Frustration over 'weak' Rio+20 text

25th June 2012


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Environment groups lambast lack of ambition and action in Rio+20 agreement, as policymakers admit the text will disappoint many

World leaders have been accused of failing to get to grips with the challenges of sustainable development after signing up to the “Future we want” document negotiated during the Rio+20 summit last week.

Representatives from more than 190 countries ratified the text ahead of the close of the summit on Friday (22 June), despite groups including WWF, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth strongly criticising the document as offering little tangible action to tackle environmental impacts and encourage sustainable development.

“World leaders in Rio have responded to the tide of global destruction that’s fast approaching by sticking their heads firmly in the sand,” warned Friends of the Earth’s director of policy Craig Bennett, who attended the conference. “These talks have been completely undermined by a dangerous lack of ambition, urgency and political will.”

The executive director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, admitted that the conclusion of the talks had not lived up to expectations.

“The outcome of Rio+20 will disappoint and frustrate many given the science, ... the analysis of where development is currently heading for seven billion people and the inordinate opportunity for a different trajectory,” he said.

“However, if nations, companies and civil society can move forward on the positive elements of the summit's outcome it may assist in one day realising the future we want.”

The document has been criticised for doing little more than acknowledging the difficulties of climate change, resource use and protecting the environment, with the signatories not required to undertake any targeted actions.

“While the text states that it recognises that action is fundamental and underscores the importance of governments taking a leadership role, its fine words lack clarity about implementation mechanisms and frameworks and clear specific actions,” argued Dr Margaret Adey, development director of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.

World leaders have, however, agreed to work together to develop new sustainable development targets to succeed the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

Representatives from 30 countries will form a working group to develop the goals, which will focus on food, water and energy, by September 2013. Private sector organisations will have a role in designing the new goals after UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon accepted the recommendation from the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum.

Rio+20 participants also agreed to extend marine conservation to include oceans, boost efforts to manage forests sustainably, and to provide greater support to the UNEP.

They overwhelmingly endorsed the view that a green economy is important for the future, and called on more businesses to report on their sustainability performance.

Participants also acknowledged that a new understanding of wealth incorporating natural capital was needed, and asked the UN Statistical Commission to launch a programme investigating the potential of extending the concept of gross domestic product (GDP).

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who led the UK delegation and announced the UK’s plan to mandate greenhouse-gas reporting for businesses at the summit, said the next step was to “turn words into action”.

“We need to work together to change behaviours, to change all our mindsets and put our world on a more sustainable footing,” he said. “I would like to think that the ideas we have promoted here – governments, civil society, consumers and business working together and concepts like the green economy and natural capital – will be central to the way we all behave.”

Meanwhile, environment secretary Caroline Spelman, who participated in the negotiations, said: “Rio+20 has shown that there is political ambition for change. Now we have to make sure that will is not squandered.”

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