Rio + 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

Franko Petri rel=
Franko Petri
© Katharina Rossboth / APA
Rio + 20 Unated Nations Conference on Sustainable Development / ©: UN
Rio + 20 Unated Nations Conference on Sustainable Development
© UN

Franko Petri's blog

At the Rio+20 Conference (20-22 June 2012), world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will come together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want. Follow the blog of WWF's Franko Petri to keep up to date with what goes on in Rio.
At Rio + 20 summit. / ©: WWF / Franko Petri
At Rio + 20 summit.
© WWF / Franko Petri
22 June 2012
An Earth Summit of shame for the coming generations

The third day of the Earth Summit is slowly coming to an end. Just now, there was an event in the park behind the conference halls – two different society forces tried their hand at a tug of war. On one side were the managers of international corporations in their dark suits. On the other were the civil society and the environmental organisations. The contest was about 1,000 billion dollars of subsidies for the oil industry. Right in the middle of the action there was a papier mache figure of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. She had it in her hands to prevent the Earth Summit from ending in a minimalist compromise. Activists chanted „Save Rio+20!“ – but now it’s too late.

The outcome of the Earth Summit was already clear before this UN Conference on Sustainable Development even started. The conference was marked by empty, weak words, a lack of clear goals and a roadmap for their realisation. Rio+20 became the Summit of shame for the coming generations. There was no vision for a really green closed-circle economy. The environmentally harmful subsidies will not be phased out in the foreseeable future. Oil, coal, gas, and nuclear power will continue to be diligently subsidised. Agriculture and industrial fishing will further exploit our natural resources. The ecological footprint will keep getting bigger, and biodiversity depletion will go on. There is no clear commitment to a timetable for the implementation of sustainable development goals.

But the second Earth Summit in history was not entirely pointless. The government of Great Britain has announced that 1,000 companies will have to measure their ecological footprint. This could develop to an actual model in Europe. Eight development banks intend to invest 175 dollars over the next years in the development of city transport and cycle tracks. The Brazilian Minister of Environment Izabella Teixeira announced last night that 250 million dollars will be raised from public and private funds for the protection of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Of course, this is just a drop in the ocean in comparison to what the world would need to provide enough water, food, and sustainable energy until the end of the century – and not with the help of genetic technology or nuclear power but using earth-friendly ways that take account of our dwindling resources.

Outside, in front of the conference centre, you can still hear the drone of army helicopters. Soldiers and police are guarding the last prime ministers of the rich countries, who will be making their speeches of justification until late in the afternoon. There are still hundreds of journalists around trying to conduct their final interviews with the politicians. But after nine days, the conference in Rio has run out of steam. Now the mega-complex looks like it’s lost in a cloud of valium in contrast to the huge stress of the first week. I and my WWF colleagues are also breaking camp today. We’ll enjoy a peaceful weekend after this marathon of countless events, hundreds of interviews, talks, and negotiations.

Outside, young people from Germany are giving out bracelets made of green thread to the delegates. These should remind political decision-makers of their responsibility for our planet even after the end of the Earth Summit. Because it’s all about the future of a humankind that needs to change its way of thinking. The tug of war between nature and our fragmented humankind will continue. This is what this Summit has clearly shown. We’re just wondering who will win in the end…
Rio + 20 summit.  / ©: WWF Brazil
Rio + 20 summit.
© WWF Brazil
21 June 2012
The Earth Summit begins, the Rionauts are marching

Wednesday was the first official day of the Earth Summit and somehow everything seems to be in agony. A number of prime ministers, ministers, and heads of government cancelled their participation. The grounds – the text that no one really wants, is ready. There were just a few inconsiderable amendments. Why do politicians need to come to the city at all? The negotiators and diplomats have already dealt with everything anyway, and all they need are the blessings of their bosses.

The city resembles a besieged fortress, with more than 15,000 police in action. The huge Riocentro complex is surrounded by heavily armed elite soldiers, stationed every 30 meters. Helicopters are ceaselessly hovering above the city. Left and right at their open side doors there are soldiers with machine guns. Even the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are dominated by the noise of their olive green rotors. Traffic is extremely busy and the air is so thick you could cut it with a knife. The noise is unbearable – helicopters, cars, air-conditioning units. It takes hours to get to the conference centre by bus or by taxi. Bomb squads are stationed in front of the main entrance. The security controls are getting stricter every day.

At the Riocentro it’s becoming harder and harder for civil society organisations to get seats, internet connection or power sockets. Press conference rooms are a scarce resource. Many events have to be cancelled. Some of them were relocated to the Athletes’ Park, a huge exhibition ground where the large world corporations present themselves and try to show how green they are not.

