This week’s item from the rubber room:
Our leaders have washed their hands of the threats to the Earth, GWYNNE DYER writes
There was no law against genocide in the early 1940s; it only became an internationally recognised crime after the worst genocide of modern history had actually happened. Similarly, there is no law against ”ecocide” now. That will only come to pass when the damage to the environment has become so extreme that large numbers of people are dying from it even in rich and powerful countries.
They are already dying from the effects of environmental destruction in some poor countries, but that makes no difference because they are powerless. By the time it starts to hurt large numbers of people in powerful countries, 20 or 30 years from now, most of the politicians who conspired to smother any substantial progress at the Rio+20 Earth Summit will be safely beyond the reach of any law. But eventually there will be a law.
Rio+20, which ended last Friday, was advertised as a ”once-in-a-generation” opportunity to build on the achievements of the original Earth Summit, held in the same city 20 years ago. That extraordinary event produced a legally binding treaty on biodiversity, an agreement on combating climate change that led to the Kyoto accord, the first initiative for protecting the world’s remaining forests, and much more besides.
This time, few leaders of the major powers even bothered to attend. They would have come only to sign a summit statement, ”The Future We Want”, that had already been nibbled to death by special interests, national and corporate. ”(The) final document … contributes almost nothing to our struggle to survive as a species,” said Nicaraguan representative Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann. ”We now face a future of increasing natural disasters.”
A plan to stop the destruction of the world’s oceans was blocked by the US, Canada and Russia. The final text simply says that countries should do more to prevent over-fishing and ocean acidification, without specifying what. A call to end subsidies for fossil fuels was removed from the final text, as was language emphasising the reproductive rights of women. And of course there were no new commitments on fighting climate change.
The 49-page final declaration of Rio+20 contained the verb ”reaffirm” 59 times. In effect, some 50,000 people from 192 countries travelled to Rio de Janeiro to ”reaffirm” what was agreed there 20 years ago. The fact that the document was not even less ambitious than the 1992 final text was trumpeted as a success.