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Published on June 21st, 2012 | by Harry Evans
Image © [caption id="attachment_10477" align="alignnone" width="566"] Rhetoric surrounding the Rio+20 summit masks a lack of real progress © Rioplustwenties[/caption]   As this article is written, the sustainability talks in Rio (Rio+20) are commencing. World leaders have arrived in Brazil, Nick Clegg and Hillary Clinton among them, to discuss and ratify any potential agreements. These will go on until the end of the week, but, even now, the outcome is already known. The Rio+20 summit’s conclusions have been known for a couple of days as the draft was released on Tuesday. NGOs and campaigner groups were commenting on the disappointing nature of the summit before the summit had even begun. Rio+20 takes place 20 years after the original Rio summit of 1992, which was deemed a success, where climate change was taken seriously and real sustainable commitments were made. The second ‘Earth Summit’, 10 years later in Johannesburg showed promise, but was overshadowed by the absence of George Bush and the United States from the meeting, rendering the whole exercise moot. Most recently, Copenhagen hosted a climate change conference in 2009, which has shaped the expectations for Rio+20. Copenhagen was a ‘farce’, according to Ed Miliband, who was present at the talks. No agreement with any force was made, aside from general nodding to do something about the environment. All firm commitments were blocked by developing countries, who found the constraints on carbon emissions to be constraints on their growth. The full extent of China’s role in the failure of Copenhagen is unknown, but there is evidence to suggest that the flop of the summit was down to Chinese obstinacy, as they refused to even allow Europe to regulate their own emissions. Though even among Western countries, there was a lack of passion to sign any agreement of worth. Denmark as a country is to be respected for its commitments to the environment; Copenhagen 2009 was not. It is due to the various failures of Copenhagen that Rio+20 is such a sedate affair. Nobody wants to be embarrassed to that extent again: a quiet non-event is always politically preferable to a high-profile supernova. The draft is uninteresting, but gives the appearance of progress, despite NGOs condemning the agreement as ‘watered down’. In addition, several world leaders (Mr Cameron and Mr Obama, among them) are unable to attend. Mrs Merkel is busy dealing with an EU crisis, and Mr Cameron has been at the G20 conference in Mexico. These are, perhaps, sound reasons for these leaders not attending. There is, however, a good showing from the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Russian President Vladamir Putin. Importantly, the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao is also attending. The notable absences should not, on their own, make for a weak summit. Instead, the reason for the anticipated disappointment of Rio+20 comes from the fear of another Copenhagen. The draft released is considered to be the final draft, and Brazil are unwilling to reopen the debate. This means the draft agreed by negotiators is as close to the final agreement as is likely to be signed by leaders on Friday. This appears, largely, to be an attempt to avoid the Copenhagen debacle occurring again by making sure no more debate can take place and potentially lead to last-minute changes to the draft. Such changes are best effected by leaders of states, who have the opportunity to push a lot harder, and with a lot more weight than tasked negotiators. And this is the crux of the matter. Rio+20 will go down as a little less disappointing than the catastrophic Copenhagen summit. But the debating by Western leaders at Copenhagen shows a different story. Although the Copenhagen summit was undoubtedly a disaster, it did at least draw out some passionate argument between world leaders. It is now better understood why developing worlds do not feel obliged to cut their emissions, and that China cares more about publically embarrassing the West than they do about the environment. Rio+20 has made just as little progress as Copenhagen. The draft agreement falls short of anything that is needed to combat poverty, or deal with our changing relationship with the planet. The consensus and apparent sense of community that Rio+20 portrays is just obscuring the fact that nothing of real worth has been agreed upon. It seems that both Copenhagen and Rio+20 will fail to take the action needed for sustainable growth in the world. The only difference is that Rio has not shocked and appalled people. It is a quiet failure, which, when the poorest of the populations and the environment are at stake is worse than a loud failure. The catastrophe of Copenhagen may have seemed to demonstrate a lack of international cooperation, but even this is preferable to a summit that smiles a fake smile, and achieves just as little. At Rio+20, the desperation to avoid visible disagreement has taken the possibility of meaningful agreement off the table.