After a week of work here we’ve not only run out of physical energy but also of electric power. At times the internet is completely gone. It’s a shock to the thousands of high-profile conference participants and journalists who are accustomed to influencing the opinions of millions of people just by a few mouse clicks. With the hundreds of e-mails you receive daily on the BlackBerry (and these are just the ones by the WWF!), you start thinking that the end of the world is coming if there are no new e-mails on the screen every two minutes. And the people included in more mailing lists have to deal with thousands of e-mails every day that all need reading. But how do you manage to read a complicated long e-mail in English UN-conference lingo with countless abbreviations that are a mistery to the non-initiated for a single minute, if at the same time there are 3-5 new e-mails coming in? It’s like climbing a mountain with rolling boulders coming at you and not letting you go any further. One step forward, three steps back. After a few years’ experience you somehow manage to tell the important from the not so important e-mails within fractions of a second. Ten minutes of no internet connection and you have the feeling that you’ve been set back by years.

The great march of organisations took place today. In the pouring rain, around three o’clock, tens of thousands of people and hundreds of organisations, trade unions, human rights defenders, anti-racists, freedom fighters, activists of all kinds gathered in the city centre at the Candelaria Church. Samba bands, clowns, kites, huge papier mache figures, buses, trucks, and even a tank seamlessly covered in bread, moved loudly whistling down Avenida Rio Branco to Cinelandia Square. Indigenous people from the depths of the rainforest organised a “Timber Run“ and ran under the huge banner, hundreds of photographers and cameramen quickly following. They were in pursuit of the one photo that will change the world and will be able to move even the most hard-boiled politicians to tears. The activists of the WWF – me including – of Greenpeace, Caritas, and many other NGOs from around the world are protesting against the policy of environmental destruction led by President Dilma Rousseff, against Belo Monte, against the blocking attitude of the countries, against the incredibly soft draft text by the delegates. They are fighting for social justice, for the preservation of the Amazon rainforest, for a planetary consciousness, for a future worth living in, where nature and humankind can survive. Many of them have no idea of the ice-cold political horse-trading that goes on behind the scenes at a conference like this, or of what deals are made behind their backs. Billions of dollars and billions of human lives are shifted around as if on a Monopoly game board. But what counts is the outcome. And the outcome of Rio+20 is tragic. This is felt equally by the small Brazilian farmer and by the slum inhabitant of Mumbai.

The delegates at this conference live for days on end in a cloud of artificial light, completely shut off from the rest of the world in a sphere of computers, microphones, cameras, BlackBerrys, and i-Phones. They are eating packed food, breathing artificial air from the air-conditioning, and travelling in clean buses to their five-star hotels. And this is happening in a city where hundreds of thousands are living in favelas, where the Atlantic rainforest was reduced to a miserable fragment, and where only the buzzing mosquitoes remind you of the once rich nature of the past. I think that all these people should be taken on a guided tour through the poverty of the favelas or the still intact rainforest areas of the Amazon so that they will actually know what they are talking about. And if even then they still decide on empty 49-page papers like the one at this Earth Summit, at least they will be knowingly responsible for gambling away our future at this conference in Rio de Janeiro.
Rio + 20 summit.  / ©: WWF Brazil
Rio + 20 summit.
© WWF Brazil
20 June 2012
A paper with no content – the great disappointment in Rio

Completely exhausted and at the end of their strength, our experts in nature protection, climate change, energy, economy, and politics persevered yesterday until early morning in the Riocentro conference building. Brazil wanted to complete the 56-page text at all costs before the heads of state and government flew in today directly from the G20 Summit in Mexico.

Many of my colleagues had absolutely no time for sleep. We are sustaining ourselves on chocolate and biscuits because there’s no time for a regular meal. The secret is to eat three times more than you normally would at breakfast so that you can last through the day until late evening. Many of us are already sick, mostly with colds. Here in the huge halls that look like airport hangars, the temperature is so low that you can forget you are in a tropical country. The air-conditioning units are running at full blast everywhere. The sun dazzles you when you go out of the artificially lit rooms.  And the city of Rio de Janeiro is boasting that 20 per cent of the energy needed for this huge conference comes from biomass. If temperatures in here were three degrees higher, a lot more energy could be saved.

