Is Rio+20 a Lost Cause?

As world leaders gather in Rio this week to negotiate progress toward sustainable development, Thomas Lovejoy looks at the failures to comprehensively address global sustainability to date, and suggests some achievable goals for conference attendees.
June 19, 2012, 8am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Key leaders such as Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and David Cameron won't attend, most global leaders lack a sense of urgency, the track record from similar gatherings held over the last decade are fairly dismal, and in advance of the conference, as Greg Hanscom notes, "chaos and disagreement reign." In light of these challenges, what is reasonable to expect from the Rio+20 Earth Summit?

Lovejoy is hopeful that agreement can be reached on key items included in the 80-page draft text that the delegates will be discussing including "green economy" initiatives and "energy access for all and ambitious but achievable goals in renewable energy and energy efficiency."

Hanscom is more pessimistic about what can be achieved via consensus at such a gathering, and instead looks to individual or small groups of actors to make the most ambitious plans. "Think of it as a kind of sustainability arms race - a race that has already started. In the last four days, we've seen some worthwhile developments from countries and organizations that abandoned the consensus model that drives the U.N. talks and decided instead to push ahead alone, or with a few friends."

He continues, "There is still a glimmer of possibility that world leaders could at least renew their commitment to meet existing promises. For bonus points, they might even set some loose guidelines for sustainable development going forward. Either way, the results will only be words on paper. The real work falls to individual countries and people on the ground."

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Published on Sunday, June 17, 2012 in The New York Times
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