The climate change conference produced an inconsequential agreement that will not take action on any of the urgent issues
Even the skies wept. Glorious weather bathed Rio de Janeiro for the week running up to the Earth Summit, while some hope remained that it might produce even minor measures to tackle the world’s escalating environmental crises. But when the leaders flew in on Wednesday to rubber-stamp an agreement shorn of commitments to action, the rain started falling – and didn’t let up, culminating in a thunderstorm on the final morning.
It is always a bad sign when a UN conference ends on time: if anything substantive is at stake, these unwieldy gatherings of 190 governments invariably overrun, only reaching resolution in the early hours of the morning. So it says much about the inconsequentiality of the agreement in Rio that it was finalised even before the meeting began.
Brazil, as host country, was desperate to avoid a repeat of the Copenhagen climate summit, where the leaders found little agreed when they arrived and had to try to do the job themselves. Confronted with the failure of two years of negotiations to agree even an anodyne and non‑binding accord, Brazil watered it down even further and rammed it through: the 100 or so presidents and prime ministers were effectively confined to self-congratulatory speeches and public relations photo-calls.
But the effect was a greater failure. For at least in the Danish capital the leaders tried – and almost succeeded – to get agreement on ambitious measures. In Rio nothing was even attempted, despite the increasing urgency of action needed to combat overfishing, pollution of the seas, loss of soils, climate change and a host of other growing crises.