A question was posed in a primary class: “What makes man so powerful, teacher?” Perhaps his ability to manipulate, came the answer.

Assessing global negotiations on climate change, it appears to be true. Is it possible for a developmental process to be sustainable in all aspects? It seems like a mythological story with a tinge of scientific fiction. The aspirations and ambitions were high at the time of negotiations, but now when the time is ripe enough to act, nobody speaks about it. The concept of inclusive development by giving adequate emphasis on environmental protection and diminishing environmental damage is very much needed. So the notion of sustainable development, having its three pillars on social environment and economy, need to function together in a harmonious manner.

The Rio earth summit was organised in Rio de Janerio from June 20 to 22, 2012 with the world leaders from 192 countries agreeing that eradicating poverty should be given the highest priority. Earth Summit 2012 was the fourth Summit of its kind and represented another milestone in enduring international efforts to accelerate advancement towards achieving sustainable development globally.

RIO +20 – an assessment

“Let me be clear. Rio+20 was a success,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a General Assembly meeting on the outcome of the Conference. “In Rio, we saw the further evolution of an undeniable global movement for change”. United Nations senior officials stood upon the conviction that the summit was a success. The Rio + 20 document, The future we want, has been fine tuned to great extent so as to include the aspirations. The Earth Summit created a hook for countries, communities, and companies to announce hundreds of new initiatives to address climate change, global warming, and sustainability irrespective of the official United Nations document agreed to by more than 150 countries.

Individual commitment

While the text of the non-binding agreement between countries at Rio+20 was made available to the press and others, the individual commitments announced at the Earth Summit are of far greater importance. If the announced commitments are implemented, it would result in billions of dollars of new clean energy and sustainability investments, potentially creating tens of thousands of new jobs worldwide. Further, they could help make our air and water cleaner, slow the warming of our planet, and make food and water more readily available to people in developing countries.

A few examples:

Australia will establish the world's largest and most comprehensive network of marine reserves by placing more than 1 million square miles of Australia's oceans under conservation management. The country also will invest $33 million to fund fisheries and climate change adaptation in the Pacific.

Norway announced that it will invest approximately US $140 million over five years to scale up access to sustainable energy in Ethiopia's rural areas, to replace kerosene lamps with solar alternatives in Kenya, and to support Liberia's development of a strategic energy and climate plan, among other ongoing initiatives.

Microsoft Corp. has committed to going carbon neutral by the end of 2013.

The United Kingdom will require more than 1,000 UK companies to measure their greenhouse gas emissions.

India at Rio + 20

The developed countries were of the opinion that the green economy should be the golden rule and the poverty eradication should fall within that sphere. But India differed by saying that poverty eradication should be given higher priority. Thus “eradicating poverty is the greatest challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development”, the declaration states. There were also concerned negotiations on how the world should fund the move towards sustainable development which would also help the poor countries. Indian has demanded a $30 billion fund for the implementation and enforcement, starting next year.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh criticised industrialised nations for providing additional finance and technology for sustainable development and described their current consumption patterns as unsustainable. The Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan expressed her disappointment with weak political will in developed countries to provide funds, or means to implement projects, for developing countries. The Prime Minister’s comments highlight differences between industrialised countries and the developing world on the way forward for.

The European Union had been very keen in selecting more green themes such as renewable energy targets, but the third world perspective was to give primacy to green concern rather than the economic aspects of sustainable development.

Drawbacks of the summit

The declaration is being criticised for its weakness. It aims at the lowest common denominator consensus but says nothing consequential about how the world will move ahead to deal with the interlinked crises of economy and ecology. It lacks teeth. It ignores pressing issues like the need to expand renewable energy and protect ocean life on the high seas. And the goals and objectives that the document does set are weak.

The political scene also needs to be looked into at this time. Europe, the environmental missionary, is preoccupied with domestic financial concerns. They are seeking a new term of industrialisation in the face of crippling unemployment. In the US, things are not very different. The economy is its paramount issue. The US has no time for global environmental issues. Mr Obama, who was elected on the promise of change, is shy of even mentioning the word climate it would seem. This evidently shows that the leaders of the world was merely passing the hat and not actually taking the lead. The European world was preoccupied with its financial constraints and hence the environmental issues were kept untouched. United States had in mind their elections and Obama did want his seat unshaken.

The one of the key aim was to establish the concept of green economy and to use sustainable development goals not unlike millennium development goals to measure performance against green targets. The actions should be oriented, inspirational and measurable towards the millennium development goals. The very idea of green economy was viewed as a new form of green protectionism and conditionality that would hinder growth. It is also important to note that the agenda of green economy was floated without a global agreement on its definition. The global community couldn’t come to a condensed definition. Industrialised countries look at environmental action as totally divorced from concerns of development and social well-being. They see environmental procedures as the icing or toppings on the cake of development, already done and delivered. This toping helps improve performance through effectiveness and cleaning up of pollution. Developing and emerging countries do not have this luxury. They need growth, but this growth must be equitable and sustainable. Their approach to a green economy will be different. This is the challenge that Rio+20 should have faced squarely.

Rio+20 summit must always keep in mind rapid population growth. The role of women's empowerment in sustainable development, the importance of making real progress on food and nutrition security and the need to improve access to sustainable energy for the poorest, these all should have been dealt with much detail. Hence there is greater need in participation of women.

Thus on a normative plane the summit is an excellent initiative but when it comes to implementation and enforcement it does not have strong teeth. Lack of political will in the global level has harmed the efficacy of the summit and the declaration. Rio +20 should have been focused on sustainable development goals taking into consideration the environmental crisis the world is facing, the huge consumption pattern and life style of the globe.

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