Dear EarthTalk: I understand there is to be another Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012, 20 years since the last one was held in the same city. What’s on the agenda this time?

— Janet Grayson, Albuquerque, NM

According to the United Nations, the so-called “Rio+20 Conference”-officially the UN Conference on Sustainable Development-is a new attempt in a new millennium to “lay the foundations of a world of prosperity, peace and sustainability.” The event will take place June 20-22, the 20th anniversary of 1992’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) — the “Rio Earth Summit” — and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The main agenda items will be reviewing the progress and difficulties associated with moving towards sustainability, assessing responses to the newly emerging challenges faced by our societies, and strengthening political commitments to sustainable development. Underlying themes include finding ways to leverage the green economy to foster sustainable development and poverty eradication, and setting up an effective institutional framework for future global sustainable development initiatives. Delegates from the 200+ nations and thousands of private and nonprofit sector attendees will focus on sustainable cities, decent jobs, food security and sustainable agriculture, energy, oceans, and disaster readiness.

To the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington, DC-based think tank devoted to sustainability issues, Rio+20 is important as it forces the world’s nations to “review progress on and reaffirm a global commitment to the policies designed to foster economic growth that is both inclusive and respects the planet’s limited carrying capacity.” WRI adds that amid a global recession, a widening gap between rich and poor and heightened competition for energy, food and other natural resources, the conference couldn’t be timelier but “unfortunately, no clear vision for Rio+20 has emerged, and expectations … remain low.”

But conference participants are busy preparing. The Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future (SFSF), a network of non-governmental participants, is busy developing the Global Transition 2012 Initiative, which will lay out specific recommendations culled from organizations and thought leaders around the world.

“A goal of the initiative is to achieve an outcome from Rio+20 that catalyses a ‘Global Transition’ to an economy that maximizes well-being, operates within environmental limits and is capable of coping and adapting to global environmental change,” reports the SFSF. “The Global Transition 2012 initiative will propose focused and accessible goals, targets and policy interventions that will chart a clear route towards the greening of the global economy, and the achievement of social and economic justice.”

Rio+20 participants hope this event will be remembered as an historic occasion when nations of the world aligned behind the cause of staving off global environmental catastrophe. But the more likely outcome is a few non-binding agreements that will soon be forgotten by constituents, the media and even many of the participating countries. Not since 1987’s Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals have nations of the world been able to come together in a significant way to address specific environmental ills. And without any binding agreements already on the table, Rio+20 doesn’t look to dazzle either.

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