Yesterday morning, when the text agreed on by the diplomats was released, the disappointment was immense. The countries had 2 years to reach agreement on this text. On Tuesday morning we invited the press to see our WWF giant hot-air balloon near the conference centre. The banner on it read „Get serious! – Werdet endlich ernst!“ in two languages – in this way we wanted to appeal to the negotiators with the help of the global media to finally stop talking and start acting. Although we had permission for the action, it only took a few minutes before some heavily armed soldiers turned up and a helicopter started hovering above us. Then unfortunately we had to break off the action but the photos and videos went around the world yesterday.

Back in the halls of the UN congress centre we listened to the analyses of our experts, who were completely disappointed. I think the countries should be absolutely ashamed of the draft. Politicians fly to Rio on our tax money and nothing comes out of it. We need a general strategy for our future, for providing enough food, water, and energy for the nine billion people who will be living on this planet by 2050. We need a vision of how to achieve this without completely destroying our planet. We need protection of the seas and effective marine parks. But the actual outcome is a document entitled “The Future We Want”, in which the countries do not really commit to any new solutions. Instead of commitments to achieving results there are only commitments of use. Apparently our world of 200 countries has not realized yet that we are all in the same boat. It seems that what this Earth Summit is all about is who gets a better place in the boat…
20 June 2012
Jim Leape, Director General, WWF International shares his disappointment with the working document that is to become the basis of Rio + 20 negotiations.
At the Rio + 20 summit.  / ©: WWF / Franko Petri
At the Rio + 20 summit.
© WWF / Franko Petri
19 June 2012
Our hopes lie with host country Brazil

Yesterday afternoon thousands of people marched from the Museum of Modern Art through the inner city of Rio. The demonstrators chanted slogans and appealed to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to increase the pressure on the participating countries. Brazil is not only host country but also holds the Presidency of the Earth Summit. Ms. Rousseff can reject the weak draft of the outcome document if it contains no binding targets, specific timetable, or ambitious goals.

It’s a constant push-and-pull, say our WWF experts, who are trying in the countless negotiations, sessions, and talks to convince delegates to support the goals of the WWF. There are nearly 90 WWF experts, media managers, and lobbyists working here in Rio for a positive outcome. Hundreds of other WWF colleagues who weren’t able to come to Rio are working in more than one hundred countries and exerting pressure on their governments.

The worst blockers proved to be the USA and Canada. Canada obstructs negotiations in practically all topics – from making the global economy greener to sustainable development goals. The USA especially objects to a new international law on the high seas that envisages a network of marine protected areas. While the developing countries are referring to the costs for adapting to climate change, other countries are walling themselves up because they are in fear for their own economies – especially the rich oil countries that annually receive billions in subsidies.

So the hopes of the environmental organisations and NGOs lie with the EU countries, the ongoing G20 conference in Mexico, and a tough stance by host country Brazil.
19 June 2012
 Arriving "at work" at the Rio + 20 summit. 
At the Rio + 20 summit.  rel=
At the Rio + 20 summit.
© WWF / Franko Petri
19 June 2012
Working and relaxing at the Rio + 20 summit. 
At the Rio + 20 summit.  rel=
At the Rio + 20 summit.
© WWF / Franko Petri
19 June 2012
Jim Leape, Director General, WWF International speaks ahead of the Rio + 20 summit.
Rio + 20 / ©: WWF / Franko Petri
Rio + 20
© WWF / Franko Petri
18 June 2012
The Alternative in Rio: the Peoples’ Summit

Alongside the official UN Conference on Sustainable Development, hundreds of organisations have gathered to an alternative Summit here in Rio de Janeiro. It takes place on a beautiful beach with a view to the famous Sugarloaf Mountain. There is a lot to see there. Indigenous Amazonians wearing headdress, trade unions, parties, the civil society, human rights defenders, environmental activists, organic companies – there are hundreds of tents and stands that bring colour to the grey Summit.

The People’s Summit takes place in Flamingo Park, 45 km from the official UN Summit venue. From morning till night there are discussion sessions, speeches, actions, music, dance, and demonstrations with hundreds of participants. It almost looks like a mixture between the Rio Carnival and the Danube Island Festival.

A lot of the visitors to the alternative Summit are in opposition to the official event. They think that many social forces are excluded from it. They don’t believe in a green economy and distrust the country delegates, who do not care about saving the world but only about national sinecures. And they express their views with a lot of colour and noise.

