This week the Earth Summit takes place in Rio, 20 years after the 1992 summit saw the signing of treaties to combat climate change and biodiversity loss.
In 1992, talks about the global environment led to some serious action – not enough, but at least some steps in the right direction.
Today it looks like the 2012 equivalent is going to achieve far less. Negotiators have produced a compromise draft text, taking out key points of potential progress and bringing everything down to an unambitious common denominator. It will take a serious act of political will by one of the delegations in order to break through that.
It’s still possible, but time is running out. The conference starts on Wednesday and ends on Friday. World leaders are preoccupied with the Greek election, the eurozone crisis, recession and the finance system.
But some serious leadership is needed now if we are to avoid the next crisis – the one in which recovery from recession bids up commodity prices, triggers even more serious climate change, and further undermines the ability of the world’s ecosystems to provide the world’s people with water and food.
Key issues on the agenda at Rio this week include:
• Corporate reporting: A powerful coalition of businesses and NGOs is pressing for action to raise standards of company reporting on environmental impacts and risks. However paragraph 45 of the current negotiating text is very weak, basically leaving this all on a voluntary basis rather than pressing for legal requirements.
• ‘Beyond GDP’: The reference in earlier versions of the text to the limitations of Gross Domestic Product as an indicator has disappeared. What remains (para 286) calls for the development of other indicators, to “complement” GDP but there’s now no hint of new priorities for economic development.
• Finance. With nothing legally binding expected, the implementation of anything agreed at Rio depends crucially on finance. Negotiators have found this difficult, with the G77 bloc calling for funding from rich countries to help them deliver on any commitments, and the rich countries standing firm against that.
The compromise in the current version of the text (para 258) is to delay decisions on finance until autumn 2014 at the earliest; however, by introducing a Financial Transactions Tax and getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies, money could be found for implementation before the end of this year.
• Sustainable consumption and production: Calls in previous versions of the text for radical changes in patterns of consumption and production, implying the need for changes in technology, lifestyles, and the efficiency of resource use, have been shortened and watered down in the latest version.
• Earlier versions included a plan to counteract short-termism in decision-making by establishing a UN Commissioner for Future Generations, in an advisory ‘ombudsman’ type of role. This has been deleted from the new text.
We have until Friday to get something more useful out of Rio 2012.