As negotiators completed their work on the outcome document presented to world leaders at Rio+20, the United Nations Secretary-General warned them that time is short and this document must “…meet their [Heads of State and Government] expectations…”
Momentum has been building to this point: the start of Rio+20, formally known as the U.N. Sustainable Development Conference, which has officially begun in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Despite the negative pre-summit press coverage, a who’s who of world leaders, diplomats, captains of industry, and civil society heads converged on the Brazilian city in what I believe can be a successful conference; one where finding solutions to the problems confronting global sustainability can be achieved. Does a difficult task await the delegates? Absolutely! Can solutions be found? Is it doable? Yes, I feel it is. What is the alternative? Failure? This is not an option and cannot even factor into the equation at Rio+20.
As the world’s attention remains riveted on the small European nation of Greece, its ongoing economic troubles, and its deleterious effects on the global economy, as well as the political turmoil following the results of the Egyptian elections, the world must not lose sight of the important work to be done in Rio de Janeiro.
Hope was high back in 1992 when the first Rio conference took place and the concept of sustainable development was born; now, 20 years hence and, several intervening summits having taken place, the world continues to face enormous challenges – economically, environmentally, and socially – all the more reason why this summit is so important. WHAT AWAITS CONFEREES
The conference will focus on the three linchpins of sustainable development. The delegates will look at ways of creating prosperity, trimming the level of those living in poverty, preserving the environment, and building a more equitable social structure.
Secretary-General of the Rio+20 Conference Sha Zukang, head of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, quoted recently as saying, “Rio 2012 is humanity’s chance to commit to a transition to a green economy and lift people out of poverty. We cannot wait for another 20 years. The time to commit is at Rio 2012.”
The U.N. General Assembly set forth its commitment to the conference by laying out three official objectives: · Securing renewed political commitment to sustainable development; Assessing progress towards internationally agreed goals on sustainable development; · Addressing new and emerging challenges relating to sustainable development.
With respect to the third General Assembly objective, a number of threats have arisen since the first Rio summit that delegates to the first Preparatory Committee (PrepCom 1) listed as clearly needing added attention at Rio+20. The issues they felt required additional focus were:
1. achievment of MDGs 2. biodiversity and ecosystem loss 3. climate security 4. energy crisis 5. financial crisis 6. globalization 7. health security 8. migration 9. natural disasters, preparedness, and recovery 10. water scarcity SEVEN KEY AREAS OF PRIORITY
The preparations preceding Rio+20 highlighted seven (7) critical issues of importance.
First, the global economic recession took an enormous toll on jobs around the world. Global unemployment rates remain tremendously high, and to combat these levels “green jobs” is where job creation expects to come from in the coming years. One of the themes of the summit is a “green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.”
Second, energy encompasses all of the major challenges presented at the conference. Energy needs and global economic strengthening are inextricably linked, so much so that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has an initiative titled “Sustainable Energy for All” (SE4ALL). His goal is to increase the use of renewable energy and spur efficiency around the world. The Secretary-General has the backing of the United States, who launched their own set of programs in support of the leader of the U.N.
Third, cities face considerable challenges in the near future. Populations in urban centers continue to expand as people move there to search for jobs. As a result, an increasing population in cities places enormous burdens on social services, creates congestion, and further worsens an already horrific pollution problem. The conference anticipates discussions on creating sustainable cities.
Fourth, the matter of food production and its accompanying security is an item atop the agenda at Rio+20 this week. Climate change puts additional hardships on agricultural development as fluctuations in weather patterns wreak havoc on growing seasons. An estimated 925 million people are deemed hungry in the world today, and population growth only exacerbates the chronic global hunger problem.
Fifth, water expects to garner equal billing with food production as life’s sustaining resource is facing critical scarcity. Matters of quality and accessibility are problematic. Climate change also has a role as weather shifts create sustained droughts diminishing the water supply. In addition, scarcity in areas of the world where nations share water supplies has the potential for conflict breaking out as each tries to take their rightful share.
Sixth, the worlds’ oceans and their sustainability face critical dilemmas as well that conference delegates are certain to address at some point during their meetings.
Seventh, and finally, disasters that have occurred recently such as the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan to the flooding in the Midwestern portion of the U.S. has tremendous environmental and economic consequences, not to mention the toll it takes on one’s own livelihood. Undoubtedly, such events will receive added attention at the summit. NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY WITH SUMMIT DEVELOPMENTS
On June 19, diplomats agreed to a draft text on green global development that environmentalists deemed “weak” and felt did not go far enough in addressing the core issues such as climate change.
The draft text did not include a clause agreed upon by the G20; it called for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies by the year 2020. A reduction in subsidies was expected to reduce overall demand of global energy by five (5) percent and emissions of carbon dioxide by six (6) percent.
Two countries who blocked the clause were Venezuela and Canada, not surprisingly countries who are large oil producing nations. "THE FUTURE WE WANT”
In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/24/opinion/the-future-we-want.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Ban%20Ki-moon&st=Search) last month titled “The Future We Want”, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined his goals for the Rio+20 summit.
Mr. Ban Ki-moon writes, “…we can not continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity…we have not embraced the obvious solution – the only possible solution, now as it was 20 years ago: sustainable development.”
The leader of the global body continues by saying that Rio+20 offers another opportunity for the international community to come together to find reasonable solutions that confront us today.
The U.N. head highlights three “…clusters of outcomes…”where he believes the delegates to the conference should focus their attention.
He believes the summit should do the following: · “…Rio+20 should inspire new thinking – and action…” · “…Rio+20 should be about people…” · “…Rio+20 should issue a clarion call to action: waste not.”
Delegates to the conference should ask themselves some important questions when they are in Rio de Janeiro: Is this the future that we want? Is this the future that I want? I suspect when they ponder how to respond they will be surprised to hear their answers.