A bleak day, a disastrous meeting – NGO verdict on Rio+20

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net


A group of bitter NGOs held a press conference this morning to denounce the Rio+20 conference.

This followed yesterday’s public request to world leaders by the NGO Major Group representative to remove reference in the first paragraph of the final agreement to its having been achieved “with full participation of civil society”.

Today Lasse Gustavsson of WWF told journalists: “This is a bleak place to be in”.

From peaceful vegans to conscientious corporates, everyone has had an event at Rio+20

It is hard to believe that the document had been put together by the planet’s best diplomats, he said. Greenpeace’s Daniel Mittler added that Rio+20 had been an “epic failure … developed countries have given us a new definition of hypocrisy”. Oxfam agreed that the meeting, which doesn’t end until Friday, had ‘failed’.

They highlighted the fact that there was no decision on the elimination fossil fuel subsidies and glacial movement on regulating the high seas. No new money for developing countries, Oxfam pointed out.

But they also turned for solace to the quantities of effervescent activity going on outside the conference itself. As well as the stunts and demonstrations (20,000 people on the streets of Rio yesterday, the People’s Summit and other displays we have covered in our blog in the last few days) there have been some serious meetings of powerful people other than heads of state.

These events include the Corporate Sustainability Forum, and a gathering of chief justices and attorneys, highlighted by Peter Lehner of Natural Resources Defence Council, which is seeking ways to implement environmental laws. “It’s critical we do not equate Rio+20 with the document,” he said. “If you see it as a gathering of people from around the world then it’s a different view. Completely separate from theUN document we have seen companies, countries, cities, come up with new initiatives.”

He highlighted the World Bank-driven pledge, made at Rio+20 this week, by 86 companies and 57 countries, to measure their natural wealth as part of their natural accounting.

It’s true there are thousands of separate events going on, and hundreds of voluntary pledges (the latest official tally is 517, including a $1 billion pledge by SINOPEC (China Petrochemical Corporation), one of the world’s largest companies, to improve its energy and environmental footprint.

The question is whether multiple actions by thousands of individuals, networks, businesses and professional groups can effect global change at the level that could be achieved if governments between them took some radical decisions. That’s a question of where real power lies.

This blog post is part of our coverage of Rio+20: United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. To read news and analysis on Science at Rio+20 please visit our website.

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