Rio +20 by Suzanne Maxx

Rio +20 the United Nation’s Conference on Sustainable Development June 20-22 climaxed around the solstice time, where it is the longest day of light from the USA perspective, and yet here in Brazil it most appropriately  grew to the darkest day, in more ways than the literal shortness of sunlight. About 50 thousand people came here to Rio De Janero from different parts of the world for the United Nations’ Rio+20. Many here seem to strive to shine the light of hope for our world leaders for this environmental conference to take powerful action for our future with enforceable binding global environmental policy. The conference’s theme titled, “The Future We Want,,”  became grew dark by the lack of action with an agreement for change.

The five minute speeches from each country’s world leader one by one acknowledged the urgency to overcome the darkness and address together economic growth, social development and environmental justice. Each put in their own words a common concern for our future and the common desire to take action towards change. Each leader seemed to share the concern about the state of the world, and the importance of environmental sustainability. At least the text agreed upon understood that water, energy, food security work together in unity. Each leader communicated the value of our natural resources. As US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said, “We also know that future is not guaranteed, because the resources that we all depend upon – fresh water, thriving oceans, arable land, a stable climate – are under increasing pressure. And that is why, in the 21st century, the only viable development is sustainable development. The only way to deliver lasting progress for everyone is by preserving our resources and protecting our common environment”.  But what happened?

Are the systems we have created to govern change failed us or is the change taking place a subtle shift of power from the governments, inspiring a movement from within all people?  Within all structures we have set up for humanity—truly we could not expect one entity; the United Nations to provide the answer. All of humanity needs to rise to the importance of the challenge facing us at this critical time for our resources here on earth.

The action taken here, (or lack of) at  the  Rio+20 Summit in the end has left many, some governments and specifically the civil society in the dark— focused on the failure and disappointment of expectations for success, with the theme renamed, “The Future We Bought”… Unfortunately this sentiment provoked some extreme behavior that actually disrupted the UN process when sound interference was claimed to have prevented leaders to hear, and said to have been caused by NGO’s in protest.

A big distinction from the last time I was here in 1992 for the Earth Summit/ Global Forum is the beginning of integration of the civil society, and for that matter— all sectors. Back then it was like a collective fire of the spirit– a gathering of seemingly kindred souls all optimistic about the possibility of change and from that inspiration several pieces of global policy emerged for our environment eventually treaties on global warming, deserts and biodiversity— the first in the history of our world.

The concept of a World Team grew here in Rio +20 regardless of the outcome we can perceive, as there at least was an effort for teamwork with as Secretary Clinton explained this is what is needed now to approach the challenge:

“Officials from every level— from state, county, local, municipalities— together along with industry leaders and developers to find creative ways to generate sustainable economic growth. Governments, yes; let’s do our part. Let’s do more than our part. Let’s pave the way for more clean energy investments, take on the entrenched political and economic interests that stand in the way of clean energy, technology, and sources being used in nations around the world. Let’s use the private sector, particularly the consumer goods companies, as they have agreed to do, to make sure they have sustainable supply chains, the right kind of packaging and marketing that puts the least amount of burden on the earth we share. Let’s bring in the nonprofits, the civil society organizations, faith groups, individuals, all of us.”

What did come out of Rio +20 was a roadmap for sustainable development goals, under that there is an agreement made about preserving the ocean. By 2015 there will be an attempt for much needed policy for the High Seas.

Antonio Garcia Allut, represents the world wide small scale fishing community, he is the President of the Lonxanet Foundation for Artisanal Fishing. The fisheries are one of the areas progress was made here at Rio+20. He explains, “It is a step, but execution is the key”. Farmed Fisheries subsidies were cut and unfortunately the much needed attention to the trillion dollars of fossil fuel subsidies were left out entirely.

The outcome of Rio+20 is that 9 major groups participated. 692 registered countries. Commitments valued at 513 billion US dollars, were made— that is something. Leading Fortune 500 companies, universities, volunteer actions, and individual actions were also made. More than 100 developing nations are involved in the commitments. Mohamed Waheed, president of the Maldives, pledged in Rio to convert his entire nation, a string of islands in the Indian Ocean, into a protected area to conserve coral reefs, fish, turtles and sharks. The Maldives plans to be a marine reserve country. Waheed explained, “We have created our first biosphere reserve in one atoll and we will continue the program throughout the country.” 50 countries and 86 corporations, including and others agreed to a declaration supporting natural capital accounting, a measure of wealth that goes beyond GDP by including the value of natural assets such as soils, watersheds and fisheries. Eight multilateral banks will invest more than $175 billion over the next decade to promote more sustainable public transportation and cycling.

Carbon War room claimed 50%, reducing Aruba off fossil fuels by 2020. They committed to renovating buildings, and offered up 1 billion dollars in energy investments in buildings within the next 15 years.

The United Nations systems did come together to register commitments. Sustainable energy for all commitments, corporate sustainability summit commitments, yet all of these commitments— may be too little too late.