CHAPTER 88 RIO+20: What a Huge Disappointment1

Rio+20 (UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio de Janeiro, June 13–22, 2012), billed as a once-in-a-generation chance to save the planet, was a huge disappointment—even an embarrassment, given that almost 200 countries were present, with many leaders, including from Brazil, France, Australia, and India, attending. A friend at Rio likened the meeting to a rally race of backseat drivers. Everyone is sitting in the backseat and no one is taking responsibility.

This meeting was named after the one held 20 years ago (the 1992 Rio Earth Summit), which launched a number of landmark agreements and treaties, including one to limit the extinction of species and acceptance of the human right to safe drinking water. There had been very little progress since then. According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) June 2012 Report: Only four of the world’s 90 most important green goals and objectives have seen significant progress. There has been “little or no” improvement on goals to address 24 key problems, including decimated fish stocks, climate change, and deteriorating coral reefs. “Nature,” the world’s preeminent scientific publication, graded the implementation of three of its many vital treaties—climate change, biological diversity, and combating desertification—with a resounding F.2

Looking back, I must say the agreements that had emerged from Rio 1992 were thoughtful, far-sighted, public spirited, and focused on global priorities. ...

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