Much hope, little action?

June 18th, 2012

20 years after the 1972 Earth Summit, carbon emissions have increased by 40% – partly due to the massive increase in air travel – and according to WWF’s recent Living Planet report, global demand for natural resources is now 50 per cent higher than the planet’s regenerative capacity. Small islands are now at high risk from rises in sea levels due to global warming.

50,000 are forecast to attend Rio, and 194 countries will be represented there. US President Obama isn’t going – but he’s sending Hillary Clinton, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron isn’t going – but he’s sending Nick Clegg. And there lies the dilemma: our commitment to addressing global environmental issues is finely balanced against the global financial crisis, which is keeping both world leaders busy.

Cynics expect little from the Rio+20 conference. Countries are forecast to sign up to an Outcome Document which will advocate a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy – but it’s unlikely to be legally binding. We hope that UNEP will take on the role of global environmental policeman – but without legal sanction, how will that work? We hope for new Sustainable Development Goals – around access to sustainable food, water and energy for all – talking about energy is new; it’s become an increasingly vital part of all our lives. It’s becoming clear that total energy access could transform the lives of poor people, and without it, they’ll be excluded from the modern world.

Wind power in Sri Lanka; children in Sri Lanka show their delight with wind power

So – a lot of hope; will there be any action? The outcome agreement will be called “The Future We Want” and if we really want to make that future a reality, governments will have to take on the perhaps unpopular task of getting us all to make changes that will affect our lives and the world economy: no more flying to Thailand on holiday? Less choice of food in the supermarket? The global aero and food industries won’t like that… development organisations have a vital role to play in helping people understand what we need to do to save the planet. If Rio can move people’s attention away for while from financial crises in the developed world, and back to bigger issues like the long-term survival of the planet, then it will have been a success. The most important thing is what happens next!

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