Rio+20 Earth summit: no positive noises emerging

For an environmentalist, or anyone concerned with sustainable thinking, the Rio summit should be great cause for excitement. Yet, the same old problems of obstruction and disinterest from the great world powers mean that once you read any reports emerging from the preliminary discussions, any enthusiasm is rapidly withered.

The Rio+20 Summit proper kicks off next week

I’ve been receiving most of my updates from the excellent Guardian Rio+20 summit hub and the BBC’s Environment Correspondent Richard Black and their news from the early talks does not inspire confidence that real change is around the corner.

Two of Europe’s most prominent leaders, Angela Merkel and David Cameron, won’t be attending the summit, and neither will the ‘leader of the free world’ Barack Obama. While some might argue that this is a good thing, as it removes some of the national protectionism or political elements, I cannot see the positives in such decisions. If sustainability was high on the agenda of most countries – as I wish it was – then their leaders would be here. But they aren’t. The implications are obvious.

In fact, Merkel and Cameron won’t even be making the relatively short trip south after the G20 Summit in Mexico on 18th-19th June to Brazil. In fact, they’ll be heading back to Europe to deal with the aftermath of the Greek elections. Politically this is understandable: the Eurozone debt crisis is the imminent peril with possibly disastrous economic consequences for us all. Yet, the UN Summit in Rio concerns the future of humanity. Put that way, what’s wrong with handling the Eurozone situation indirectly from South America? In going back, what will our Prime Minister really achieve?

Leaving aside the notable absences, obstructionism is the most damaging phenomenon. A brief glance over the 81 page pre-summit draft document shows countless requested amendments. The vast majority of them come from the USA and the G77/China group of developing countries.

Over the last couple of days, the negotiations have begun before the summit proper begins next week. However, the BBC’s Black doesn’t give a rosy impression of events:

“Preparatory talks broke down on Thursday evening as the G77/China bloc of 131 developing countries walked out of a number of sessions.

They said they could not talk about issues such as the green economy – which some see as likely to put a brake on development – unless western nations were clear about the amount of financial aid they were prepared to pledge.”

(Available here)

The preparatory talks were scheduled to end tonight, but the likelihood is they will continue until Tuesday, when ministers from around the world and 130 heads of government will arrive.

My worry is simple: that the most important sustainability summit for 20 years will be marred by politics and national self-interest.

While the UN might hope that solid international cooperation will emerge from the summit, the political wrangling and national self-interest could see more people switch off from the sustainability debate, than become keen advocates.

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