The Rio Conference, what is the verdict?
News from Peter Madden Chief Executive Officer of Forum for the Future
As the Rio +20 conference ends, what’s the verdict?
It was billed as a gathering of governments to save the planet. But world-changing it wasn’t. Rather than make challenging commitments, participating countries opted instead for a set of woolly and watered-down outputs.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of progress. The preparatory work was poor; both the United States and Europe have been focused on domestic issues; and the backdrop of economic gloom was hardly favourable.
Yes, we did got some agreements to seek further agreements, some small steps in the right direction. And the proposed Sustainable Development Goals might one day prove influential. But there was little concrete from Rio + 20 itself.
There were some rays of light shining outside the official negotations. The business community was enthusiastic and vocal, with Aviva leading a global campaign for mandatory corporate reporting and a powerful coalition of companies backing the Natural Capital Declaration.
A group of eight of the world's largest development banks announced an important shift away from investing in roads to investing in public transport, such as buses, trains and cycle lanes, with a new $175 billion initiative.
And our own, UK, government announced that we would be the first country in the world to force major companies to measure and report on their greenhouse gas emissions.
And while I was depressed by the official summit – with its giant impersonal venues and lines of armed soldiers – I was buoyed-up by the the creativity of the campaigners, the perserverance of the NGO experts and the righteous anger of the young protesters.
So, Rio + 20 was a missed opportunity. The world’s leaders were passed the ball and they dropped it. But the good news is that there are millions of others ready to pick up that ball and run with it.
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