From Idealism to Action: My Road from Rio 1992 to Rio+20 (Part 2)

This is the conclusion of a two-part blog post. Read Part 1.

green-headed tanager, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Green-headed tanager (Tangara seledon) in Itatiaia National Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (© Olivier Langrand)

Much has changed since 1992. Most of the commitments from Rio-92 have gone unfulfilled, leaving many developing countries with a deep skepticism regarding additional financial commitments from developed countries. Climate change has also moved to the forefront of many countries’ environmental concerns.

At Rio+20, 193 nations have a critical opportunity to renew their commitments to sustainable development and adopt new efforts to alleviate poverty and move toward a global green economy that is built on the sustainable use and management of nature’s precious but fragile goods and services.

The summit’s two main themes have each already generated their share of passionate debate:

  • Green economies. This concept is a relatively new element within the formal international agenda and has already provoked broad discussions around its definition. A small group of developing countries are still skeptical of the term “green economy,” convinced that the developed world is pushing this concept in order to safeguard their own global economic growth. From CI’s perspective, we believe that the development of green, or healthy sustainable economies, are absolutely essential to the future well-being of communities, ecosystems and entire nations. We must plan economic and social growth around the sustainable use of our finite natural resources.
  • An institutional framework for sustainable development. This has been under political discussion for more than 10 years, with no clear solution on the horizon. Whether the focus is sustainable development goals or new measures of growth, these discussions are difficult to move forward as many governments seem unwilling to make substantial changes to their policies and the U.N. system.

Where Things Stand

I recently had the opportunity to observe last-ditch efforts by U.N. negotiators in New York to reach agreement on the summit’s formal outcome text. Though I’ll admit that complete success at the informal negotiations has proven elusive, and much of the text (259 paragraphs, to be exact) remains heavily bracketed — opening the door to further debate — it was not a complete loss. Some large portions of the text are now agreed.

Yes, the process has been erratic, and yes, the informal session closed with tempers running high, but the general feeling, as we left New York, was generally upbeat — one of relief and even reserved satisfaction.

For those who predict collapse and failure of talks, I would caution that the preparatory process should not be seen in too narrow or pessimistic a light, centering on a single issue such as the outcome document. The fault lines have been defined, positions clearly articulated, and all amendments tabled. This is progress.

Also worth noting: Negotiating the road to Rio has already had positive repercussions around the world. It has brought sustainable development into sharper focus, and spawned citizens’ groups with a renewed desire to sway government negotiations.

With an estimated 50,000 participants, observers, leaders, activists and journalists already gathering in Rio, this summit offers a key opportunity for governments, businesses and organizations like CI to connect with each other, exchange ideas and prioritize funding for new and existing projects.

More than 30 members of CI’s global team, including many of our Brazilian colleagues from CI-Brazil, will be there sharing our technical expertise and advocating for the value of ecosystems to be incorporated into national and corporate accounting systems. This is where CI shines brightest.

It remains to be seen whether the renewed spirit of activism will be reflected in an ambitious outcome that gives hope to future generations. But as experience has taught me and the countless other activists who were inspired by the first Rio summit 20 years ago, hope and passion are the fuels that will allow us to turn around the metaphorical tanker that is global development.

The improved knowledge we have gained since 1992 about how to redesign growth and alleviate poverty is our strongest tool. Urgency for Earth’s strained ecosystems and disadvantaged people is our collective rally cry.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez

Rio+20 is not the end of a process. It is the beginning. It’s my greatest hope that we now pool our efforts to ensure that 20 years from today, in 2032, we have built healthy sustainable economies founded on the careful use of our planet’s natural gifts in order to support our children and children’s children for many generations — and summits — to come.

Carlos Manuel Rodriguez is vice president and senior advisor for global policy in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government. He was formerly the environment and energy minister for Costa Rica. Learn more about Rio+20.

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