Saturday, June 23rd, 2012
RIO+20, THE UNHAPPY ENVIRONMENTAL SUMMIT
|Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, right, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon hold the gavel together as they close the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, June 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)|
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - It was hard to find a happy soul at the end of the Rio+20 environmental summit.
Not within the legion of bleary-eyed government negotiators from 188 nations who met in a failed attempt to find a breakthrough at the United Nations conference on sustainable development.
Not among the thousands of activists who decried the three-day summit that ended late Friday as dead on arrival. Not even in the top U.N. official who organized the international organization's largest-ever event.
"This is an outcome that makes nobody happy. My job was to make everyone equally unhappy," said Sha Zukang, Secretary-General of the conference, nicely summing up the mood.
In the end, this conference was a conference to decide to have more conferences.
That result was hailed as a success by the 100 heads of state who attended. Given how environmental summits have failed in recent years as global economic turmoil squashes political will to take on climate and conservation issues, the mere fact of agreeing to talk again in the future constitutes victory.
Faced with the real prospect of complete failure, negotiators who struggled for months to hammer out a more ambitious final document ended up opting for the lowest common denominator. Just hours before the meeting opened Wednesday, they agreed on a proposal that makes virtually no progress beyond what was signed at the original 1992 Earth Summit, removing the kind of contentious proposals activists contend are required to avoid an environmental meltdown.
"We've sunk so low in our expectations that reaffirming what we did 20 years ago is now considered a success," said Martin Khor, executive director of the Geneva-based South Centre and a member of the U.N. Committee on Development Policy.
|Environmental activists, one portraying Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff holding a banner symbolizing "dirty money" made from fossil fuel subsidies, protest on the final day of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, June 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)|
Indeed, the word "reaffirm" is used 59 times in the 49-page document titled "The Future We Want." They reaffirm the need to achieve sustainable development (but not mandating how); reaffirm commitment to strengthening international cooperation (just not right now); and reaffirm the need to achieve economic stability (with no new funding for the poorest nations).
Some of the biggest issues activists wanted to see in the document that didn't make it in included a call to end subsidies for fossil fuels, language underscoring the reproductive rights of women, and some words on how nations might mutually agree to protect the high seas, areas that fall outside any national jurisdictions.
"We saw anything of value in the early text getting removed one by one. What is left is the clear sense that the future we want is not one our leaders can actually deliver," said Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo. "We now need to turn the anger people around the world are feeling into creative, thoughtful and meaningful action."
On the "glass half full" side of things, while the effort to make progress on multilateral talks among the collective U.N. body were a disappointment, the big gathering produced nearly 700 promises and advances made by individual countries, companies and other organizations, in total worth about $500 billion if actually followed through
For instance, the U.S. agreed to partner with more than 400 companies, including Wal-Mart, Coca- Cola and Unilever, to support their efforts to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains by 2020.
Andrew Deutz, director of international government relations at the Nature Conservancy, pointed out that Indonesia, Australia and Colombia all made strong commitments to protecting oceans in their national waters, in part to ensure future food security.
"Monday morning, the challenge will be to go back home and hold governments and companies accountable for the commitments they made here and help them get things done," he said.
|In this photo released by Brazil's Presidency, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, left, meets with Cuba's President Raul Castro during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, June 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Brazil's Presidency, Roberto Stuckert)|
Despite the shifting global economic order, with the rise of nations like Brazil and China and a host of other "middle-income" countries, critics said negotiators still argued along the lines of old "north-south" arguments that pit richer developed nations against developing nations.
The Group of 77 nations that represents the poorest on the globe maintained their demand that richer nations in Europe and the U.S. recognize their "historic debt" eating up a much greater amount of the globe's resources since the industrial revolution began 250 years ago. They say rich nations should finance environmental improvements in the poorer nations, and also freely transfer technology that would help the developing nations use more renewable energy and build cleaner industrial sectors.
