Rio+20 Summit: Humanity and the Environment

June 24, 2012

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the plenary session of the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by Maria Elisa Franco/UN Photo

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) which recently concluded faced the critical issue of addressing humanity’s ecological footprint which already exceeds Earth’s regenerative capacity.

Catastrophic climatic change, uncontrolled global warming, water scarcity, and environmental degradation must be addressed by global leaders in a multilateral effort.

The hopes were high that international gathering would conclude with a concrete set of plans about how to address these problems but Rio+20 was doomed from the beginning. As Ruben Zondervan writes in The Conversation, “The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), could have brought us closer to a strengthened earth system governance. Closer towards a global, effective architecture for governance of sustainability that can adapt to changing circumstances, that involves civil society, that is accountable and legitimate beyond the nation state and that is fair for everyone.”

“It could have been. But the negotiated text agreed before the conference is weak. It falls behind expectations of most countries, and is disappointing to practically all civil society organisations. The global intergovernmental negotiation process has failed. Again.”

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, “Some conservation organizations estimate species are heading towards extinction at a rate of about one every 20 minutes. One figure frequently cited is that the rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. Experts calculate that between 0.01 and 0.1 per cent of all species will continue to become extinct each year, if we carry on with business as usual.”

Further, recent market failures have pushed even the developed nations into deep financial crises, threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of their citizens.

As the market–driven financial and economic crises deepens an increased disillusionment with the prevailing socio-economic paradigm in many countries of the world towards inclusive growth and development deepens.

Concomitantly, global discourse has been hastily presented with ‘Green Economy’ as the only viable option, but that too is marred by an uncompromising and hesitant attitude of the highly developed economies of the West because they do not want to cut their carbon emission level or reduce unrestrained use of CFCs or diversify their high- tech to other users of the poor countries, thereby helping to preserve the hygiene and cleanliness of the environment and better management of nature as an exercise towards Green Economy. But the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in its Global Green New Deal (GGND), has vaguely defined the Green Economy as one that results in “improved human well- being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities” and that has led to different apprehensions and various interpretations.

Another worrying aspect is a speculation in a global water market in which water will be the new Euro. The Stockholm Water Group has already declared in 2011 that “Water is the blood stream of the Green Economy”, an investor may own the great lakes to make it a private swimming pool, prohibiting any other use and plant trees elsewhere or better still pay a fine in purported compensation for the damage.

Indeed, water is fundamental to the Green Economy. With water, rests almost all growth patterns, sustainable development, poverty issues and, perhaps, all human endeavours. The principles of sustainable development here presume a kind of knowledge of the inability of water-systems to satisfy the ever rising demand of agriculture, urbanisation & expanding cities, heavy industrialisation etc. with an understanding that access to water and sanitation is a major determinant to families’ march out of poverty. Against this, the present discourse on the Green Economy makes way for the financialisation of the ecosystems with a blind eye towards under cover commercial use of natural resources by industrialised and powerful nations.

Otherwise, why is there a call for monetisation of nature with Biodiversity Bonds, Green Banks and speculative trading in dubious green instruments? Evidently, such hubris will lead to the commodification of water, with disastrous consequences for the poor. This so-called Green idea in consonance with the World Trade Organisation regime may be subjected to misuse by vested interests to make way for trade in water as the Friends of the Earth caution about the consequent “Green Casino”.

This will undermine sovereign rights, social equity and principles of differentiated responsibility in the larger interests of humanity. Natural resources are the common fund to be enjoyed by all and be preserved for generations to come.

Indeed, the portrayal of market instruments as the sole panacea will raise the prospect of indiscriminate commercialisation of nature over which the World Development Movement has already expressed its concern: “Once you accept the premise that nature has a monetary value you also accept that it is possible to buy your way out of social-environmental obligations.”

As well commented by George Monbiot, “…subject the natural world to simplistic cost-benefit analysis and accountants and statisticians will decide which parts of it we can do without”. In fact, markets cannot become the sole determinant of progress and prosperity.

Against this backdrop and amidst the critical issue of human survival crisis today, the Rio+20 has to struggle without compromising with the principles of natural justice.

This will be difficult given the power sharing structure of international politics with the US as the sole hyper power. The ‘Zero Draft’ of the Rio+20, prepared by leaders of the world, has once again expressed its firm resolve towards establishing a “Global Economy” with respect to sustainable development, eradication of poverty, sound water management and food security along with other environmental issues.

Their vision should be followed up with ambitious plans for protecting and enhancing the natural resource base, increasing efficiency, and promoting sustainable consumption and production pattern. Expectedly, this summit presents a historic context to realise the long cherished dream of a more equitable, prosperous and greener world for dignified survival of humanity at large particularly the have-nots – the poor masses.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post comment as twitter logo facebook logo
Sort: Newest | Oldest