Thursday 2nd October 2014                 Change text size:

Two-week siren sounds for Rio+20



Photo: Joana Coccarelli via Flickr

There are less than two weeks to go before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, commences. Blue & Green Tomorrow scours the headlines to prepare for the sustainability buzz that pledges to shape the future of global prosperity.

We left our summary on May 11 with the hopes of discovering the summit, 20 years on from the first United Nations Conference on Environmental Development (UNCED), in a much more solid position as we neared the end of our countdown.

So, are we on track to reaching a more sustainable path? And have previous “failures” to reach a consensus on the Global Plan of Action, materialised into strategic progress?

Undoubtedly, the mission that brings together 120 countries carries a heavy burden in filtering the varied views. The Huffington Post commented on the “logistical snags” seen so far to splinter the implementation of the upcoming agenda.

Back in February, Caroline Spelman, UK secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, outlined the urgency of a reform of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): “The international community has not made sufficient progress on important world challenges such as food security, access to clean water and sustainable energy.”

Spelman has recently specified that sustainable agriculture should be the underlying objective of the summit.

“Everywhere in the world, wherever farmers farm, should be put on sustainable footing. Just imagine if we could move farmers from subsistence to sustainability”, she told her audience in London on May 23, drawing on the difference that low-key technology could make in developing nations.

The Guardian relayed preventative factors that may impact on sustainability enforcements. Peter Price, the bishop of Bath and Wells, warned that SDGs would be “voluntary” and “aspirational” with “not very much legal pressure”.

We need not question the importance of governmental support alongside the summit. We can speculate, however, about the likelihood of Barack Obama’s absence, in addition to the gradual bowing out of leaders from Britain and Germany. In this, it is possible that we shall depend on ‘business’ as the key player in implementing sustainable development goals.

On June 4, The Financial Times debated the limits to what a corporation is designed to deliver, and the potential for ‘greenwash’ or unfulfilled aims, should robust direction from governments remain absent.

Whilst speaking with Pilita Clark, Paul Polman, executive director of household product manufacturer, Unilever, touched upon the outcomes should businesses take the lead in the wake of Rio+20: “What you will see in Rio is an incredible galvanising of businesses that say: “I see the costs every day, I see the effects every day, I cannot function if society doesn’t function. We need to take charge”.”

On June 5, the United Nation’s World Environment Day (WED) trumpeted the green economy as the ultimate power source for sustainable and equitable development.

The Huffington Post spoke of the event, along with Rio+20, as “global jamborees”, alluding to “frenzied” chatter in “Brazil’s most famous party town”.

However “mystifyingly opaque” the summits are considered to be, we are reminded that while to most Brits, WED is a good deed, the annual event to others, is “the difference between life and death”.

Earlier this week, we were met with another warning from the WWF that the Earth Summit could in fact collapse. The warning comes as countries fail to agree on an acceptable language just 15 days before the expected 50,000 arrive in Rio.

The Guardian spoke with WWF director general Jim Leape about the failure so far to agree upon a draft text for sustainable development.

He said,“We are facing two likely scenarios – an agreement so weak it is meaningless, or complete collapse. Neither of these options would give the world what it needs.

“Country positions are still too entrenched and too far apart to provide a meaningful draft agreement for approval by an expected 120 heads of state.”

Along with WWF’s warning, The Guardian published yesterday an extensive Q&A noting yet again, that preparations have been “agonisingly slow”.

Lastly, BusinessGreen reported that the Annual Global Compact survey results revealed that almost 7,000 businesses have signed up to a UN-backed commitment to integrate sustainability into their business models.

This positive milestone is likely to be achieved during the UN Global Compact’s Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum at a time when dependence on business’ to fulfil sustainability models becomes ever more crucial.

We count down to Rio+20 in the hope that a solid blueprint can be agreed upon. While we are witnessing a genuine climb in businesses’ efforts to achieve sustainability, it’s imperative that we avoid greenwash and meaningless agreements at all costs.

Further reading:

Rio+20 in the headlines

Spelman sets out UK’s targets for Rio+20

Rio+20 plans to overthrow the idea of growth

SRI+20: a responsible alternative to Rio’s Earth Summit


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