Rio+20: reinventing hope?

Tags: Europe and the Global Green EconomyEurope and the Global Green Economy

Submitted on 30/1/2012 by Laurent Lambert, Oxford University Centre for the Environment,
Europaeum Research Director for 2012 Prague Workshop and for 2010 Paris Workshop

Love it or loath it, yet another world summit to save the world will take place in May. We Europeans, more than any others, should be used to it now. For the last three years, we’ve had an incredible proliferation of 'last-chance summits': to save the climate or perish in Copenhagen, to save our banks from collapse then, or more recently to save Greece and the Euro currency - in an interminable series of emergency meetings. The problem is, that we have not solved once and for good any of these issues.

The Copenhagen accord proved to be a failure; the Euro remains fragile; and, to say the least, Greece is still in a precarious situation. Only our banks – already back to old greedy ways, short returns and obscene bonuses – appear to have successfully escaped the danger zone. A truly debatable outcome, in other words. So, at a time of multiple crises, can we, Europeans, truly afford a new summit? (the 72 hours of G8/G20 twin summits in Canada cost roughly € 762,5 million, half of it for security cover alone!) The answer is - surprisingly - yes. For two main reasons.

First, the next UN grand summit will be held in Rio to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth summit, so those who will pay most of the bills are the Brazilians and their economy is in a much better condition than ours.

The second –arguably more noble and thoughtful - reason why we must participate at the highest levels of this conference is because it aims precisely at revitalizing sustainable development. And this is direly needed !
A billion persons still suffer from hunger, the world’s forest area have declined by more than 300 million hectares (i.e. an area comparable to Western Europe) since the early 1990s, and the global emissions of CO2 have, overall, kept increasing to this day. Even here in Europe, a lucky Continent by many standards, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has dramatically increased, our coastal environments have deteriorated, and our CO2 emissions have failed to decrease as planned. So the tough question is whether this summit has any chance of being successful.

In 1992, thousands of participants from all over the world gathered in Rio to prepare for a new era. The Cold War was over, and a ‘new World Order’ euphoria made us envisage that the world military spending could be transferred to education, infrastructures and development aid. For the first time also, NGOs, civil society, labor unions, youth, women, indigenous peoples, local governments, business and scientists were invited to participate as major groups alongside the governments to this summit. Last but not least, the age-old opposition between development and environment was rethought: humans should reconcile them as one actually depends on the other for its success and durability.

That was a paradigmatic shift. But what could happen today? The main theme of the World Conference on Sustainable Development (dubbed “Rio+20”) is the ‘green economy’, a notion that for some aims to take sustainable development to the next stage, but for others risks to go back on sustainable development.

In terms of international environmental governance, what is at the menu? Expanding the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)? Gathering more environmental agencies under a single UN umbrella? Would it truly improve coordination or simply make the UN more complex, slow and bureaucratic? Some speak about linking the UNEP to the WTO for the sake of making green regulations to the international trade.? But would it not upset many NGOs who consider that neoliberalism is already responsible for the commodification of the world’s resources and its degradation?

There are indeed very few certitudes concerning Rio+20, and daunting challenges ahead. This will require from all the delegates commitment, courage and a good understanding of the challenges related to the green economy of course, but also a key ingredient to diplomatic success, creativity.

We have created this Blog just for this purpose. Thinking and more importantly re-thinking sustainable development – in the run-up to our own research workshop to be held in Prauge at Charles University at the end of April, and also in the run up to Rio+20 – looking at its purposes, potential, limits, opportunities and requirements.

Join the debate here ! We must all share our ideas. That way we can all being to make a difference !



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