"Everything has been kicked down the lane a few years, we'll have to wait to formalize sustainable development goals and make the transition to a green economy," said Muhammed Chowdhury, a lead negotiator of Group of 77. "It's not a good scenario."
However, a U.S. delegate member said that countries can no longer debate issues with an eye on the past, that once poor nations are becoming rich, and that anybody looking for the Rio+20 summit to somehow reach a magical agreement and solve complicated environmental and development challenges would be sorely disappointed.
"I think the expectation that there is one document or one approach that can solve one of the major questions of our time - how do you maintain economic growth and protect the environment? - there's not one paper that can do that," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones.
"This is a process. We have to embrace it as a process, look at the positive things we have done, and keep working, as there is much more to do."
|US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gives a speech at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, June 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)|
Clinton calls for pragmatic action at Rio+20
Friday, June 22nd, 2012
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for pragmatic steps to solve global environmental problems and promote sustainable development on Friday, urging leaders attending the Rio+20 summit to partner with private-sector groups to make progress on a wide range of issues.
Clinton's address came during the final day of the development summit, the largest meeting the United Nations has yet organized. The gathering has come under withering criticism from activists for what they say is the unambitious final document all nations agreed upon to put the globe on a sustainable path, promoting economic growth that doesn't devour natural resources.
"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," Clinton said during a speech before delegates from 192 other nations.
She added later in the speech: "We know that we will be judged not by what we say nor even by what we intend to do, but by whether we deliver results for people alive today, and whether we keep faith with future generations."
Upward of 50,000 people participated in the Rio+20 event. Beyond official government delegations, there were thousands of people from every sector imaginable, from Latin American indigenous groups to Asian women rights' proponents to corporations teaming up with celebrities to tout their environmentally friendly proposals.
Additionally, Rio hosted a parallel "People's Summit" of non-governmental organizations and others who called for more radical and progressive action on the environment and development issues.
Despite the numbers, there was little energy around this year's summit. Going in, expectations were extremely low for any major advances, to the point that delegates' ability to agree on what critics called a watered-down final document that mostly reaffirmed what was agreed to in 1992 was viewed as a successful outcome by governments.
Activists were not impressed.
"Rio will go down as the hoax summit. They came, they talked, but they failed to act," said Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam. "We elect governments to tackle the issues that we can't tackle alone. But they are not providing the leadership the world desperately needs."
Jim Leape, director of WWF, said that the "formal negotiations were by any measure a huge disappointment."
"Governments didn't find a way to come together. There is a lot in the text about 'acknowledging problems' and 'encouraging countries to act,' but very little commitments. That falls way short of what is needed," he said.
Brazil's Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira defended the work of governments and like many officials said that any multilateral process involving 193 nations is going to be a grinding negotiation that will leave most parties equally unsatisfied.
"The ending document doesn't meet all of Brazil's ambitions ... but I'm certain that it's the best agreement we could come to," she said.
During her brief stop in Rio, Clinton on Friday announced some U.S. initiatives, including an agreement to partner with more than 400 companies to support their efforts to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains by 2020, and $20 million in government grants to jumpstart clean energy projects in Africa and support private investment.
By: BRADLEY BROOKS
|A Brazilian Indian peers from a bus window as he arrives for a march by indigenous to deliver their declaration to leaders attending the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 21, 2012. The Earth summit runs through June 22. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)|
Chimp champ Goodall crusades against deforestation
Friday, June 22nd, 2012
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Even in the veritable tower of Babel that is the United Nations' largest-ever conference, it's safe to assume that Jane Goodall was the only one speaking chimpanzee.
"Ooh, ooh, ooh, ah, ah," the iconic British conservationist chanted into the microphone, delivering a series of melancholic bursts she said roughly translated as "please help."
"I think that's what chimpanzees would be saying if they could articulate it that way," Goodall told participants at a meeting Thursday of the conservationist umbrella group Avoided Deforestation Partners. The event took place on the margins of the U.N.'s Rio+20 mega-conference on sustainable development, which has drawn an estimated 50,000 diplomats, environmentalists, policy makers and concerned citizens from across the globe to Rio de Janeiro.
