5 Takeaways from the Rio+20 Earth Summit
Rio+20, the UN Earth Summit, was held in Rio de Janeiro last week to a decided lack of fanfare. Activists hoping for a significant, binding outcome document were severely let down. Others have written much more eloquently than I could on the underwhelming outcome, both focusing on the disappointments and the silver lining, and I encourage you to read further. But for those of you who want the Cliff's Notes version, here are 5 takeaway lessons from the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
- For meaningful decisions to be made, meaningful leadership must attend.
President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among the key world leaders to skip the conference. From the moment they announced their lack of participation, expectations for the conference plummeted. How can the world commit to ending fossil fuel subsidies or cutting carbon emissions when the key playmakers don't even show up to the negotiations?
- Youth seem to have a better grasp on this issue than adults.
One of the most inspiring speeches of the event came from 17 year-old Brittany Trilford, the winner of the "Date With History" contest sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the UN Foundation. Brittany electrified the room with her closing, "I stand here with fire in my heart. I'm confused and angry at the state of the world and I want us to work together now to change this. We are here to solve the problems that we have caused as a collective, to ensure that we have a future." She gets it, that sustainable development needs international cooperation and that if we don't act now, our children and grandchildren will face grave challenges (literally, life-threatening challenges). It's a message I don't think world leaders understand.
- You can't declare victory if you just ignored the big problems.
About a week before the conference started, the outcome document still had several draft sections, issues on which negotiators had yet to come to an agreement. Rather than leaving these sections in the document for attendees to hash over at the conference, the outcome document presented by Brazil to negotiators simply deleted these tricky sections. There was nothing left to negotiate, nothing left to do besides sign a toothless document with no real commitments.
- Innovative ideas come from civil society more often than they come from world governments.
While the diplomats provided little to be inspired by, activists both at the conference and participating virtually created many reasons to feel positive about the future of sustainable development. There were more than 3,000 fringe events that allowed for the exchange of political, social, technological and commercial ideas (ideas like how to use mobile technology to promote sustainable development). A virtual version of the conference, Rio+Social created as much buzz as the conference itself, promoting some valuable takeaways about the importance of technology to the future of sustainable development.
- We're not going to find the solution to the Earth's problems at one summit.
After Rio+20 ended, observers denounced it as just another conference to schedule more conferences, like many other recent conferences focused on sustainable development or climate change. This sounds like a critique, but the truth is, one conference or one outcome document is not going to make the difference.
In the words of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, "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."
"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."
Change isn't gonna happen overnight, but that doesn't mean we should ever stop working towards the future we want!
About the author
- Arms Control (22)
- Become a Member (3)
- Become a Member (1)
- Capitol Hill (164)
- CGS Political Action Committee (PAC) (17)
- Chapters (4)
- Civilian Protection (133)
- Climate Change (94)
- Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) (2)
- Congressional Report Card (7)
- Current Campaigns (8)
- Election News & Analysis (101)
- Fellows (2)
- Gender Based Violence (26)
- Genocide Prevention (113)
- Get Involved (68)
- Home (12)
- Human Rights (223)
- Human Rights Council (31)
- International Criminal Court (167)
- International Criminal Justice (51)
- Law & Justice (211)
- Law of the Sea Treaty (55)
- Nuclear Disarmament (81)
- Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) (2)
- Other (33)
- PAC: 2010 Election Endorsements (3)
- Partners for Global Change (2)
- Peacekeeping (104)
- Prevent War (181)
- Rights of the Child Treaty (10)
- Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) (19)
- Support Us (14)
- Take Action (24)
- Tax Deductible Giving (2)
- UN Funding (71)
- UN Reform & Revitalization (43)
- United Nations (321)
- usaforicc.org (1)
- WFI (5)
- Women's Rights Treaty (CEDAW) (47)