2 Jul 2012

Rio+20: Wishy-washy Outcome - Samuel Duru

In his opening remarks at Rio+20, Mr. Ban Ki-moon said: "Let me be frank: Our efforts have not lived up to the measure of the challenge," adding that "nature does not wait," "nature does not negotiate with human beings." And quite frankly, he was right after all, considering the outcome of the conference.

Rio+20, the UN largest-ever event, with a wide-ranging participation of Government representatives, business and civil society, as well as officials of the UN, journalists, academics and the public, ended unhappily. The Rio+20 Secretary-General, Sha Zukang, summed up the mood by saying: "this is an outcome that makes nobody happy.”

In the lead-up to and during this conference, thousands of events were held throughout Rio, including 500 official and side events at the Riocentro Covention Center, the venue of the conference. The meeting attracted more than 50 thousand people; however, many were disappointed in the end. Rio+20 succeeded more in number than in meaningful action. Just as predicted, the much-hyped meeting of leaders and diplomats from over 190 countries in efforts to establish Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ended with little or no success, as a result of its abject lack of commitment, concrete action, specifics and measurable targets. The final document was ambitionless and absolutely non-committal; fraught with weasel words.

More so, the conference had a sense of finality before it even began; given that the outcome document was already made prior to the epoch-making event. The drafted document may have forced delegations to come to an agreement, however, it left little or no leeway for its amendment/improvement before the final pronouncement on the 22nd of June. The conference failed woefully to marry people, planet and profit together, by not defining how a “green economy” would provide sustainable path with social inclusion. Now it is crystal clear that a path to the future we want was not paved. Rio+20 was a grand failure of responsibility and a disappointment to posterity.

According to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, Rio+20 had identified five major areas of focus including formulating global strategy for developing a green economy, putting in place the institutions that would encourage social development, such as improvements in health and education, along with economic growth. He added that, “success in the summit will mean light in homes where people live in darkness―food for families that are now hungry. Agreement in Rio will protect our oceans and improve life in cities. It will create progress across our planet.”

Did the summit deliver on these? The answer is “NO”.

Martin Khor, executive director of the Geneva-based South Centre and a member of the U.N. Committee on Development Policy, said: "We've sunk so low in our expectations that reaffirming what we did 20 years ago is now considered a success”.
The wishy-washy outcome of Rio+20 and a series of other much-hyped international gatherings on environmental policy held in the past decade, is a clear indication that efforts to improve the environment must be made locally by companies and individuals without the help of international treaties.
Unfortunately, Big Brother will not take care of it all for us. There are some people who believe that the government will do all that we need to do. That means leaving the course of our future to politicians; to special interest groups and to government workers. More so, given the track record that the government has in tackling environmental problems, it is unrealistic to do so"The greening of our economies will have to happen without the blessing of the world leaders," said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund.
To this end, therefore, my question is, “was your government represented in Rio?”  If yes, what was its position in the meeting? And what follow-up actions would you take with your compatriots at the local, national and regional orbits?
Think about how we grow food, about how a home works, about how we move from place to place, about how we communicate, how we do business, how we dispose of wastes, how we care for forests, how we use electricity and water. Every one of these areas, and dozens more, are ripe for dramatic intervention that can save huge amounts of carbon from entering the atmosphere.


  1. “This is a ‘once in a generation’ moment when the world needs vision, commitment and above all, leadership. Sadly, the current document is a failure of leadership." Mary Robinson

  2. This 'failure of leadership', as Mary has commented, is symptomatic of many of the decisions our 'leaders' have taken over that last decade or so. They are too focussed on their own countries GDP, listen too closely to self-interested powerful business voices and forget about the wider picture of a sustainable future for our planet and our children. Its a lost opportunity of immense proportions.