Rio+20: We do not need more global sustainability conferences

Global sustainability conferences no longer fulfil a useful purpose, considering the existing dense institutional framework.

Wait until they realize there was never any useful purpose for these gabfests in the first place.

We know what the problems are and need no further agenda setting. We need action.

The diminishing returns of global sustainability conferences

The 1972 Stockholm Conference was a watershed event, placing environment firmly on the international political agenda. The 1992 Rio Summit surpassed the 1972 conference in terms of process and ambition. But the aftermath showed their limitations – key promises were not delivered.

The optimism from Rio had turned to deep pessimism in Johannesburg in 2002 in the wake of the “9-11 attack”. The conference ended up re-circulating previous goals, and calls for institutional reform never materialised. Some of us believed that this would spur a more focused and differentiated approach. We were wrong.

The pre-Rio 2012 process: business as usual

Since the UN General Assembly decided to convene the Earth Summit (or UNCED) in 2012, a number of preparatory meetings have been held. But progress has been slow. Considering the existing deep-seated differences the concluding document will most likely be vague.

The detailed accounts given by the Earth Negotiating Bulletin coming out of Rio are instructive, documenting the ideological grand-standing and repetitions of well-known positions.

Most of the issues discussed are already covered by existing agreements, so the value added seems to be marginal. Conflicts loom large over long-standing issues such as national sovereignty, good governance, targets and time-tables, human rights and emission standards. Conflicts are equally pronounced on implementation,such as technology-transfer and financial assistance; these are issues that have been discussed in the UN system since the early 1970s, with modest progress.

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One response to “Rio+20: We do not need more global sustainability conferences

  1. The world would be a better, safer place if the people who attend these conferences would do so in front of their computers, in their jammies using teleconferencing.

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