The activists are not completely wrong because if you take a look at the current draft, it’s full of platitudes, lack of commitment, descriptions of future prospects, and cautious language. Our WWF experts talk all day to the delegates and diplomats and try to convince them that the conference is not just about the production of empty papers – Rio+20 should produce a manual for saving the world. It will be good if the alternative summit activists are proven wrong and the UN Summit does not turn into a Rio "minus" 20.
18 June 2012
Indigenous people protesting with music against the destruction of the Amazon forest at the Rio + 20 summit.
18 June 2012
Protest againt the monster capitalism at Rio + 20.
17 June 2012
WWF President Yolanda Kakabadse participates in the Forest Dioalogue side event at Rio + 20 Conference.
WWF President Yolanda Kakabadse at the Forest Dioalogue side event at Rio + 20 Conference.  rel=
WWF President Yolanda Kakabadse at the Forest Dioalogue side event at Rio + 20 Conference.
© WWF / Franko Petri
17 June 2012
At the Forest Dioalogue side event at Rio + 20 Conference.
At the Forest Dioalogue side event at Rio + 20 Conference.  rel=
At the Forest Dioalogue side event at Rio + 20 Conference.
© WWF / Franko Petri
Rio + 20 Conference Centre  / ©: WWF / Franko Petri
Rio + 20 Conference Centre
© WWF / Franko Petri
16 June 2012
The Calm before the Rio Storm

I’ve been in Rio for a day now. It’s winter here, and temperatures at night fall to 18 degrees. There are relatively few bathers on the beach of Copacabana. Most of my WWF colleagues are accommodated near Copacabana because the old apartments there are cheaper and can be booked early. It seems that along with the landlords and hotel proprietors, taxi drivers are the main profiteers from the Summit. Rio is completely crowded and those who have managed to find accommodation must expect ten times higher prices.

The streets of Rio are congested and all day long there are traffic jams. Getting to the conference centre takes more than an hour by taxi. Three of us share a cab to split the cost. The road goes past the last scraps of the Atlantic Forest. Today, only 7% of the original forest remains intact. The official shuttle service is irregular and there are rumours that the journey takes more than two hours. 4 hours to get there and back is a waste of time that we cannot afford here.

The Riocentro conference centre outside the city is a faceless complex of several pavilions. We can only dream of the offices and quiet rooms for meetings and interviews we had at the climate conferences in Copenhagen and Durban. There is an all-pervading noise of generators and air-conditioning units. The privilege of having their own quarters is reserved only for the official delegates. Some of our meetings are held almost on the naked floor. Our WWF team is trying to sift out the essential events from the huge number of events, actions, press conferences, bilateral talks, and meetings.

The Earth Summit is intended as a paper-free conference. Only the essential materials are to be printed out. In a huge pavilion there is a restaurant and snack area. There are hardly any sustainable products available – it’s just fast-food chains and aluminium cans everywhere. Prices are shamelessly high. Food is more expensive than at all previous conferences – the prices are the same as in the main streets of European cities. This is a shock to NGO representatives from around the world, who are trying to keep costs as low as possible. But there is no other option. The only chance of making it through the day is by packing a lunch.

In the meantime the preliminary talks of the Summit are in progress. Last night there was a positive surprise: to come into force, the UN Watercourses Convention needs to be ratified by only nine more countries. 12 new countries have announced that they will ratify the Convention by 2013 at the latest. It’s about the worldwide regulation of 60 per cent of the global drinking water for 40 per cent of humankind. Water is one of the hot topics here, because 2.5 billion people have no access to sanitary facilities or safe drinking water. In 2030 the water demand of the growing earth population will have increased by almost a third. Without effective international rules we can expect wars over water. And it is an important task of this conference to prevent such conflicts.
15 June 2012
WWF forest expert Carlos Rittl talking about the situation with the controversial Brazilian Forest Code.
15 June 2012
WWF forest expert Carlos Rittl talking about WWF's position on the megadam project Belo Monte in the Amazon forest.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / WWF-Brazil/Adriana Lorete
A 15m high inflatable bucket with water running from a tab, which WWF-Brazil's Freshwater team managed to place in front of the world famous "Christ the Redeemer" statue high above Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on World Environment Day, 5 June 2005.
© WWF-Canon / WWF-Brazil/Adriana Lorete
13 June 2012
It’s the year 2032 and there is a Summit every 20 years…

It is the year 2032. Newspapers are covering the follow-up conference of Rio+20 that took place 20 years ago in 2012. Back then an international caravan of over 50,000 delegates – heads of state and government, ministers, NGO representatives, journalists, and activists of all stripes – attended the Earth Summit of hope. 2012 was the year when the world suffered a global economic crisis that was triggered a few years earlier by the collapse of some banks. At that time several countries such as Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal went bankrupt. The Euro depreciated and the EU was in a deep crisis. The dark side of the globalised economy became evident. Free markets created a small number of billionaires, brought billions of people to poverty, and waged war against the whole planet and its environment. They were supported by politicians of the industrial countries, who poured billions in subsidies into the carousel of destruction. In fact the globalisation should have combated poverty in the south and raised the standard of living in the poor countries. This was certainly achieved in a few countries such as India, but at what price! “The arms of the globalised economy had grown so long that the corporations were no longer able to see what the hands did” (and destroyed) – that’s how analyst Helena Norberg-Hodge sums up the situation. An unleashed industrial system that ruthlessly sweeps over our planet and keeps worshipping the idol of economic growth despite every new failure. There was no solution in sight. Only a few environmental organisations and scientists were able to propose actual solutions – but these seemed too expensive to the countries and the industrial world.

