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Rio+20 not green enough

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that took place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro marked the 20th anniversary of the inaugural 1992 Rio Earth Summit.  The conference was attended by government negotiators from 188 nations, 100 heads of state and 1,500 CEOs from 60 nations.

Attendees were there to participate in two primary discussions: building a green economy and achieving sustainable development to lift people from poverty; and improving international cooperation toward sustainable development.

The UN Organization states: “If we are to leave a livable world to our children and grandchildren, the challenges of widespread poverty and environmental destruction need to be tackled now.”

  • The world today has 7 billion people – by 2050, there will be 9 billion.
  • One out of every five people – 1.4 billion – currently lives on $1.25 a day or less.
  • A billion and a half people in the world don’t have access to electricity.
  • Two and a half billion people don’t have a toilet.
  • Almost a billion people go hungry every day.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and more than a third of all known species could go extinct if climate change continues unchecked.

The conference itself proved to be a microcosmic lesson in the contrasts between developed and underdeveloped nations.  When an estimated 70,000 visitors converged upon the city and its surrounds, Rio was ill-prepared to accommodate them. Thousands of people slept in makeshift camps because there were not enough hotel rooms.

With the Olympic Games coming to Rio in 2016, the conference has sparked real concerns about the city’s environmental sustainability and its ability to house and service the world’s visitors. The city recycles little of its trash, and the Guanabara Bay is disturbingly polluted in spite of the millions of dollars spent to clean it up.

Many expressed frustration with the conference’s ineffectual outcome.

“Here in Rio 2012, despite, in a sense, the impression that this is still a debate between North and South, between rich and poor, between those who have natural resources and those who don’t – in fact, the world is much more complex,” said Sha Zukang, the conference’s secretary general.

The conference resulted in a document titled “Future we Want.” It has been criticized as nothing more than a parroting of the document originally embraced at the 1992 Earth Summit. The new 49-page document uses the word “reaffirm” 59 times.

“We’ve sunk so low in our expectations that reaffirming what we did 20 years ago is now considered a success,” said Martin Kohr, executive director of the U.N. Committee on Development Policy.

Detractors say that some of the biggest issues, like ending fossil fuel subsidies and ensuring the reproductive rights of women didn’t even make it into the document.

Clearly, the pressing issues presented at the conference affect all residents of our planet. All people must give attention to rising population and the accompanying demands on earth’s resources. I am at least encouraged that so many business leaders are participating in this process alongside the world’s policy makers. The private sector must take the initiative to craft policy when government leadership fails.

Green Tip for July:

Air travel is a necessary evil in our modern world, but we can make greener choices when we fly.  For one, fly during the day.  A study by the University of Reading reveals that while only 25 percent of flights occur at night, they account for 60-80 percent of the industry’s carbon emissions.  This is because a plane’s contrails, or clouds of water vapor, trap heat from the earth’s surface and contribute more to the greenhouse effect at night.  During the day, these vapor clouds reflect sunlight, reducing their impact on the environment. Also, flying non-stop uses less jet fuel.

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