Rio+20: what future do you want?

15 June 2012

Rio+20: what future do you want?

Ike Teuling

In a few days the long-awaited conference on sustainability – the Rio+20 conference - begins in Rio di Janeiro. As a parliamentary candidate for the SP I can’t allow this opportunity to see from close up how world leaders discuss the sustainable development of our world pass me by. One of the SP’s five pledges in the draft election manifesto is, after all, that we will go for sustainable development. For me, Rio is just around the corner, as at the moment I am still living in Buenos Aries where until recently I worked for Greenpeace.

Ike TeulingRio+20 takes place precisely twenty years after the first sustainability summit in 1992. The Kyoto Protocol to combat climate change was born here. But it was also decided that biodiversity – the number of species of plants and animals on the earth – should be better protected. Twenty years later we can only conclude that this conference didn’t really deliver. Biodiversity has only dwindled, CO2 emissions have risen 30% since 1992 and after the failed Copenhagen summit in 2009 Kyoto died a gentle death.

The title of the Rio+20 conference document gives you hope: The future we want. But what future do the world leaders actually want? For three days discussion will focus on the theme of the ‘green economy’. But shouldn’t the summit really be talking about a ‘green society’? Unlimited economic growth stands in the way of a sustainable society and a decent future for our children and grandchildren.
Pessimism over the results of Rio+20 is enormous. No-one expects that the leaders of the biggest countries are going to announce major action to halt the destruction of the earth. And if you look at the precise content of such a summit, it’s not exactly wonderful. Just imagine - hundreds of officials from every conceivable country and culture who will not have very long to negotiate over the commas and full-stops in a section of text before anyone dares to put their signature to it.

While rich countries fear in these times of crisis for their already shaky economies, developing countries examine the sustainability measures with a keen and jaundiced eye as a sort of neocolonialism which will block their development.

Looked at in this way Rio+20 can deliver nothing but empty words full of good intentions and empty of concrete promises.
But happily Rio+20 is more than a meeting hall full of officials, and around the conference all sorts of events are being organised by social organisations, movements and individuals who know quite clearly what sort of future they want for themselves and their children. The energy that such a stuffy UN conference releases in society is gigantic, and personally I believe more in the power of this energy than I do in that of the world leaders.

In the coming week Rio will be the stage for a colourful collection of meetings and demonstrations involving people from all over the world. And I’m there!

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