The world has gathered again for international environmental talks, this time in Rio de Janeiro. It’s 20 years since the first Earth Summit in Rio that gave rise to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the organisation that brought the Kyoto Protocol into existence.
Since that time, as a recent story on Lateline documented, very little has been achieved. Of the 90 goals set out in Rio in 1992, the world has failed to meet all but four of them. In most cases, the situation is instead worse than it was 20 years ago.
There is now a growing chorus of voices declaring international negotiations on climate change to be pointless.
The New York Times is reporting, “there are few expectations for concrete actions or pledges of new aid to developing countries”.
The Guardian quoted Stephen Hale, Oxfam spokesman at Rio+20, “Everybody should look in the mirror and ask what history is going to make of this. We face connected crises. Rio+20 should be a turning point, but it is a dead end.”
Elinor Ostrom on ABC Environment last week wrote, “a single international agreement would be a grave mistake. We cannot rely on singular global policies to solve the problem of managing our common resources.”
Richard Deniss, of the left-leaning Australia Institute said in the Lateline story, “Clearly the environment movement’s tactics have failed. Pretending this meeting will do what Rio didn’t do, what Johannesburg didn’t do, what Copenhagen didn’t do.”
Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday quoted Greenpeace saying they are looking at giving up on international negotiations and moving to a campaign of civil disobedience.
When the Cancun UNFCCC talks were held at the end of 2010, I wrote that it was the end for international climate negotiations and bilateral and international industry-based agreements would step up to fill the void.
The talks this week in Rio are about sustainable development and moving to a ‘green economy’ more generally. Climate change is of course a major component of this.
But for climate change, particularly, the problem is that international negotiations and agreement are the wrong tools.