The world's forests are among the crucial, life-sustaining environmental systems scientists say are teetering on the brink of a tipping point. The U.N.'s Environment Program warned earlier this month that the planet's systems - which also include air, land and oceans - "are being pushed towards their biophysical limits," after which sudden and catastrophic changes could ensue.
Environmentalists had cast Rio+20 as the last, best chance to avert such a scenario, and the event attracted a host of high-profile personalities, including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and media mogul Ted Turner, who urged policy makers to take action on their pet causes. But the three-day conference was beset by bickering between rich and poor countries, and environmental protection groups have lashed out in chorus against the event's final document, which they say is grossly inadequate.
Goodall, a Cambridge University-trained ethnologist who's among the top advocates for the chimps she has studied for more than half a century, spoke movingly of the deforestation that has encroached on Tanzania's Gombe National Park, where she began studying chimps. The chimpanzee population of equatorial Africa once numbered in the millions, but deforestation and other threats have slashed their numbers to an estimated 170,000-300,000, making the chimp an endangered species.
Goodall said a recent flight over Gombe, a tiny 30-square-mile sliver of a park perched on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, brought the devastation of the surrounding landscape into sharp relief.
"The trees were gone, the hills were bare," she said. Outside the park, trees had been cut down by the impoverished locals for firewood and for plots of land on which to eke out a living.
She said both the kind of "desperate poverty" that surrounds Gombe and, on the other end of the spectrum, the unquenchable appetites for consumer goods in wealthy countries, were to blame for deforestation.
"The unsustainable lifestyles of those not living in poverty is leading to the actions ... of the big mining companies, the big petroleum companies and the big logging companies" - the enemies of forests worldwide, she said.
Goodall also singled out spiraling population growth as another of the main culprits driving deforestation, which organizers of Thursday's conference say results in the loss of 1 acre of forest every second.
"It's population growth, the sheer numbers of us. It's having a devastating effect on the forests," she said.
Britain's Prince Charles concurred.
In a lengthy address beamed into the Rio meeting via video, the prince said that the burgeoning human population will inevitably lead to the clearing of more forest land for agriculture to feed people's "insatiable and ultimately unsustainable appetite for meat." He cautioned that innovative and region-specific solutions, such as integrating crops on forest floors, will prove necessary if any of the world's forests are going to remain standing.
He also made a compelling argument for just how important it is that they do remain standing: Deforestation itself is a major source of greenhouse gases, spewing out more pollutants annually than the global transportation. Plus, forests help stave off climate change by fixing carbon dioxide and play a crucial role in feeding streams and rivers.
Again and again, the meeting's high-profile speakers emphasized how much previous U.N. environmental conferences had left undone - and how time was running out for the world's forests and the plants, animals and humans that depend on them.
"For me and I'm sure many others, there's a terrible sense of deja vu when I recall those expressions of urgency 20 years ago," said Charles, referring to the Rio+20's predecessor, the Eco 92 conference, which helped put climate change on the world agenda.
The prince stressed that time is running out, a point he made in a previous address, he said Thursday.
"I said that we have less than 100 months left to act to avoid catastrophic change. That was forty months ago," said the prince. "We simply can't wait for the international frameworks to be put into place. If the pace of the negotiations and the speed ... is too slow to arrest the present rate of depletion, then it seems to me we have no option but to forge ahead by taking action now and then linking to the international frameworks when they finally emerge further down the line."
While neither the prince nor chimpanzee champion Goodall appeared to put much faith in the outcome of the Rio+20 conference, they said increasing public awareness of the scope of the problem was heartening.
"More and more of the public have begun to understand what's going on out there," she said, "and people are beginning to vote in the grocery store with what they buy."
By: JENNY BARCHFIELD
These stories were written by Associated Press writers and joined together in a MY HERO webpage by MY HERO staff.
Follow Bradley Brooks on Twitter: http://twitter.com/bradleybrooks
Associated Press writer Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report. (First story)