Rio+20 Deal reveals little hope for progress

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Courtesy of Worldwatch Institute

Tuesday, the Brazilian hosts of the Rio+20 Earth Summit succeeded in finalising a statement that all government delegations could agree to. These negotiations ended before the real conference got started so the heads of state arriving Wednesday can spend more time at Cobacabana beach or visit the Jesus Christ monument instead of being tied up with tedious negotiations at the RioCentro conference centre.

The Brazilians wanted at all costs to avoid repeating the chaotic process during the COP15 Climate Summit in Copenhagen, so they were efficient. But on Tuesday it felt more like the air of optimism had leaked out of the balloon rather than the world had moved forward.

I have not taken part in the official negotiations so as an observer I can be wrong. But it's really hard to find 'good news' in the 49-page text of the agreement entitled 'The Future We Want'. I want more of the future than this agreement’s long list of platitudes and 'feel good' rhetoric.

As head of the EU delegation, the Danish Environment Minister Ida Auken told BBC News that the results could have been better, but she was glad that an agreement was landed. I tend to disagree as the text is so weak that the EU should not have accepted it.

Let me cite some examples. Prior to Rio+20, there were some hopes for promoting “green economy” as an alternative to the current economic model, which demands continuous growth and high consumption of resources and oil. I acknowledge that the concept of a green economy is included in Chapter III of the agreement, but the description is ambiguous, unambitious and immeasurable.

The text enumerates generalities such as that a green economy must follow international law. And who can disagree with paragraph 58 (k) that we should “enhance the welfare of women, children, youth, persons with disabilities, smallholder and subsistence farmers, fishers and those working in small and medium enterprises'? Well, maybe some men will disagree as apparently they are the only ones not mentioned here. But there are no specific targets or commitments, which can bind countries to do something.

In usual UN jargon the bulk of the text reaffirms previous agreements and promises from throughout the many branches of the UN. But do we need a whole summit for that? Another disappointment is that the delegates could not agree to phase out the controversial subsidies for fossil fuels (such as oil and coal). The issue get mentioned but the agreement contains no specific dates or goals, and so it is of little use.

The Rio+20 text is a reflection that the world is in a vacuum, where state leaders find it hard to reach any mutual, cross-national determinations. They meet without making any real decisions. But the economic crisis and ecological crisis both require strong political leadership.

One of the few promising outcomes of the agreement is the text on the 'Sustainable Development Goals.' A shot has been fired, which may lead to more concrete goals for the global environment and welfare. There will be plenty to do for civil society, NGOs, businesses and professionals to put pressure on the politicians so that they will take the necessary decisions on the path towards a more sustainable planet.

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