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Rio+20’s failure

Rhetoric surrounding the Rio+20 summit masks a lack of real progress © Rioplustwenties

 

As this article is written, the sustainability talks in Rio (Rio+20) are commencing. World leaders have arrived in Brazil, Nick Clegg and Hillary Clinton among them, to discuss and ratify any potential agreements. These will go on until the end of the week, but, even now, the outcome is already known. The Rio+20 summit’s conclusions have been known for a couple of days as the draft was released on Tuesday. NGOs and campaigner groups were commenting on the disappointing nature of the summit before the summit had even begun.

Rio+20 takes place 20 years after the original Rio summit of 1992, which was deemed a success, where climate change was taken seriously and real sustainable commitments were made. The second ‘Earth Summit’, 10 years later in Johannesburg showed promise, but was overshadowed by the absence of George Bush and the United States from the meeting, rendering the whole exercise moot. Most recently, Copenhagen hosted a climate change conference in 2009, which has shaped the expectations for Rio+20.

Copenhagen was a ‘farce’, according to Ed Miliband, who was present at the talks. No agreement with any force was made, aside from general nodding to do something about the environment. All firm commitments were blocked by developing countries, who found the constraints on carbon emissions to be constraints on their growth. The full extent of China’s role in the failure of Copenhagen is unknown, but there is evidence to suggest that the flop of the summit was down to Chinese obstinacy, as they refused to even allow Europe to regulate their own emissions. Though even among Western countries, there was a lack of passion to sign any agreement of worth. Denmark as a country is to be respected for its commitments to the environment; Copenhagen 2009 was not.

It is due to the various failures of Copenhagen that Rio+20 is such a sedate affair. Nobody wants to be embarrassed to that extent again: a quiet non-event is always politically preferable to a high-profile supernova. The draft is uninteresting, but gives the appearance of progress, despite NGOs condemning the agreement as ‘watered down’. In addition, several world leaders (Mr Cameron and Mr Obama, among them) are unable to attend. Mrs Merkel is busy dealing with an EU crisis, and Mr Cameron has been at the G20 conference in Mexico. These are, perhaps, sound reasons for these leaders not attending. There is, however, a good showing from the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Russian President Vladamir Putin. Importantly, the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao is also attending. The notable absences should not, on their own, make for a weak summit.

Instead, the reason for the anticipated disappointment of Rio+20 comes from the fear of another Copenhagen. The draft released is considered to be the final draft, and Brazil are unwilling to reopen the debate. This means the draft agreed by negotiators is as close to the final agreement as is likely to be signed by leaders on Friday. This appears, largely, to be an attempt to avoid the Copenhagen debacle occurring again by making sure no more debate can take place and potentially lead to last-minute changes to the draft. Such changes are best effected by leaders of states, who have the opportunity to push a lot harder, and with a lot more weight than tasked negotiators. And this is the crux of the matter. Rio+20 will go down as a little less disappointing than the catastrophic Copenhagen summit. But the debating by Western leaders at Copenhagen shows a different story. Although the Copenhagen summit was undoubtedly a disaster, it did at least draw out some passionate argument between world leaders. It is now better understood why developing worlds do not feel obliged to cut their emissions, and that China cares more about publically embarrassing the West than they do about the environment.

Rio+20 has made just as little progress as Copenhagen. The draft agreement falls short of anything that is needed to combat poverty, or deal with our changing relationship with the planet. The consensus and apparent sense of community that Rio+20 portrays is just obscuring the fact that nothing of real worth has been agreed upon. It seems that both Copenhagen and Rio+20 will fail to take the action needed for sustainable growth in the world. The only difference is that Rio has not shocked and appalled people. It is a quiet failure, which, when the poorest of the populations and the environment are at stake is worse than a loud failure. The catastrophe of Copenhagen may have seemed to demonstrate a lack of international cooperation, but even this is preferable to a summit that smiles a fake smile, and achieves just as little. At Rio+20, the desperation to avoid visible disagreement has taken the possibility of meaningful agreement off the table.

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About the Author

Harry Evans

Harry is a recent Philosophy graduate from the University of York. He is taking a Master’s in European Studies next year at UCL and has a particular interest in Scandinavian politics and economy. His time is currently spent undertaking an internship, researching and writing a history of the University of York Philosophy department. At University, he was editor of the student Philosophy journal, and has been published by the Club of PEP journal. Harry is hoping to make a career in International Relations and Journalism, and writes for Catch21 in this capacity. For more information and updates follow @hevans567 or find him on LinkedIn. You can also read more from this author on their personal blog.



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