Earth Summits: The Past, The Present And The Future

Posted on June 20, 2012 in Environment

By Nikhil Borker:

“I am only a child, yet I know that if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this would be.” These were the words of 12 year old Severn Suzuki at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit which brought tears to the eyes of everyone present there and instigated the belief that a unified effort can save the environment. With the summit back in Rio after 20 years, these words seem to have been forgotten. Forests have disappeared, deserts have been growing, fisheries are getting depleted and glaciers are melting. There is enormous pressure on the environment. This is the biggest challenge presently and eminent personalities from all over the world going are expected to discuss the issues and come out with an amicable solution at the Rio Summit 2012.

Revisiting and analysing the past:

With the advent of the 1970s , there was a sense of awareness about the depletion of earths’ resources around the globe. This led to the first Earth Summit in Stockholm in 1972. Results included creation of UNEP, IPCC, CITES and the Montreal protocol. Although, the results were positive, it was felt that a lot more was needed to be done. As a result, the famous 1992 Rio Earth Summit was held. Results were the introduction of the concept of sustainable development, a framework on climate change, a convention on biological diversity and the convention to combat desertification. Following these, many other such conferences have been held. The Kyoto protocol, signed by 55 countries in 1997 aims at arresting the ill-effects of greenhouse gas emissions by providing incentives (in the form of carbon credits) to the developing nations to adopt eco-friendly industrial technologies, while the developed countries agreed to pay for these technologies indirectly.Then came the inconsequential Johannesburg Summit on sustainable development. Hopes were shattered again at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009.

The results of all these meetings have been far from positive. 22.7 billion tonnes of CO2 was released in 1990 which rose by about 45% to 33 billion tonnes in 2010. According to an IUCN report, 30% of amphibians, 21% of birds and 25% of mammal species are at a risk of extinction. 90% of water and fish samples have been contaminated and coral reefs have declined by 38% since 1980. The percentage of degraded land has risen from 15% in 1991 to 24% in 2008 which has made people living in these areas vulnerable as far as food security is concerned. Moreover, improperly conducted measures for sustainable development have made the rich richer and the poor, even poorer.

Introspecting the failure of earth summits:

The major problem in the past twenty years has been the failure of various governments to realise their commitment towards mother earth and take appropriate steps to replenish it. This has been attributed to the absence of any domestic legislation which can coerce every nation to realise its commitments. As a result, powerful nations such as the USA, Japan, Germany have neglected such conferences and continued to go by their own ways. Secondly there has been no ‘watchdog’ body (except UN which has been a mere spectator to the follies of the US) which can ensure that everyone is contributing as per the promises made by them. Lastly, in each of the above negotiations market based solutions, such as carbon trading ,instead of sustainability based solutions have been adopted. Although these have brought down the emissions of developing countries but there has been no check on those of the developed countries. As a result, overall emissions have been growing at an unprecedented rate.

A preview of Rio +20 and what the future holds in store for us:

The Rio +20 summit, commencing from June 20, will be focussing on two themes:

– A green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication.
– Institutional framework for sustainable development.

The participating nations will be asked to take the protocol back to their legislatures to seek support or ratify it formally. The thrust of this protocol would be in the fulfilment of three objectives. Firstly laws will be formulated to accomplish the goal of realisation of commitments. Secondly, a mechanism would be derived to monitor the implementation of the plans of various summits in the past and those that will be held in the future.Third objective deals with incorporating the concept of natural capital in analysing the financial status of a nation.

The themes and objectives of this years’ conference are a clear indication of the sense of urgency among nations to save the planet from a catastrophic end. Although the backing out of US president Barack Obama and leading nations such as UK and Germany have cast a dark shadow on the event, this event has undoubtedly sent out positive vibes. As a true optimist, I believe that Rio +20 will act as a stepping stone to the creation of a safe and stable environment for living species.