Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rio +20

Much can be said about this conference, and I'm sure plenty will be over the next few days. For the moment, I will confine myself to this quote and link:

"To see Obama backtracking on the commitments made by Bush the elder 20 years ago is to see the extent to which a tiny group of plutocrats has asserted its grip on policy."

- George Monbiot, Rio 2012: it's a make-or-break summit.
Just like they told us at Rio 1992


byron smith said...

Monbiot again.

"In 1992, world leaders signed up to something called "sustainability". Few of them were clear about what it meant; I suspect that many of them had no idea. Perhaps as a result, it did not take long for this concept to mutate into something subtly different: "sustainable development". Then it made a short jump to another term: "sustainable growth". And now, in the 2012 Rio+20 text that world leaders are about to adopt, it has subtly mutated once more: into "sustained growth"."

byron smith said...

Mongabay: "As world leaders head to Rio de Janeiro for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development, environmental and poverty groups are denouncing the last-minute text agreed on by dignitaries as "pathetic," (Greenpeace), a "damp squib" (Friends of the Earth), "a dead end" (Oxfam), and, if nothing changes, "a colossal waste of time" (WWF)."

byron smith said...

CP: Reflections on the Rio +20 document from figures at CAP.

byron smith said...

Monbiot again: "It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. [...] The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it."

byron smith said...

Mongabay: Nature gives world leaders an 'F' on progress made on three treaties signed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992: climate change, biodiversity decline, and desertification.

byron smith said...

WWF: World leaders have failed but not equally. Worst of the pack? Canada.

byron smith said...

The Conversation: A counter-intuitive argument. Why the removal of the language of "planetary boundaries" is actually a good sign of incremental change.

I don't think I buy this, but interesting argument.

byron smith said...

MWH: Rio +20: Blinded by the god of economic growth.

"Of course, economic growth is vital for poor countries, and they are absolutely right to orient growth towards the poor. Where the document fails is that there is no distinction between those who have too little and those who already have too much. ‘More’ is the common prescription to underdeveloped and overdeveloped economies alike.

"I live in a country where a quarter of us are obese, and where we throw away a third of the food that we buy. Over the course of their lifetime, the average British person will spend over £10,000 on clothes that they will never wear. Why is it so wrong to suggest that we might have enough?"

byron smith said...

Planet 3.0: Twenty years of standing still.

"Why can’t UN officials and government officials simply be honest and say something along the lines of “We didn’t accomplish much at Rio+20 because the nations participating in the summit could not overcome their differences and work together towards solutions to the most pressing issues facing humanity.This is a potentially catastrophic problem”.

"Instead everyone gets an undeserved pat on the back. Surely this is not helpful. In most situations when you fail as badly and repeatedly as those involved in these UN summits have failed, you are not given a pat on the back and congratulated on a job well done. You are, instead, told that you failed and that if you do not turn things around soon you can pack your bags and leave."

Colin Butler said...


interesting Conversation piece by Will Steffen, who as you probably know has worked closely with the Planetary Boundaries folk (he is 2nd author on the paper "A safe operating space for humanity"). [Will, btw, is contributing to the book I am editing, as you are.] I remember Will, after the 2009 Copenhagen mtg (where he had a very active role) reported back at ANU that it was more successful than most thought, no doubt including Monbiot. I think he does the same here (re Rio). I think this is partly for his own morale, partly as he doesn't want to bag Australia etc too much (he says it's good to be from a country that's walking the talk .. crawling a whisper is more accurate.

Like you, I don't really buy the idea that deleting the boundaries language is an encouraging sign. I think Will is trying to make the best of it, and at the same time opening up a conversation.

I personally hold Will in very high regard. It's a pity individuals can't solve all the problems!

cheers, Colin

Colin Butler said...

I also know someone who was part of the NZ delegation at Rio. He confirmed what you may already know, and which I have long heard. Essentially the Vatican had a position at Rio+20 (and maybe Cairo 1994 and Rio 1992) which gives it veto power, in the same way that China can block action by the Security Council over Syria. My friend told me that the Vatican single handedly blocked mention of human population numbers. (Don't ask me to quote the exact text - there may be something there, but it's much weaker than most countries wanted).

If we think of this Vatican-induced censorship on population (also a form of limit) the way that Will suggests we should think of Planetary Boundaries (PBs) then Will's argument loses its strength I think; not that it ever was very strong.

This is for the following reasoning: Will seems to suggest that PBs have reached the status of an idea that threatens powerful interests, who must censor the idea. Maybe, but censoring does not mean rapid progress; indeed the Vatican has censored population discussion for several decades; with considerable success. But pop'n growth is slowing, despite the Vatican, and PBs will tighten despite the censorship.

byron smith said...

Colin: Thanks for those insights. These conferences are complex things and getting a handle on what they do or do not achieve is not simple. In general, it's probably safe to assume they achieve more than the activists lament and less than the representatives claim. But that still leaves a huge field from which to pick.

I agree that Christians (perhaps especially Catholics, whose decision to grasp the teleology of sexual intercourse on a case-by-case rather than relationship basis was indeed a significant misstep) have not adequately come to terms with the population debate and all-too-often have acted as roadblocks making discussion impossible or difficult.

My own attempt to articulate some thoughts on this can be found here.