In 1972 the first global conference on the environment took place in Stockholm. Back then environment was an exotic subject pursued by a few ridiculed “ecos” who were believed to be willing to live in the trees rather than in modern cities. The first report to the Club of Rome spoke of our planet’s finite resources. At that time, climate change was thought to be just the figment of the imagination of a few mad climatologists. It was only in later years that a change of thinking came about. The environmental movement and the anti-nuclear movement, as well as other new forces of civil society were born, green parties appeared and the established parties became greener. Forest dieback and the ozone layer depletion were recognized as real threats that required urgent action. And so a new environmental consciousness gradually arose in politics and a large number of environmental laws were passed – some were successful, whereas others served only to cover up the real problems. After the opening-up of Eastern Europe, the new way of thinking about the environment was gradually adopted also by the countries of the former communist Comecon.

In 1992, the new civil society movements gathered at the first large Earth Summit in Rio. The world expected the 10,000 participants to offer solutions to all of the planet’s problems. Everything was interconnected: environment, development, food, poverty, and wealth. The result was a wave of new international treaties – the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, Agenda 21, the Convention on Biological Diversity and others. In 1992 it was already known that our planet was undergoing climate change caused by human activity. The only thing that remained unclear was the extent of the threat. And if humankind had interpreted the signs correctly back then, and if according action had been taken, perhaps it wouldn’t have been necessary to organise another Earth Summit 20 years later, in 2012.

2012 saw the new edition of the Earth Summit – again in Rio de Janeiro. In that year, in its Living Planet Report the WWF warned that 30 per cent of biological diversity had been lost since the first Environmental Conference. At the same time the demand for the planet’s resources had grown so much that we already needed one and a half planets. The question back then was how to make the economies so green that they would not continue to destroy the planet. The WWF demanded full-cost environmental accounting of a number of entire national economies and multinational corporations. Billions in subsidies for fossil fuels, agriculture and forestry, as well as non-sustainable fishery were to be phased out. New sustainable development goals were on the summit agenda. At thousands of sub-conferences, 50,000 participants discussed how to provide enough water, food and energy for all people until 2030 without using up completely the planet’s resources. The UN Environment Programme was transformed into an independent organisation (UNEO) and new international councils for sustainable development were established. Until then, the high seas were not covered by international law, and at that time some new agreements were proposed in this area. But in essence, the second Earth Summit in Rio won no groundbreaking successes.

Today in the year 2032 we can only smile about these tentative attempts to save our planet. The Earth Summit of 2012 really was a glimmer of hope – and a glimmer it remained. If we had only known what the next 20 years would bring! But didn’t we actually already know what was coming? Now oil prices have already soared so high that most national economies have collapsed – no international trade is possible without oil. The development of renewable resources went too slowly because subsidies went in the wrong direction. Most political and economic blocks have fallen apart. The shadow of poverty has fallen on Europe and the US. There is hardly a country that is not enveloped in civil war. People were forced to fall back on local agriculture in order to survive, attempting to defy the new climatic conditions. Southern Europe has increasingly turned into a desert, and the island states in the Pacific were flooded. The glaciers have mostly melted and the Amazon rainforest has been reduced to a minimum. Climate change worldwide has turned precipitations upside down. The consequences of earth warming have forced millions of refugees around the world to leave their homes. And many people who were in the world back in 2012 yearn for the time 20 years ago when there was still a chance for humankind to survive, a chance for sustainable development, comprehensive nature and environmental protection, for adaptation to and reduction of climate change, a chance for real global solutions…

HEY, WAKE UP! If you have been reading up until now, maybe you drifted off during the first lines of this blog post and had a nightmare about a terrible future. But it is no wonder – environmental organisations such as the WWF can sometimes be really sleep-inducing with their apocalyptic visions. Oh, of course the Earth Summit of Rio was a groundbreaking success for planet Earth! And the following 20 years brought a golden age that even people in 2052 will dream about…

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