RIO 20 Plus 20 or minus 20

By  Kevin Henry, Project Coordinator, “Where the Rain Falls”, CARE

It is hard to see the draft outcome agreed to this week in Rio by 114 heads of government as even a modest step forward to confront the challenges posed by global poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation. Indeed, most of the 50,000 people gathered in Rio see it as a huge missed opportunity and even a major step backward. That is why civil society organizations are asking to be disassociated from the document. And that is why, in my own personal capacity, I have signed a petition denouncing the agreement as entirely inadequate to address the demands of our time. I hope that my eleven nieces and nephews will do the same because it is their generation, and those that succeed them, which will pay the price for the failure of political leaders to act in Rio this week.

Twenty years ago in Rio, the international community came together to launch major new initiatives, not least of which was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Nothing even remotely comparable will come from a text that lacks a single firm new commitment or any timeline for concrete action. The clock really is ticking, not least because of the threat posed by climate change, but our political leaders—almost universally— do not seem to hear it.  Or worse yet, the political elite hear it and choose to ignore it, thinking that making major changes in our approach to development can wait until they have attended to other “more important” or “more pressing” crises.  Science tells us, however, that it does not work that way. We cannot continue to abuse our environment and still expect the planet to be able to continue to sustain a healthy life for future generations. Since 1992, when the first Rio summit was held, global CO2 emissions have increased by 40 percent. Biodiversity, in that same period of time, has declined by 10 percent. Science tells us that if we are not able to reduce current emission levels significantly, global warming will continue unabated and almost certainly exceed the 2 degrees centigrade deemed “safe.”

Our leaders then are clearly moving in the wrong direction, leading many here to dub this week’s gathering as “Rio Minus 20.” Civil society, largely marginalized in the process, is clear in condemning the absence of ambition and a sense of urgency. While universal in singling out the failure of our governments to act, most of those gathered outside the negotiating rooms have committed to continuing and stepping up our own individual and collective efforts—both to act to promote more inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth, and to also hold our governments accountable for securing the right of future generations to a healthy and dignified life.  The consequences of failing to act now are dire, and we all need to be able to look the next generation in the eyes and say honestly that we did everything we could to leave them a planet at least as healthy as the one we inherited from our parents.