Rio+20 Week 2: Reflecting on the Past and Moving Ahead(?)

June 19, 2012 | 8:56 am
Calen May-Tobin
Former contributor

Welcome to week two of our coverage of Rio+20. This Wednesday will mark the official start of the summit, when ministers and heads of state gather to work out the final details of the negotiations.

rio + 20 summit

This is part of a series of posts straight from the Rio +20 Summit.

To kick off this week’s blog posts I asked UCS’s Director of Strategy and Policy Alden Meyer to reflect on the twenty years since the first Rio conference. Alden was at Rio+0 (a term no one but me seems to be using) and has covered the UN climate process for UCS since then. He is our man on the international scene.  So be sure to check out his post, Rio+20: Too Little, Too Late?


A plenary session at the close of the official pre-meeting.

Meanwhile, things at RioCentro continue to move apace. A snail’s pace. The UN-hosted pre-meeting officially closed on Friday night with only around 37% of the actual text agreed upon. On Saturday, Brazil took over responsibilities for continuing the negotiations during their informal “Dialogue Days,” and immediately introduced a new compromise text. In the true nature of comprise there is something in this text for everyone to loath.  The European Union and the G77 are upset with the lack of ambition while the USA and Canada seem to think it asks too much.


The EU pavilion at the Athletes Park. The EU is one of the few groups pushing for great ambition at Rio and making real progress towards curbing climate change.

And the NGO’s are unhappy with all of it. They see little that can be sustained in a document meant to promote sustainable development. They note that the fossil fuel subsidies section opposed by Bolivia and Ecuador is actually a watered-down statement which requires no commitments. Further, language was included in this draft for the “sustained use of cleaner fossil fuels,” which all NGO’s agree is far from the sustainable future we want.  Further, the draft refuses to endorse (it merely notes) the UN Secretary General’s own Sustainable Energy for All initiative, the goal of which is to provide modern energy to everyone on Earth by 2030.

While some note the text prevents excessive backsliding on past commitments, like many 20-year-olds this latest Rio draft lacks ambition. What we want and need are real commitments, real goals, and real targets to achieve sustainable development. What we are seeing is more of the same thing we have seen for twenty years.

Ipanema beach

Unfortunately, as the days wear on, and the climate heats up, it is looking more and more like the answer, as far as the UN is concerned, to Alden’s “too little, too late” question is “yes”.