, at the conference, Deutz says, those dots were not connected. “There was a failure of many leaders to make the connection between the G20 (which took place in Mexico this week) and what the Rio agenda was about. “If the G20 was focused on the need to deal with short-term debt crisis, in Rio it was the long term ecological debt crisis. The G20 didn't make that connection,” he says.

Green what?

And what is the green economy anyway? One of the big disappointments of the conference has been its inability to get any closer to defining what this term du jour even means. It's hard to define but, as Deutz puts it – citing the famous US Supreme Court case on pornography – “I know it when I see it.”

Part of the issue of defining a green economy in more specificity, however, is that there is not a one-size-fits-all for each country. And Mr. Olivier, in the Guardian post, says that the “green economy idea has not died, and to quote the Venezuelan delegation during the final text release: 'Green economy has changed from something that is being imposed, to something we own.'”

Still there is a great deal of misunderstanding and mistrust surrounding the issue. The global South, in particular, says Shultz, worries that the notion is merely a way to co-opt the natural resources of the developing world. “There is a fight there,” he says. “We need to define what it ought to be, and what it ought not to be.”

Monday, June 11, 2012

One More Analysis of Where This Planet Is At Before I Take Off For Rio

On the Eve of Rio+20, World Remains on Unsustainable Track Despite Hundreds of Internationally Agreed Goals and Objectives

Ambitious Set of Sustainability Targets Can be Met, But Only with Renewed Commitment  and Rapid Scaling-Up of Successful Policies.

Rio de Janeiro, 6 June 2012 - The world continues to speed down an unsustainable path despite over 500 internationally agreed goals and objectives to support the sustainable management of the environment and improve human well-being, according to a new and wide-ranging assessment coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 

The fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), launched on the eve of the Rio+20 Summit, assessed 90 of the most-important environmental goals and objectives and found that significant progress had only been made in four. 

These are eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies and boosting research to reduce pollution of the marine environment - for a full list of goals and status of implementation, visit:

Some progress was shown in 40 goals, including the expansion of protected areas such as National Parks and efforts to reduce deforestation. 

Little or no progress was detected for 24 – including climate change, fish stocks, and desertification and drought.

Further deterioration was posted for eight goals including the state of the world’s coral reefs while no assessment was made of 14 other goals due to a lack of data.

The report cautions that if humanity does not urgently change its ways, several critical thresholds may be exceeded, beyond which abrupt and generally irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet could occur.

"If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and 'decoupled', then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation”, said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

But it’s not all bad news. The report says meeting an ambitious set of sustainability targets by the middle of the century is possible if current policies and strategies are changed and strengthened, and gives many examples of successful policy initiatives, including public investment, green accounting, sustainable trade, the establishment of new markets, technological innovation and capacity building.

GEO-5 also points out that where international treaties and agreements have tackled goals with specific, measurable targets—such as the bans on ozone-depleting substances and lead in petrol—they have demonstrated considerable success. For this reason, GEO-5 calls for more specific targets, with quantifiable results, across a broader range of environmental challenges.

“GEO-5 reminds world leaders and nations meeting at Rio+20 why a decisive and defining transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient, job-generating Green Economy is urgently needed”, said Mr. Steiner. “The scientific evidence, built over decades, is overwhelming and leaves little room for doubt.”

"The moment has come to put away the paralysis of indecision, acknowledge the facts and face up to the common humanity that unites all peoples”, he added. “Rio+20 is a moment to turn sustainable development from aspiration and patchy implementation into a genuine path to progress and prosperity for this and the next generations to come.”

The report also calls for a greater focus on policies that target the drivers of environmental change – such as population growth and urbanization, unsustainable consumption patterns, fossil fuel-based energy consumption and transport, and globalization.

In particular, globalization has made it possible for trends in drivers to generate intense pressures in concentrated parts of the world very quickly, as in the case of increased demand for biofuels leading to land clearance and conversion.

Although reducing the drivers of environmental change directly may appear politically difficult, it is possible to accomplish significant indirect benefits by targeting more expedient objectives, such as international goals on human well-being, the report says.


I will be attending the Rio Conference from June 12 - 24.  If possible, I will send information on the happenings at the Conference to my blog.  This will depend on the availability of a computer.  17,000 are registered for the Rio+20 Earth Summit. PRAY for the blessings of Mother Earth.

“Obedience to the voice of the earth, of being, is more important for our future happiness
than the voices of the moment, the desires of the moment.
… being itself, our earth, speaks to us and we must listen
if we want to survive and to decipher this message of the earth.”
Pope Benedict XVI

“The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development
in Rio de Janeiro [is] a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set the world
on a more equitable and sustainable path of development.”
Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General