Rio+20 Earth Summit

Salome Phelamei

Every day, we hear about the rapid rise in global warming, melting of ice and sea-levels increasing at an alarming rate. Yet, the warnings remain sceptical and unattended due to mortal beings’ negligence. But, the conditions of our Mother Earth and its ecosystems are deteriorating day by day.

Aiming to find a balance between economic growth and environmental protection, and to establish the global course of action that will sustain the needs of present and future generations without wasting the earth’s resources, representatives and heads from more than 190 nations and 50,000 participants from civil society and business groups will gather at the Riocentro Convention Centre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Earth Summit, also known as Rio 2012 or Rio +20.

The summit is officially called the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development and the high-level meeting will be held from 20th - 22nd June 2012.

The conference is a 20-year follow-up to the historic 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) that was held in the same city, Rio de Janeiro, and is being organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Key objectives and issues

This year, the member states have agreed upon two themes for the conference:

- Green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication

- Institutional framework for sustainable development

While leaders will stress on the above mentioned themes, biodiversity will also be a major focus at the summit. One of the main aims of the summit is to reach an agreement among the international society on a set of global sustainable development goals - based on consumption and production, and explicit actions for key areas such as water, food and energy.

The Rio Summit will also focus on how countries should persist on climate policy once the Kyoto Protocol tumbles. The Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, forced developed countries to commit to limiting their greenhouse gas emissions which are held responsible for climate change.

While some nations including the host Brazil are likely to announce a set of numerical targets at the summit, India will push for upholding the principle of common but differentiated responsibility while addressing the issue of sustainable development.

"We will be negotiating to make sure that the Rio principles are reaffirmed and all sustainable development has to be viewed with the approach of equity and common but differentiated responsibility so that developing countries can have their share of development," remarked Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan.

Meanwhile, United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has expressed optimism about the conference and hoped the summit will result in a “once in a generation” blueprint for global sustainable development. He also said that he expects the most concrete actions to come from NGOs, businesses and city governments at the summit.

But, environmentalists are not expecting a breakthrough from the conference as several world leaders including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama are skipping the summit. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) had previously warned that the summit might collapse. It is also being speculated that most of the proposals, even if agreed at the conference, will take several years to implement.

Major hurdles

The summit has been overshadowed with doubts and contemplations as there are substantial divisions between the developed and developing countries on burden sharing and whether to underline environmental protection or poverty alleviation. Although, climate change and renewable energy are categorized as crucial concerns, they are downgraded to a relative minor position with no serious actions being taken into account.

The need to save our planet

Although time is running out, and despite constant warning from the scientists and environmentalist about global warming and its consequences, the world’s surroundings have continued to depreciate in the past two decades. According to the most recent Living Planet report, global demand for natural resources has risen by twofold since 1996 and that is now 50% higher than the regenerative capacity of the planet. While carbon emissions have increased 40% in the past 20 years, biodiversity loss is speeding up and one in six people remain undernourished.

Perhaps, with the global population projected to rise from the current 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, a new path of roadmap is required on how to foster economic development without ruining the planet (keeping energy, environment, poverty and resources in mind); else, the pressure on ecosystems will intensify leading to catastrophic collapse.

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