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Rio+20: A future we don't want

Mild agreements discussed at the Rio de Janeiro summit are seen by many as mere procrastination to avoid making difficult decisions.
Last modified: 21 Jun 2012 16:04
Photo by Reuters

A massive, thee-day global conference on sustainable development was officially launched in Brazil on Wednesday, but the tone was anything but optimistic.

Since the original Earth Summit, also in Rio, put sustainable development on the global agenda 20 years ago, humanity's impact on the planet has only become more pronounced.

There are 1.5 billion additional people on the planet; the average temperature has increased by .4 degrees Celsius; and CO2 emissions have increased by 36 per cent.

Diplomats returned to Rio in an alleged attempt to change course. But the outcome document - announced a day before session began and the result of months of intense negotiations - leads to no major new proposals or binding promises.

In the text - officially titled "The Future We Want" - the UN is set to launch a process to create "sustainable development goals" (SDGs) and to establishe a High-level Political Forum on sustainable development to follow up on previous and future international commitments.

The Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme will be strengthened and provided with regular funding from the UN's regular budget. It also launches a process to create what it calls a "sustainable development financing strategy".

Yet many see these mild agreements as mere procrastination to make difficult decisions, and many - including the EU, Brazil, and civil society members - hoped for more.

One important stumbling block has been between developing and developed states. The former assert that they have a right to development, and that rich countries should pay if they agree to use more expensive but alternative energy sources.

Yet rich nations, notably the US, were unwilling to make promises.

"In moments like these, marked by uncertainty about the future of the world economy, there is a temptation to attach absolutely priority to domestic interests," Dilma Roussef, the president of Brazil, said, citing what many believed to be the cause of Western reluctance. "We cannot allow that to happen, " she said.

Civil society has been particularly critical. For one, the outcome document doesn't call for an end to fossil-fuel subsidies, and delays the development of sustainable development goals to further negotiations.

"Just to be clear, NGOs here in Rio in no way endorse this document," Wael Hmaidan, Director of Climate Action Network, said near the end of negotiations. "It does not in any way reflect our aspiration."

A number of organisations and individuals have signed a petition, called "The Future We Don't Want", that refuses the current text, and are planning on launching demonstrations across the convention centre here in Rio on Thursday.

But barring some major breakthrough in the next two days, the text is set to be adopted on Friday at the close of the session.